Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Using Alternating Points of View in Fiction

They pulled up in front of Mayor Dutra's insurance office, killed the engine and walked to the front door. Grant could see the man inside at his desk, watching them through the glass door.

They entered and the mayor said, "How you guys doin'? You here about Marina?"

"Sure are," McKay said. "You heard about her murder, Mayor?"

"Everyone calls me Manny."

"Okay Manny. I guess you heard about the murder."

Manny shrugged. "Stevinson ain't a big town. Real tragic, losing a good council member like that." Then he quickly added, "And she was a good person. Why don't you guys take a seat. You need some water or something? I got instant coffee somewhere." He looked around the office, as if looking for the coffee.

"No thanks," McKay said as he and Grant sat. "How well did you know Ms. Terra?"


"Marina Terra, the woman who was murdered last night."

"Ah shit. I been calling her Marina for so many years, I forget her last name."

Manny offered them a toothy smile, stalling while he tried to recall if he'd told anyone about his and Marina's affair. He didn't have any close friends, so who would he have told? Had he bragged about it to someone? He might have, he never had much to brag about when it came to sex, but couldn't recall for sure if he had.

He stood. "I'm gonna get a cuppa water. You guys sure you don't want something?"

"Since you're having some, I'll take some water," the taller detective said, the one whose eyes bugged him.

Manny plodded to the back of the little office and stepped behind the partitions to get the water. He drained a cup, then another, trying to remember if he'd told anyone. He didn't think so, but thought it best to not bring up the affair. That way if she hadn't told anyone it'd be like it had never happened.

He wadded his cup up and dropped it in the wastebasket, filled a cup for the cop and returned to his desk.

Grant took the water and said, "Thanks," and took note of the mayor's appearance: he didn't look so good, like he'd had a rough night. Like he'd been up all night drinking cheap liquor. And there was something else that bugged Grant, something he couldn't put his finger on.

He decided to bring it up. "Did we come at a bad time Manny? You look a little... Ragged."

Manny averted his eyes and said, "I had better days. This thing with Marina got me shook up a little. Stevinson ain't used to people gettin' murdered." He tugged at his collar with a fat finger; Grant noticed his hand was shaking.

And then realized what about the mayor's appearance bothered him: he was wearing a necktie, and it was strangling him.
"So," McKay said, "you've known her for a while..."

"Yeah. We got elected the same year so we've worked together on the council for a couple'a years. She had a stubborn streak, Marina did, but in the end she usually came around."

"Argumentative, huh? She have any run-ins with other council members?"

"Sure. Like I said, she could be stubborn."

Sorry he'd said anything negative about Marina, Manny felt sweat trickle down his forehead. He gave them another smile and said, "But what Portagee ain't?"

"Anything specific come to mind?" the tall cop said.

Manny shook his head. "Nothin' important. Hell, Stevinson council don't ever discuss anything important 'cause there ain't any money to do anything." He forced a chuckle, unconsciously pulled at his collar again then quickly dropped his hand back to his lap. He was beginning to think the tie was cutting off the oxygen to his brain.

McKay said, "The council ever have heated arguments that could lead to ill feelings?"

Manny shrugged. "Naw. We hash things out, vote, then go home. If there's any bitching, the next day everyone goes to work and forgets about it." He shrugged again, which this time had the effect of tightening his tie, which made him tug at his collar again.

The cops paused for a few uncomfortable moments, seemed to stare at him, which made more sweat run down his face, then the shorter one said, "Do you know if she was seeing anyone?"

"Marina? Hell, I don't know. We weren't close or anything and I never heard no one talk about her seeing anyone."

The tall cop said, "Did you know she was married once?"

Manny had to think again. He knew Marina had been married, she'd told him once before sex, but if he told the cops wouldn't they wonder how he knew? It was kind of personal. He decided to give them a weasel answer: "I don't think so, but maybe. With her working for the church, she wouldn't exactly want anyone to know. Catholics ain't too hot about divorce."

"When was the last time you saw her?" the tall one said.

"At the council meetin' Wednesday night."

The shorter one jumped in, "You haven't seen or talked to her since Wednesday night?"

It felt like they were tag-teaming him, and it was pissing him off. "That's what I said, ain't it?" As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew he'd made a mistake; the cops' eyes drilled holes through his head.

The shorter one said, "You were seen talking to her yesterday, at the church."

"Right. I forgot about that." He offered the smile again. "I stopped by for a few minutes to chat with her about the meetin' the night before."

"Oh?" the tall one said. "Unfinished business?"

It was then that Manny realized the cops would find out about the pot deal when they talked to the other council members, which they would eventually do because Marina was on the council. They might already know but were playing dumb to see if he would lie about it. He felt things spiraling out of control.

This is a scene from the first, and rough, draft of the novel I'm working on, the second Grant Starr thriller. I have no working title, sadly. I'm not worried, though. I didn't think of The Mighty T until several months after the book was done. One of my sons called my original title "dumb," so, wisely, I changed it. The text will certainly change in edits, hopefully for the better.

The scene is an example of alternating points of view in fiction. Used sparingly, it can add dynamic variety for the reader who may grow tired of straight narrative and dialog. Used too frequently, it would likely lead to confusion: who's saying and thinking what?

If you use this technique, be careful to keep track of whose point of view you're writing in. When writing in Manny's point of view, I refer to Detectives Starr and McKay by a rough description: the tall one and the shorter one. Hopefully the reader will remember that Grant Starr is six-six. They may not; I'll have to keep that in mind in edits.

(As a side note, because I'm using Scrivener, I went to the scene I copied from for this post and made a note to make sure the reader remembers Grant is six-six. When writing in Word, I'd have had to write that in my draft notebook and hope that I'd see it when editing.)

When writing in the detective's point of view, I called the mayor Manny because he asked them to.

Try it sometime in your writing. I think you'll like it and it will expand your skill set.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting the First Draft Done

I'm writing my third novel (not counting the really bad one I almost finished back in the early 1990s), so I feel I can speak on this topic with some degree of authority. I suppose I'm directing my remarks to the new novelist, the one searching for "the best way to write a book."

I'd like to limit my remarks to the first draft, which is where all novels begin.

1. Understand that nothing matters more than getting your first draft out of your head and down on paper, or the electronic equivalent of paper. Stop thinking about your ebook and print covers, what typeface you'll publish the print book in, your likely target market, and all the other things that don't matter because YOU HAVEN'T WRITTEN THE BOOK YET.

2. I write my first draft in the Courier typeface for several reasons, the most important being it's so basic. It's not pretty and even if you italicize a word, you can hardly tell it's italic when you print out the draft. Courier, to me, represents words. Just words, nothing else. Train yourself to write with little or no italics; let the words convey the meaning, not formatting.

3. Write every day. Any writer who's written a lot will tell you that you need to write every day. You'll train your brain to think like a writer and you'll get your first draft done faster.

4. Don't show your work to anyone. If you belong to a writing group, show them your work after you've finished the first draft. You don't need to be thinking about subplots and characterization, all that stuff, until you've got the story down on paper. If you take advice from others, start on your first rewrite.

5. Get inside your head. It's your story, you're the creator. Do whatever you have to to get inside your head far enough to pull the story out. For me this means sitting by myself somewhere. I can occasionally write in public now as long as I don't know anyone around me. I can tune out their noise, with headphones if I need to. I recommend new writers find a place where there are no distractions, including no Internet connection.

6. Separate research time from writing time. Remember, your goal is to get the first draft written as quickly as possible. Stopping to look up the name of a street or how many miles out of town a character lives interrupts the flow of writing the first draft. Place an asterisk at the front of a word you need to do some research on, then come back later, during research time, and do your looking-up. Which brings me to...

7. It's okay to schedule research time. We can't be spot on with our writing day-after-day. Use the "down days" to look up stuff you didn't look up when you were really cooking and the words were flowing.

8. It's also okay to write scenes out of sequence. Say you sit down in your private place to write, and you're seeing a scene that's half a day ahead in the manuscript. But it's so vivid and you know exactly who's going to say what and what's going to happen. It's okay to give yourself permission to write that scene. This is where Scrivener is so helpful. I organize my novel by chapters and scenes; it's easy to find my way around that way.

9. Don't worry so much about things like spelling and keeping the names of minor characters straight. Get the first draft done, then iron out the inconsistencies. (Just make sure you do; I've read many complaints about authors mixing up the names of major characters, like their main characters. Very embarrassing.)

The first draft is sacrosanct: without it there is no novel, which means until you get it done you're not a novelist.

So quit reading this post and get back to writing!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Mighty T on Jay Krow's Top 10 Books of 2011

I just noticed that The Mighty T made blogger and author Jay Krow's Top Ten Books of 2011 list. It rolls in at #7. Check out Jay's list here.

While you're at it, check out the rest of Jay's blog. He's been busy lately with life, but he's got a nice backlist of posts you can browse through.