Chapter 3 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

In chapter 3 we get a lesson on point-of-view–but somewhat more advanced than simply outlining the three primary kinds of POV: first, omniscient, and third. In fact, the bulk of the chapter is spent talking about “narrative distance.”

Narrative distance describes the concept of closeness to character. How intimate with a character’s thoughts is the text? Typically, more intimate is better, since this builds believable and engaging characters.

The more intimate the POV, the more the character’s personality and mood can affect description. This keeps the flow going. The closeness to the character should affect word choice and syntax throughout the text.

No doubt, POV affects narrative distance, and typically a POV should be selected and stuck to for any given scene. First person is closest to the character. Omniscient the most distant. Third person ranges across a spectrum and can be close or far.

If you’re going to switch between two viewpoints a single scene, you’d better know what you’re doing.

Personally, I’ like to stick to one POV. I don’t feel expert enough to switch back and forth within a scene. If I need to switch POV, I do as the book suggests: break the scene, shift the POV with a linespace, and start a new scene from the new POV.

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Chapter 2 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

In chapter two of the book, we learn about characterization, and to a degree the lesson is the same: show, don’t tell. Let the action and the (natural) dialogue help the readers form their own opinions sf the characters.

The basic idea is to avoid introducing your character all at once, by describing them and their history and the important things about them when we meet them. That slows down or stops the action. But if you show us the character a little at a time, the readers can interpret the character as they see fit.

Some specific things to avoid:
–Flashbacks. These stop the present action all at once.
–Long bits of exposition about the character.
–Presenting already arrived-at conclusions about the character.
–Absolutely don’t use maid and butler dialogue, or “feather duster.”
–Don’t tell about characteristics that show up in dialogue and action.

Rather than any of the above techniques, establish your character unobtrusively.
–Show characters saying and doing things.
–Write about what your character thinks about things.
–Give only as much background, history, or characterization as is absolutely necessary.
–When having to explain a new culture, let reader see them in real life– not lengthy exposition.

In the end, it is the same lesson as chapter one: know when to show and tell. And in the case of characters, it will almost always be better to show.

Chapter 1 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

I have started reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers in preparation for a workshop with David Farland in a few weeks. In an effort to better retain the information inn the book, I’m going to post my summaries of the chapters, here.

Chapter 1 covers a very basic topic, showing versus telling, but explains it as well as anything I’ve ever read on the topic.

Here’s the gist of it.

On a large scale:
–Avoid narrating scenes. Give them a time, setting, and action. Don’t summarize an important scene.
–Where practical, convert exposition into scenes.
–Use narrative summery to vary the rhythm of your text, so that each scene doesn’t have the same feel as every other scene.
–Summarize (tell) about unimportant plot developments

On a smaller scale, don’t tell when describing or in order to convey character emotions–resist the urge to explain: R.U.E.

I’ll be back with the other chapters as I read them.

Are big boats real?

This morning my 6-year old looked at my wife and I and asked, “Are boats real? The really big boats?”

“Like cruise ships?” my wife said.

“Like pirate boats.”

We responded that yes, they are real, but it made me feel bad for the poor kid. I don’t know that it’s any deficiency on her part that she can’t tell that big boats are real or not. Rather, I think we’ve reached the point that some types of media (i.e. CGI) have become so life-like that someone who doesn’t know better won’t be able to tell truth from fiction.

That’s pretty cool. And a little scary.

Of course, she’s 6. She’s still learning how to read (which is a difficult taks. After all, in English there are so many exceptions to most rules that you almost might as well not have rules, sometimes), and so is still pretty early in life, and so she’s learning about life on a much more basic level than most older people. But the fact that our technology has made it possible to create fake things that look real is scary because as that advances, it will be harder to tell where that line is drawn. Even for mature people.

This could likely evolve into a question about what is real and what isn’t, but I’m not that interested in such an existential topic. I just think that once our technology reaches the point that our brains can’t tell the difference between real and fake, things will be interesting. That will be the new drug of choice. People will want to escape to virtual reality where life is good, where the rules make sense and can be gamed. Where they can do whatever they want, and there aren’t any lasting effects.

Oh, wait, video games are well on their way to this, aren’t they?

Anyway, in my head, the net effect can only possibly be negative, because the fact of the matter remains that we live in a physical world, and that world hase to be taken care of. As people lose their grip on reality, they became more likely to care less about real people, and therefore hurt others in the real world.

I’m sure there’s plenty of fiction out there that explores this. Anyone know of something really good?

Are big boats real?

This morning my 6-year old looked at my wife and I and asked, “Are boats real? The really big boats?”

“Like cruise ships?” my wife said.

“Like pirate boats.”

We responded that yes, they are real, but it made me feel bad for the poor kid. I don’t know that it’s any deficiency on her part that she can’t tell that big boats are real or not. Rather, I think we’ve reached the point that some types of media (i.e. CGI) have become so life-like that someone who doesn’t know better won’t be able to tell truth from fiction.

That’s pretty cool. And a little scary.

Of course, she’s 6. She’s still learning how to read (which is a difficult taks. After all, in English there are so many exceptions to most rules that you almost might as well not have rules, sometimes), and so is still pretty early in life, and so she’s learning about life on a much more basic level than most older people. But the fact that our technology has made it possible to create fake things that look real is scary because as that advances, it will be harder to tell where that line is drawn. Even for mature people.

This could likely evolve into a question about what is real and what isn’t, but I’m not that interested in such an existential topic. I just think that once our technology reaches the point that our brains can’t tell the difference between real and fake, things will be interesting. That will be the new drug of choice. People will want to escape to virtual reality where life is good, where the rules make sense and can be gamed. Where they can do whatever they want, and there aren’t any lasting effects.

Oh, wait, video games are well on their way to this, aren’t they?

Anyway, in my head, the net effect can only possibly be negative, because the fact of the matter remains that we live in a physical world, and that world hase to be taken care of. As people lose their grip on reality, they became more likely to care less about real people, and therefore hurt others in the real world.

I’m sure there’s plenty of fiction out there that explores this. Anyone know of something really good?