I'm also willing to customize a workshop specifically for your group.
Confessions of a POV Slut
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a slut.
A POV slut, that is. Geez, get your minds out of the gutter.
When I heard this issue of the Pennwriter was going to focus on POV, I just knew I had to write this article. Okay, so what exactly is a POV slut? A POV slut is the opposite of a POV purist. A POV slut will change POV's within a scene, not waiting 'til the end of the scene or using an artificial scene break just to shift POV.
In a love scene, I might even switch back and forth more than once.
This method works for me. And it works for my editor. And that, in my writing world, is all that matters. Well, and the readers, too, but I think I'm safe to say that very few authors get letters from readers (unless said readers are also writers) taking them to task for sloppy use of POV. Nora Roberts once said that only other romance writers ever slapped her down for the dreaded "head-hopping."
That said, I am not advocating head-hopping. It's very distracting for the reader if they have to keep trying to figure out whose head they're in. You want the reader to bond with your character, too, and they can't do it if you don't give them enough time with them. Good craft is very important.
But I'm uptight with "The Rules" people. You know who they are. The people who tell you it HAS TO BE DONE THIS WAY or else it's all wrong. That you can NEVER do XYZ and sell your book. If you've entered many writing contests, you've probably come across this person a time or two. In romance, they say things like, "The hero and heroine must meet by page 2, or you'll never sell the book." I'd imagine in mysteries, they probably say, "If there's no dead body by page 5, you'll never sell the book."
The POV purist says, "You MUST use ONLY one POV per scene."
Hogs' breath. (Insert your favorite oath there.)
Editors are looking for books with vividly created 3-D characters they can relate to or empathize with, or in the right case, even hate. They are looking for plotlines that compel them to keep turning pages.
They are not looking for homogenized, sterilized, same-as-everyone-else's stories and voice.
Do you have to know the craft rules? Yes, I'm sorry, you do have to know them before you can break them or make one choice over another. If I didn't fully understand POV, then I wouldn't know that I'm slut, would I? I wouldn't know when I shifted POV on purpose and when I'd accidentally slipped up. So, make sure you read all the other informative articles in this issue and learn all about POV.
Then you can make the right choice for your story, whether it's first, second or third person, omniscient, limited third person, or whatever else is out there.
Then you can decide to be a purist or a slut.
If you choose POV slut, look me up at the PW conference. We'll write our numbers on the bathroom walls together.
Harlequin Superromance will release Susan Gable's first romance novel, THE BABY PLAN, in December of 2002. The second, THE MOMMY PLAN, follows in August of 2003. Susan freely admits to knowing the POV rules and choosing to be a POV slut. She was kidding, however, about the bathroom walls thing. Visit her website www.susangable.com.
What’s the Motto with Your Characters?
By Susan Gable
Q: What’s the motto with your characters?
A: Nothing. My characters are fine. What’s the motto with your characters?
Now that I’ve purged bad jokes from my system, let’s take a serious look at your character’s motto (i.e. life philosophy) and how it influences not only his/her behavior, but also character arcs and the plot of your story, including the black moment and resolution.
The motto is the soul of your character, a core philosophy they hold dear. It can range from “The glass is always half-full” (or empty, depending on your character) to “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
It’s important to understand that your character doesn’t have to be consciously aware of his life motto, nor does he have to articulate it to the reader. (But both are possible. My characters have been known to come right out and mention their motto to themselves or another character in the story. They don’t say, “This is my life motto, blah, blah, blah.” But they do voice it.) You might know their motto upfront, or you may discover it as you write the first draft. I’ve found some of my characters’ mottos through collaging for the story.
My first heroine’s motto was “Success is the best revenge.” Mottos/life philosophies are generally the result of backstory, and she was no exception. She wanted to succeed to prove all those people in her past, the ones who’d said she’d never amount to anything, wrong. Her goals, both external (a college degree and a “respectable” job) and internal (respect & acceptance – including, but not known to her at the time, self-respect and self-acceptance) related to this motto and backstory.
Mottos can also create conflict in your story, both within your protagonist and between her and other characters. In my latest book, the heroine’s motto was “Life’s short, eat dessert first.” The hero’s was “Do the right thing.” You can see how those two philosophies might clash. She’s interested in a good time; he’s interested in being responsible. They each had to learn from the other. She learned that sometimes you have to make sacrifices that hurt you. He learned that there’s not always a clear “right thing,” and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying life’s little gifts, stopping to smell the roses along the way.
I chose details and behaviors in my story to SHOW those mottos. My heroine did, literally, eat dessert first on their first date. He left the table to deal with a work problem, came back to find dessert being delivered, and knew he hadn’t been gone that long. The heroine’s theory: she can take the steak home and reheat it, but brownies smothered in ice cream and chocolate syrup just don’t survive doggy bags that well. She painted each of her toes a different color, and had a few decadent items in her home that the average person doesn’t – like a towel warmer in her bathroom. She had a dog she’d inherited from her grandmother, but she wrestled with caring for this animal that didn’t like her all that much. She would never have chosen to be responsible for an animal that needed a lot of care (she was really more of a goldfish person) – but because it had belonged to her grandmother, she felt obligated to try – and that relationship mirrored the larger character arc of her learning that sometimes you have to do the hard things in life, not just the fun things.
In the black moment of that story, she does just that – she makes a huge sacrifice of the one thing she really wants (the hero) in order to “Do the right thing.” (His motto, not hers.) Her character arc is complete and she earns her HEA.
For another example of these mottos, let’s look at Star Wars – Luke was naive Mr. Do the Right Thing in that movie, and Han Solo’s motto was more along the “Life’s short, eat dessert first” lines. (Technically his motto might have been more “Do unto others before they do unto you,” or “What’s in it for me?” at the beginning of the film.) Han’s in it for himself. Luke’s in it to save the princess and the universe from the bad guys – to do the right thing at whatever price. Those differing philosophies created conflict between the two characters. But at the black moment, we have Han Solo swooping in at the last minute to help Luke vanquish the Death Star – sometimes you just have to do the right thing even when you want to walk (fly) away. Character growth/arc completed, Han earns his reward – the princess’s grudging admiration.
Another heroine of mine had two related mottos: “Good little soldiers don’t cry,” and “Lace up your boots tighter and carry on.” Both came from her (backstory) career soldier father, who trained her to be stoic, suppressing her emotions and carrying on in the face of all adversity. This was both a liability and an asset to her. She had followed this philosophy so well in the wake of losing her only son, that she was crumbling from the inside out at the opening of the book. She had to learn to accept help from other people and to share her grief in order to progress along her character arc. But her motto gave her the strength to face her greatest fear (losing another child, the hero’s medically fragile daughter whom she’s come to love) and resolve the story after the black moment.
A particularly intriguing (to me, anyway) heroine had the motto: “Life’s fatal.” On the surface, that seems similar to “Life’s short, eat dessert first,” and yet, it’s very different. “Eat dessert first” is all about seizing every moment, wringing all the enjoyment you can out of life. The other is, perhaps obviously, fatalistic. As in, it doesn’t really matter what you do, in the end, life’s fatal. Go ahead and jump out of an airplane – life’s fatal. No need to be afraid. Of course, that heroine was lying to herself. She insisted her philosophy meant she wasn’t afraid to die. The hero made her see she was actually afraid to live – jumping out of airplanes, taking risks, all of that was a smokescreen for the fact that she kept people at arm’s length and never fully engaged in life.
In one of my current projects, I have a heroine who believes “You’ll never be happy with more until you’re happy with what you have.” Unfortunately, her husband is of the “Success is the best revenge” mindset, with success being measured in material trappings. But he’s out to prove himself – he’s busy on the treadmill, running to get ahead. Knowing this helps me plan the plot – where they have to go, what they have to learn, ways to both advance and hold back their progress. Think of Scrooge – he was of the “more is better, more is more” philosophy, but he had to learn “You’ll never be happy with more until you’re happy with what you have.” Dickens’s original and imaginative way of teaching Scrooge his lesson made for a compelling plotline.
Another WIP features a heroine whose motto, she feels, is a very Zen, very healthy philosophy. If she were into fishing, I would describe her motto as “Life is a catch and release program.” But she’s not into fishing. Basically she believes nothing in life is permanent – not people, not things. And you’re better off if you can embrace the things/people in your life, hold them for just a moment, and then let them go. It’s a protective mechanism. This way she can’t get hurt when something/someone is taken from her. It arose from her backstory (a father who always gave their things away to other people who “needed them more” and losing people who mattered to her.) and causes conflict with the hero and the plot I’ve got planned for her because the hero’s motto is “Anything worth having is worth fighting for” and that’s exactly the lesson she needs to learn. I’m tentatively calling this “Don’t Let Go” – so motto can even influence your title.
If your character’s motto is “Trust no one,” he has to learn to trust someone. (And there’s probably going to be a lot of betrayals or seeming betrayals on the way to that trust. Black moment – when that person he’s finally learned to trust appears to have betrayed him.) If it’s “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” she has to learn to forgive – possibly even herself.
By the end of the story, your character has likely modified his original motto (my first heroine revised her definition of success), overcome it, or adopted a whole new one. (Again, this can all be subconscious on their part.) That’s perfect – it means that their journey along the character arc you’ve created for them has changed them – and that’s what we want. We want to see growth. In the movie My Cousin Vinny, Vinny’s motto could be summed up as “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” And that’s how he starts out in court. But by the end, Vinny’s dazzling them with brilliance instead.
Character motto is another handy-dandy tool to keep in your writer’s toolbox.
So, how about it? What’s the motto with your characters?
Award-winning, best-selling romance author Susan Gable’s current life motto is “I write, therefore I am,” hence she can be found at her keyboard, busily proving her existence with several WIPs and articles such as this one, which is based on part of her writing workshop “Story Superglue: Make It Stick with Readers.” Visit her website www.SusanGable.com to read more of her articles for writers. This article was originally published in ByLine Magazine, Oct. 2007
To Be or Not to Be: Strengthening Your Verbs
I'll admit, I abhor when any craft "rule" is taken to the extreme. So, in that philosophy, I won't tell you to eradicate every occurrence of 'to be' (am, are, is, was, were, be, been, being), or had and have, in your work.
There are times when you need them. They exist in our language for a reason.
That said, however, I urge you to evaluate each and every one and make a conscious decision regarding it.
Weak verbs dilute your work. There's a reason the 'to be' verbs are considered passive. (Notice I didn't say "are passive voice," which is another issue, albeit a related one.)
Read this passage: It was a sunny, summer day when he saw her for the first time, having fallen at her feet, literally. She was pretty. She had shoulder-length blond hair and sky-blue eyes that had concern in them when she bent over him.
Now this: He peered up at her from the sidewalk. The summer sun created fiery highlights in her shoulder-length, corn-silk hair. Her sky-blue eyes filled with clearly-evident concern as she bent over him.
(This also changes it from telling to showing, but that's another article.)
Sometimes all you need to do to strengthen your words is remove the helping verb and change the ending:
He was hoping to see her.
He hoped to see her.
She was running the store.
She ran the store.
Other times, choosing a more vivid verb will strengthen your writing. "Seize the day" evokes a far stronger response than "get the day." Consider the differences in the images presented in the following sentences:
He walked across the parking lot.
He strode across the parking lot.
He staggered across the parking lot.
He slunk across the parking lot.
Changing one word makes a big difference, doesn't it?
So weigh each one carefully when you edit your work. Seize control of your verbs; make them strong ones.
Look, Mr. Solomon. I Can Start a Sentence with a Conjunction Now."
In my sophomore year of high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Solomon. Unfortunately for Mr. Solomon, he had a tough act to follow - my freshman English teacher, Mr. Furce. Mr. Furce gave me an extremely solid foundation as far as grammar and the English language goes. I actually liked diagramming sentences and learning all the parts of speech.
Another student and I often got into loud debates with Mr. Solomon about whether a particular word was this or that, debates that were sometimes interrupted with one or both of us storming out of the classroom to go and "check with Mr. Furce!"
But it wasn't all bad. Mr. Solomon grudgingly tolerated our antics. He kept a jar of sourballs in the top drawer of his desk. He nicknamed me "Miss Colgate 1980" when handing out the class pictures, which, of course, he had to hold each one up and comment on. I could have done far worse than "Miss Colgate."
The one issue we went round and round on was starting sentences with conjunctions in creative writing pieces. He told me repeatedly not to do it. I told him I understood that it was "a rule" but that published authors did it all the time in books. And I should know, I certainly read enough of them. Mr. Solomon told me when I was a published author, I could do it, too. Back then, I was a voracious reader, but the idea of becoming a "real writer" had never occurred to me.
Mr. Solomon died while I was in college.
This month I held my first romance novel in my hands. I caressed the cover. Flipped through the pages. Saw words I knew by heart. I was totally blown away. And yet, it somehow still held this surreal quality. This was my book. I'd written it. Between the front and back covers were my words.
With a wry smile, I lifted the book aloft and spoke towards the ceiling. "Look, Mr. Solomon. I can start a sentence with a conjunction now."