Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Christmas Prezzie-Writing Advice Repackaged and Regifted

For this, my last post this year on Type M, I wanted to give you all a present. In going through my archives, I discovered this forgotten little essay that I first posted on Jim Born's blog way back a few years. So I decided to offer it to yuz guys. Enjoy. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you in 2018!

Jim has been after me for some time to contribute an article with writing advice to his blog. It’s taken me this long to submit something for a couple of reasons.

First, I have been busy. I mean like work busy, not like watching Narcos on Netflix busy. Second, I couldn’t think of anything to add about writing that hasn’t been written a bazillion times already. If you’re a newbie writer, then you tend to soak up all the writer advice you can and hope it’ll stick. Maybe, you’ll get an A-Ha! moment.

But mostly I get the impression that writers are always on the prowl--like raccoons scrounging through a Dumpster--in search of that one morsel of advice that will carry you over that elusive threshold from unpublished to published, from unwashed to still dirty, but at least with credentials! As for any advice that might help, other than keep writing and stay positive and all that, here are my two centavos:

POV doesn’t matter. 

I can hear a collective sucking of breath on that one. Again, Point-of-View doesn’t matter. I say that because I can’t think of a novel where violating the Commandment Thou Shall Not Head-Hop made one difference (measured in WTF’s) in terms of sales or acclaim. And I can’t think of one reader who ever said, “The story was great. The characters were amazing. The plot, compelling. But I put the book down because of the shifts in Point-of-View.”

What confuses the new writer is to get back a sample chapter and have it redlined up by a teacher or a critique partner with notes admonishing you of POV shifts within a scene. But wait, you protest, here’s my beloved international bestseller, rock-star-rich author and he, she, hops POV like a frog on a hot George Foreman and that hasn’t hurt their career. “But,” the teacher/critique partner replies, “the different are rules because those writers are published.”

Advice like that is enough to make you go from head-hopping to head-lopping.

However, before you go all nutzo with head-hopping, I’ll admit that at first, you have to understand POV. A tight POV helps you develop what’s going on in the character’s head, whether you write First Person or Third Person. Newbie writers who skim from head-to-head miss opportunities for dramatic immersion. But at one point, you’ll figure it out. So why not vary POV?

Old hands will tell you, okay, but if you shift POV, then you must either rely on a chapter break or a paragraph drop-down. You see, they argue, readers are morons with the attention span of bottle flies. You can’t depend on them to keep track of anything. Even though you might have introduced a huge roster of characters and a plot so intricate that readers need index cards and a highlighter to follow the story, if you hop one head, BOOM! you’ve lost them.

So why the writer witch-hunts on POV? Because a POV shift is easy to spot. It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to say, POV shift! bad writer. 

In my critique group (all old hands at this writer game), anytime one of us introduces an abrupt POV shift, the others act as if the offender has written kiddie porn and killed puppies. Shame on you! Then when we discuss the latest book we’ve read, we’re all: “It was awesome. The prose, so colorful. The characters were magic.” What about POV shifts? “Like a crazy mo-fo, but it didn’t make a difference. I loved the story.”

So here’s my advice to you. Go ahead, remove the shackles. Indulge in head-hopping. Have fun. Merry Christmas.

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