Monday, November 29, 2010

Things I learned from my recent reading material

Today I read a book that focuses on concrete, heavy adjectives. There are a lot of action scenes in the book, but somehow you get the feeling that the outward action is a blur, and the only thing in sharp focus is the thought-life of the characters, ...and their thoughts are full of adjectives.

In a way, it was a engaging book, pulling you in to the character's mind and emotions. But in another way, it left me feeling like saying "enough with the introspect - let's turn your eyes outward and see what's happening in the world!"

Don't get me wrong - it was well done. The authors (the book was co-written) worked all those descriptions in there pretty smoothly. They don't use many italicized thoughts, so rarely are you quite sure whether the descriptions you are reading are the narrator's voice, or the voice of the character's thoughts. This keeps the characters from sounding "like a book." And, if you read it slowly, (like I rarely do), the similes are great word pictures. Definitely a good source for adjective, metaphor, and simile ideas.

One thing that did get confusing, though, was the fact that the book had two main characters, and the viewpoint was constantly changing mid-scene, or even mid-paragraph. I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to use this writing style, although I have tried it in the past. Even if you are very clear - and these authors were fairly good at that - it's too much work for the reader's brain. (Ahem.) Switching viewpoint between scenes is often enough for me.

I realize this is a rather rambling collection of thoughts, but I just finished a hour-or-so spurt of writing, and my brain is tumbling all over the place without an outline to follow. I just thought I'd put out these pros and cons, and ask what your thoughts on the matter are. How much "introspect" is enough? How do you know when you need to focus more on the action of the plot, rather than the emotions? And how do you know when you need to back off the action and throw a meditating character in there?

What about viewpoint switching? How often do you think it should be done? What's your rule of thumb?

What habits of authors do you find tiring as a reader? Do you see any of them showing up in your own work? What can you do to discourage yourself from forming habits and styles that are fun for the writer but extra work for the reader?

Waiting to hear from you!


  1. It's funny that you should have mentioned about jumping from one character's perspective mid-scene, as I just read a chapter about that issue the other day, in the book "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". They recommended not switching perspectives during a scene if you can help it, but if you really want to show both perspectives, divide the scene with a linebreak. The latter I thought was a kind of wierd idea (I personally would be distracted by a line break in the middle of a scene) but the idea of keeping to one perspective per scene was good. I have lots of trouble with that as I have at least four, maybe five, characters in my book from whose perspectives I write.

    I've also found you can give the reader an idea of multiple character's thoughts/perspectives without switching the point of view. For instance, in my book "The Marquis' Daughter", a scene may be from Captain Cray's point of view, but he may notice the character Isaac suddenly shift his position uncomfortably, or get a deep meditative look on his face, and the reader may be able to guess what he's thinking because they've gotten to know him in previous chapters and will be able to associate what's going on with what he might be thinking-- and yet I can stay with the same point of view without switching, and still show what needs to be shown.

    Did that make any sense at all? :-P It probably didn't. :-P Sorry!

    Anyway, I agree that staying too much in the character's mind can be distracting especially during an action scene. Like I said (and this should be more clearly worded this time ;-) ) you can see a lot of a character's thoughts by showing their actions and reactions and facial expressions, without actually telling what they're thinking. Not always, of course, but often.

    Writing style habits that bug me would definitely be short choppy sentences (ugh!!!! That drives me crazy :-P ) and too many beats ('Yada yada,' she said, threading her needle. 'Yada ya,' he replied, sitting back in his chair. 'Yada yada ya,' she said, inserting the needle into her fabric." That drives me up the walls! Beats are great, but when they're in every other sentence.... :-P ) Not to say I'm perfect in this area. It's amazing what I find myself writing on accident. That's why I have people edit my books carefully. :-)

  2. Thanks for such an involved comment, Melanie!

    I think you're definitely right about being able to show characters' thoughts without writing from their point of view - it's very doable. And, though I DON'T like switching VP in the middle of a scene, I have to say that I DO like the technique of a line break. I use lots of those, anyway, between scenes, and I've seen it used very effectively to increase tension in a scene. I don't like to switch VP in the middle of scenes very often, because I think it creates tension, and I want to saved that for actual high-tension scenes.

    Actually, I'm using that in the book I'm writing now; a man is about to commit suicide, and his son sees it from a distance, and tries to run to him in time to stop it. I keep switching back and forth between the man and his son's VP during the whole scene, getting shorter and shorter sections as the tension builds. I want the effect of "slow-motion agony," and I feel that just writing one unbroken scene would be too fast. Using line breaks slows it down. It works, in this case. I think so, anyway. :) You'll have to read it and let me know.:) ...But I do think it shouldn't be a regular thing - just saved for special effects.

    Your remarks on beats left me reminding myself that I need to pay more attention to that - it's a weak point of mine to ignore rhythm. :)

  3. Oh, that does sound exciting, how you are using line breaks in your story to create tension! Yes, I agree, they are very suitable in that case.

    Some of the examples in the book I was reading, however, were very out-of-place, I thought... just in the middle of normal conversation, and it didn't seem to help anything much.

    I can't wait to read your book!

  4. Interesting post. I have never really read a book that focuses that much on introspection. I do really tire of books that don't have any introspection. Have you ever read books like those? They just leave me with an empty feeling. What was the point? They focus on lots of description, of settings and characters, but not so much of the characters up close personality. It just really bugs me.

    Wow that book sounds good! I agree, some books can change POV too much. But I also agree that it can really build the suspense. Have you ever read Frank Peretti's Cooper Kids Adventure, Flying Blind (or its latest title Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred). It is a masterpiece of suspense. The writing and the suspense are superb. He also employs the method of changing perspective to build the suspense. And he changes it more and more as the story builds.

    Sorry for the ramble but I really like the book. You should check your library for it.