Feature Friday #1 (Bloggers & Books)

feature-friday

Welcome to Feature Friday!  Today we will talk about some bloggers who are writing amazing posts on the craft.  More specifically, bloggers who are providing tips and tools for people to improve their own skill and understanding.

In my opinion, it’s important to step outside of what we think we know and examine how others perceive writing.  Personally, and for the purposes of this blog, this allows for ideas and concepts to evolve via positive outside influence.  This week, these were the bloggers who I felt enhanced the way I view subjects.

spotlight (facing right).jpgThe first spotlight shines on Nichole McGhie over at, The Excited Writer.  Nichole writes a lot of great posts, and she does an outstanding job of bringing her passion for the craft (and for life) into her voice and style.  If you’ve never been to her page, I recommend stopping by her, About Nichole, page first.  Not only will this give you a most excellent snapshot of her background, life, and adorable kids, but she also smartly linked some of her most popular and impactful posts into the content.

The individual post I wanted to highlight is one about passive voice.  The title is, What is Passive Voice and Is It Bad?  

Besides being well-written, it is loaded with resources for you to sink your teeth into.  For me, when a blogger links outside resources this tells me (1) they took the time to research the content, (2) this isn’t just their solitary opinion, and (3) they want to offer other sources of knowledge.  Another great thing about her post is you can learn a thing or two from the conversations within her comments.

spotlight-facing-rightThe next spotlight casts a glow on Adam over at, Write Thoughts.  Adam applies a critical eye, and thorough depth of knowledge, to break down character archetypes.  However, he covers a number of other topics in addition to providing insightful book reviews.  I encourage you to first stop by his, About page, where he does a great job of both introducing himself and breaking down his site content.

Adam’s posts on how to write characters, relationships, and virtues are loaded with solid takeaways.  The post I wanted to focus on specifically is, Working with and Past Stereotypes

I like this post because it examines gender roles, stereotypes, and the role of children in fiction, as well as cultural expectations and norms.  For me, it goes beyond just being a list and offers additional insights I wouldn’t have thought of.  Ultimately, I was able to glean some positive takeaways.

thanksI wanted to take a moment to thank Nichole, and Adam, for allowing me to link over to their pages. Personally, I have you both bookmarked on my “Bloggers to Watch List,” and will make every effort to swing by more often.

resources

These are the resources I used this week (Friday to Friday) to create my posts.  I wanted to take a day to feature reference materials as a, “one-stop-shop,” for folks.  I’m a voracious eater of greens and believe in the power of self-study to improve writing skill and understanding.

For a more comprehensive list of books I have utilized to build content here on QE, you can refer to this post.

(This week will be a very short list given I had a glorious two day vacation.)

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein [Amazon] [goodreads]

Conflict & Suspense – James Scott Bell [Amazon] [goodreads]

Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales – Stephen King [Amazon] [goodreads]

hourglassThat’s it for today, another week down.  If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me and point me in your direction.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Choose Your Weapon: The Power of POV

Perspective is one of the most powerful weapons of warfare you have at your disposal.  When loading words into your literary cannon, you need to decide who is going to be firing them at the reader.  Put clearly, from whose perspective is your book written?

Most instructional books title this perspective as Point of View (POV), and most agree that there are three main approaches to it: first person, third person, and omniscient.  After this, the agreement ends.  I have seen texts offer more than 20 variations of these three.  Let’s take a day to focus on the basics.  After all, to wield the weapon, we must understand it.

scalpel.jpgFirst Person is the surgical blade many mystery writers use to carve out their manuscripts. When taking advantage of this the writer adopts the “I” voice.  You relay the story through the eyes, mouth, and mind of one of the books characters.

Renni Browne and Dave King explain in their book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, “…in order to succeed in the first-person point of view, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for an entire novel, yet not so eccentric or bizarre that your readers feel trapped inside his or her head” (p. 42).

First Person is also a double edged blade (it cuts both ways).  You gain the advantage of intimacy, but lose the ability to offer insights outside of the characters range of knowledge.  You can only offer suggestions as to what other characters are feeling, based upon the understanding (or lack there of) of your narrator.  It’s fun to write, but over the long haul, challenging.  Trust me, my current book Wastelander, is in this POV.

Here is a brief example/teaser (the unedited first two paragraphs) from my book.  It is first person-tastic.  I don’t want to hear any cyber scoffs…

          As far as luck goes, it hadn’t been my greatest day.  It’s hard to cling to those sparkly, silver linings when you’re buried underneath no less than ten-and-a-half bloated decaying bodies in the hopes you don’t get eaten alive by a bunch of inbred, radioactive cannibals. 
          Believe it or not, this predicament was premeditated by yours truly.  The plan was to collect on cannibal heads.  Four to be exact.  I figured four heads should net me a couple jugs of water, some grub to munch on, some rounds, or maybe the sweet comforts of the female persuasion.  I hadn’t really worked out those details just yet.

mushroom cloud.jpgAt the opposite end of the weapon rack is omniscient.  Where you could only cut with precision from the viewpoint of a single character with first person, you now can drop a hydrogen bomb of information on the reader with omniscient POV.  The omniscient narrator is godlike in their knowledge.  They have the inside scoop on character motivations, historical background, and everything in-between.

The challenge with omniscience is you can struggle to create a deep bond with the reader.  The all-knowing being can be hard to relate to.  It obviously can be done and there are countless books out there written from this POV.  The website, Literary Devices, has some great excerpts, as well as more information about omniscient voice.  You can check it out here.

bayonet rifle.jpgNestled snugly in the middle of the rack is Third Person.  It is the bayonet adorned rifle that allows you to shoot at a distance, or stab from up close.  In plain terms, with third person we can create distance in the narrative and we can close it.  How do we do this?  One of the best examples I have seen comes again from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (p. 48-49).  Check out these two examples from that book and look for those differences in word choices.  How do they make you feel?


Coral Blake mopped the gritty sweat out of her eyes and gazed up at the dusty green underside of the oak.  The dog days of August had settled in, it seemed, and like most folks in Greeleyville, South Carolina, she took cover from the sun on her front porch under that grandfatherly tree. 

          My, how she hated that tree in autumn.  Then, she’d stand out in the scraggly front yard with a rake and curse the leaves that multiplied like loaves and fishes as they fell.  But now, with her head up against the cool metal of the glider, the tree was a positive blessing. 

Compare that excerpt to this revised one, also in third person.

self editing for fiction writers.jpg          Coral Blake mopped the sweat out of her eyes and gazed up at the dusty green underside of the oak.  It seemed the dog days of August had arrived, and like most of the citizens of Greeleyville, South Carolina, she took refuge from the sun on her front porch under the tree.
          Ironic how much she hated that tree at other times.  Every fall she’d stand in her threadbare front yard with a rake and curse the leaves that multiplied as they fell.  But now, resting her head against the cool metal of the glider, she considered the tree to be a blessing. 

The differences in language and word choice are subtle, but they create the differing distances I was talking about earlier.  Depended on your particular work, and what you are trying to accomplish with a passage, you may need some distance from the reader, or you may need to breath down their neck.  This is the power of third person.

That’s it for today.  Like I said when I started this post, there are more variations on these three POVs than I have fingers and toes.  One of these days we might examine those variations more, but for now, go forth with these weapons of war.  Just don’t put your eye out…

red ryder bb gun.jpg

What are you favorite perspectives to write and read from?  I am enjoying writing in first person (but am looking forward to finishing this book so I can write in something else).  I’m not a huge fan of reading omniscient narrative, but easily sink into third and first.  There are exceptions to this, but there is it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Recognizing Your Voice

When you read enough of an author you begin to develop an ear for them.  It can get to the point where you can pick a random book, flip to a page, and say to yourself, “This reminds me of (insert author).”  In writer speak, we call this voice.  Voice is your style, your pizzazz, the thing making your writing unique to you.  This voice changes over time.

quotes about writing and painting.jpgHere are two really interesting examples of voice I recently read about in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  This book is written by Renni Browne and Dave King and these excerpts come from Page 213.

“It was the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay.  The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.”

And…

“Call me Ishmael.  Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

white whale.jpgYou likely recognized the second entry as the opening to Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick.  Perhaps less well know is the first offering, which is the opening to the seafaring novel Omoo.  Interestingly, both of these novels were penned by the same author.

While I’m not going to argue about which one I think is better, or critique classic works of writing, I do want you to look at those openings and see how the voice changes.  Omoo was published in 1847 while Moby-Dick was published in 1851.  In those years between, Melville begin to hone and develop his voice.

Browne and King explain, ” Certainly when he wrote Omoo Melville had not yet found what John Gardner (in On Becoming a Novelist) has called ‘his booming, authoritative voice.’  In the Moby-Dick opening, Gardner points out, the rhythms ‘lift and roll, pause, gather, roll again.’ The authority is unmistakable” (p. 214).

h melville.jpgIn my opinion, you are what you eat.  Melville wrote amazing books about seafaring life partly because he spent some time at sea (the noblest of pursuits). He even went so far as to sign aboard a whaling ship to simply be a deck-hand and experience the life.  Is it so surprising his account of life at sea is so realistic?

Let’s not get it twisted.  I’m not saying if you want to write a fantasy space opera you need to build a spaceship, round up a bunch of LARPers, and pack a ton of Cheetos and Mountain Dew (if you do, let me know).  What I am saying is you should be reading.  If a genre interests you, start getting to know the voices of the authors who live in it.  See how they tackle dialogue, narrative, descriptions, and story telling in general.

This is the worry I hear, “If I read a bunch of those authors I will start writing like them.  It won’t be my voice it will be theirs.”

heads of large ships.jpgYes, your voice may be similar to authors you particularly enjoy, but yet, it will still be yours.  When you first start writing you may really borrow other writers voices.  That’s only because you aren’t confident enough to raise yours up just yet – give it some time.  The more diverse your reading becomes and the more confident you get as you write, the more your voice will begin to make it’s own way.

Good luck finding your voice!  Do you have an author who you just love due to their unique voice?  Let me know – sharing is caring.

That’s it for today.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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