Tag: writing rules

Writing from Inside

When I first joined a writer’s group, a common theme in the advice part of the meeting was keeping point of view pure.  By that I mean that stories were to be told by only one point of view character and everything that landed on the page had to be observable by that character.  We were to eschew omniscient author — therefore nothing like “it was the best of times it was the worst of times.”  “Head-hopping,” that is moving between one point of view character and another, was forbidden.  One analogy that was used to emphasize the purity of POV was to imagine the story unfolding before the author’s eyes like a movie.  If the author couldn’t see the event on the screen of her mind, neither could the POV character.

It was a useful analogy and one I’ve used myself, but like all “rules” in writing, it can be taken too far.  The biggest drawback, in my opinion, is that it turns the author and therefore the reader, into an observer rather than a participant.  The screen in my mind may allow me to see a brawl in the street, but I am distanced from it.  My character should be in there swinging.  He should feel the anger that provoked the fight, smell the sweat and fear on his opponent and struggle for breath when a blow hits him in the solar plexus.  He should also be involved emotionally.  Robots may engage in battle in modern movies, but for a story to grab me I want a real person, with real feelings.  I want to ache with him, dream with him and hope with him.  Watching him on a screen won’t do that.

Instead, I suggest the writer try to get inside her character.  You still only write what he can see and hear and touch and smell, but you also know how he feels.  I heard a female author of romance once talk about taking on a man’s pose as she sat in her chair.  She rubbed her chin as though she had whiskers, stuck her legs straight out in front of her, put her hands behind her head and leaned back — all actions she associated with men.  Then, when she felt herself inside a man’s skin, she’d write the scene from the hero’s point of view.  It’s an intriguing thought.  I’ve been watching a lot of baseball lately, so I see men scratching and spitting.  Don’t know if I’ll go that deep!

I’m writing western historical romance, so sometimes I’ll put on a long skirt and a buttoned up blouse and try walking about in it.  I don’t have a corset, but I can still experience the restricted movement such garments require, not to mention the stiff back.

Of course, some writers can get inside their characters without props, but if you’re having a hard time imagining the heart and soul of a medieval lady, try donning a wimple and see if that helps.

The Rosy Fingers of Dawn

The phrase used as the title of this blog is often cited as an example of how not to write for the modern reader.

First, the language is too flowery, too precious, too self-conscious.  It belongs to another time and has no place in the fast-paced world of the twenty-first century.

Second, the writer is wasting words on a sunrise when she could be filling the page with plot, action, conflict or dialogue.

Usually I agree with that advice, but it’s summertime.  We’re on vacation.  Life has slowed down.  We take time to draw a deep breath and to gaze in wonder at a glorious sunrise.  I was headed out early with the fisherman the other day and the sky really was rosy, the streaks of light across the horizon did resemble fingers.  I didn’t think “uh-oh, pollution.” or “the sky is pink”, or even “do I have sunscreen?”  I thought, “the rosy fingers of dawn.”  A hackneyed phrase, rather like “it was a dark and stormy night,” but watching the sunrise soothed my soul, stilled my restless spirit, and quieted my anxious mind.

Sometimes outdated, clichéd and derided language is perfect for the moment.

I really dislike the “rules” of writing that say I should avoid certain words, that I should never describe sunsets and my characters have to be in constant motion.  Mostly, that is all good advice, but the author is still in charge of her own work.  If a sunrise fits the story, I’m all for wallowing in it — especially in summertime.

Right now, I’ll bend the rules by telling you I’m watching the sunset.  The colours in the western sky have changed from orange to red, to rose, to indigo.  The mountains on the horizon are navy blue and the fir trees point black fingers into the heavens.  The tension of my day has vanished.  My soul is at peace and I don’t care about the writing “rules.”

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