Who Tells Your Readers Your Story?

April 20, 2015

Whether you’re writing a short story or a novel, you need to decide which character is telling your readers your story.

Short stories typically rely on the protagonist to do it, so I’m not going to say more regarding short stories.

If you’re writing a novel, however, here are some tips to help you decide which character will share his or her thoughts, show what he or she sees, reveal his or her emotions, and communicate his or her knowledge.

Consider using these tips to help you determine the point-of-view character you’ll rely on to tell your story. Once you make your decision, you must remember that the character whose point of view you’re using is the only character whose thoughts are known because you can only be in one head at a time.

I used to tell my students that each of them only knows what’s going on inside of self. They can guess what’s going on inside another person’s head, but they can’t absolutely know. When you’re creating the whole world (as fiction writers do), it’s easy to forget that you’re only in one head (one character’s point of view) at a time.

Now for the tips to help you determine which character is telling your readers your story.

  • Remember that readers get to know everything your point-of-view character does. Thus, the character telling the story has to know everything you want the reader to know so he/she can share it with the reader.
  • Consider where the point-of-view character will be throughout the story. Since the character is telling your story, he/she has to be present in the scenes that are crucial to your story. And, just as importantly, he/she has to be in the culmination scene that brings everything together.
  • Decide which character requires the most involvement in the story. Your point-of-view character shouldn’t simply narrate the story. Instead, he/she should be involved and have something personal at stake–a risk of danger, a quandary of some sort, a threatened loved one, etc.
  • Figure out which character will be changed the most by what occurs in the story. Avoid characters too stubborn to change, characters who won’t survive the story’s timeline, and characters who are careless or who are unaffected by life.
  • Get involved with your point-of-view character and make sure he/she is telling your story the way it should be told. One mystery author friend of mine had to rewrite her mystery because the character she originally chose as the murderer wouldn’t commit the murder. Other authors have shared similar experiences about characters taking on lives of their own, so make sure you’ve selected the right character to tell your story.

If you’re currently writing fiction, measure your character against these tips. If you’re contemplating writing fiction, use these tips to help you decide which character gets to tell your readers your story. Happy writing!



A Writer Writes

April 15, 2015

When I taught my class on becoming a writer at two of the colleges in the Twin Cities, I asked students to define what it means to be a writer. Almost to a person, they included being published as a requirement for being a writer. I explained that writing and being published are two very different things.

Then I told them they could not be published unless they had written something. That concept brings me to my definition of what it means to be a writer: A writer writes and sometimes gets published.

Here are some tips to help you get (and stay) on track with your writing.

  • Realize there is a mental and a physical connection to writing. Most writers think about writing, but forget to put the seat of their pants on the seat of their chair in order to start moving their fingers over their keyboards (that’s the physical part).
  • Understand there’s power in conditioning–by that I mean conditioning by creating a writing place that triggers the writing impulse whenever you see it (remember Pavlov’s dog?). If you’re conditioned to eat at your kitchen table, it’s likely you won’t be conditioned to write there as well. Your writing place doesn’t have to be large, but it does have to be conducive to making you write in that place.
  • Collect the tools you need for writing. I live in the country and my best option for Internet access is satellite. With the spring thaw, my dish sunk over an inch (the technician told me), which meant I didn’t have Internet for a few days until the technician could come out. I typically look up definitions, etc. online, but I have other tools (reference books) I can use and was happy to have them available during my “down time.”
  • Decide what you want to write–then read everything you can in that subject or genre and read critically. I’ve said before that I think fiction is the hardest writing to do (at least for me), but I love mysteries and read them constantly. I found two errors so far in the mystery I’m currently reading (one was a missing word that was important to the sentence and the other was a spelling error that turned pubic hair into public hair during a discussion of rape evidence). Should an editor have caught that? Sure, but the reflection is on the author, not the editor.
  • Write something every day. What counts as writing? Ideas jotted in your notebook. Revising yesterday’s writing. Research. It all counts if it contributes to you committing words to paper.
  • Consider that all large projects are simply a combination of smaller ones. Novels are written in chapters. Chapters are written in dialogue, scenes, descriptions, characters. Non-fiction books can start out as articles, research in one topic that leads to another, etc. It’s okay to write small, as long as you write.

You might want to keep a copy of these tips handy in your writing space. It’s so easy to put writing aside while you do something else, but I urge you not to do that. Only you can write from your perspective. If you claim you want to be a writer, you have to write. Writers write, right? Happy writing!

Reality and Fairness in Writing

April 6, 2015

Writing fiction is harder than writing nonfiction for me. That said, however, writing nonfiction has its challenges as well. The cliche about every story having two sides creates the basis of two primary challenges in writing nonfiction–reality and fairness.

Whether you’re writing an article about a person or an issue or an event, there are multiple viewpoints to consider. When writing a personality profile, for example, it’s important to remember that no person is perfect. The reality is everyone has experience with mistakes, failure, and regret. As a writer your challenge is to decide how much of that to share in an article highlighting the person’s success or contribution to society.

I realize I’m stating the obvious when I say there are two sides to every issue. If you’re writing about an issue, you again deal with the challenges of reality and fairness. That means you’ll have to decide on balance in resources quoted, for example. You’ll also have to decide if you can be fair in seeing both sides of an issue you’re considering writing about.

You even deal with the challenges of reality and fairness when writing about events, holidays, celebrations, sports, etc. All you have to do is look at or listen to the news to find examples such as the recent coverage of the Final Four in Indianapolis. Some write about the Final Four as a sporting event. Others write about it from the perspective of an event to be boycotted.

Sometime, just for fun, try experimenting with listening to the news to find an issue that interests you. Then create an outline of the article you would write about that issue. What are the two sides? How would you handle each one? What types of resources/experts would you need? If you find yourself leaning more favorably to one side over the other, consider what it would take to tell that other side of the story.

Reality and fairness in writing are two of the biggest challenges writers face. Learn to accept those challenges and you’ll become better at doing the writing you love. Happy writing!