The Editor Pontificates: Point of View

Very recently (as in, yesterday evening) I got bitten by the screenwriting bug – I want to learn how to do this. So this morning, in the course of a couple of hours of trawling the Internet, which included placing half a dozen holds on library books under the subject heading of “Motion Picture Authorship” (go figure – Library of Congress couldn’t assign it a sensible heading like “Script Writing”), I ran across a useful web page, “A Glossary of Screenwriting Terms and Film Making Definitions“.

Scrolling through the headings, which include such interesting terms as “lap dissolve” (which, without the definition, would bring up a rather gruesome image), what jumped out at me was “POV”. Every writer, screen or print, knows what that means, don’t they?

Well, apparently not. In editing, that’s one issue that comes up quite frequently; POV – Point of View – doesn’t seem to be as easy as you’d think. So what exactly are we talking about when we go on about POV in writing? That’s where this web page’s definition is extremely useful:

POV: Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature.”

The camera replaces the sensory experience of one character.

The 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie demonstrates this extremely well in the scene where Elizabeth is asleep while riding in the carriage. The camera – what we see on the screen – fades from darkness to blurry pink flashes of soft light, like sunlight flickering over one’s closed eyelids. The camera is literally replacing Elizabeth’s eyes, putting the viewer into her head.

IMG_20180420_103158036.jpg
Steve’s POV: “I looked at the big orange cat. He refused to meet my eyes; I suspect him of nefarious intent.”

Now, in film making, “the camera” is restricted to the audiovisual medium. All it can do is see or hear, no more. However, in prose writing, our “camera” can do much more. It can shrink down to a tiny atom and burrow right into the brain of our narrator – it can feel everything she feels, know everything she knows.

And that is where the danger in handling POV comes in. Because a narrator has the power to pontificate – uh, I mean to tell – what they know, it’s very tempting for the writer to narrate something that the POV character could not know.

One of the first decisions a writer has to make when they set out on a new story is which perspective to write the story from. To quickly recap your boring Grade 6 Language Arts class, the basic perspectives fiction tends to be written in are either first person (“I ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under my feet”) or third person (“She tripped over the cobblestones”); third person is further subdivided into “tight third person”, which is roughly the same as first person except with different pronouns (“She ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under her feet”), and “distant observer” (“She ran down the street, but she did not know that around the next corner one of the cobblestones was sticking up above the pavement”).

IMG_20180420_103250187.jpg
Louis’ POV: “This person is sticking a camera behind my head, and there is a small fluffy thing sitting across from me. I wonder if it tastes good.”

There are multiple versions of this style of narration, which we won’t go into at the moment, but let me quickly mention the most noteworthy one, which is the “omniscient perspective”: the narrator is God, they know everything about every character. In that POV the camera is, in fact, split into hundreds of tiny cameras implanted into each character’s brain, knowing and feeling everything – and the screen, i.e. the story, is a mosaic of all the different cameras.

IMG_20180420_103412811.jpg
Omniscient observer’s POV: “The cat and the bear sat across from each other on the bed. The cat felt mildly curious, but the bear, as usual, was indifferent to the proceedings.”

And that’s the perspective that it’s very easy to fall into accidentally. The writer knows everything about everyone – he can see the cobblestone sticking up above the pavement – but the character does not – she runs along headlong and stubs her toe. Ouch. A filmmaker is physically restricted to what their camera lens can see – they put the camera on a character’s shoulder and leave it running, and that’s what will be on the film – but a writer has to make a constant effort to keep that mental camera lens where they have chosen to put it.

So if you choose to write your story in first person or tight third, your character cannot know what other characters’ feelings, thoughts and motivations are. “I looked at him, and he felt angry” is not a sentence that should ever appear in any story. I can only know what I am feeling; what I know of other people is only what my senses experience. I can see that he’s frowning, I can hear that he’s yelling at me, I can feel his fist hitting my jaw – but I can only deduce that these pieces of evidence mean he is angry. For all I know, he’s perfectly calm, and these are in fact an expression of love and care on his part (which would make him a psychopath, and my whole novel has just gone off the rails – but that’s a different topic altogether).

What goes hand-in-hand with this is that you need to know your characters. If, for example, your POV character is a five-year-old, he will not look at a canoodling couple and think “They must be so much in love,” but instead he’ll think something like “Eeew, why is Joe licking Suzie-next-door’s face?” He also has to stand on a barrel to be able to see over the fence in order to watch the canoodling – the camera in his eye is about three-and-a-half feet off the ground, and the fence is five feet high.

There are various reasons to choose one POV over another – they all have their advantages and drawbacks, which we won’t go into because this post is getting too long already. But my main point here is: when you pick your POV, stick with it. Never, not even for one sentence, remove that camera lens from the eye of the character it is strapped to at that moment. You can take it off and strap it to a different character, or to an unnamed observant narrator who knows everything about everybody, but be aware that that is what you are doing – and again, if you pick it, stick with it.

So, POV: it’s the camera in your character’s eye, or brain, as it were. And once you pick it, stick with it. Not that hard, is it? No, I didn’t think so.

Life, the Universe, and POV. It’s all in the perspective.

Red Stone, Black Crow

RedStoneBlackCrow-OFFENWANGER-ArtABergloff (2)

“Red stone, blood stone,

Round and smooth and cold stone,

Make it stop, make it stand,

Take me over to the strand.”

That’s the rhyme the purple weasel tells the little girl to use when she gets to the raging river, on her way to the other side of the woods to give to bring the sorcerer his medicine…

That’s right – another story of mine got published on Enchanted Conversations! This is in the April edition of the magazine, which is all about Animal Tales. Mine has a purple weasel and a blue rabbit and, most of all, a black crow. And, of course, a little girl, whose name is Margie.

Unlike the previous stories I had published on EC, which were re-tellings of traditional tales, this one is an original. I was trying to go for the classic formula and tone – but of course, I’m no Wilhelm Grimm (or Dortchen Wild, as it were), so it’s not quite as classic as it, perhaps, might be…

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

 

Cat, a Bowl and Lots of Red-Heads, or: What’s This Septimus Thing, Anyway?

I was just re-arranging this website a little bit – posting the links to the recently published stories in one place, consolidating the books in the sidebar into one link – and it occurred to me that some of you folks who’ve come to reading my blog lately might not be all that familiar with this whole turquoise-coloured “Septimus Series” thing. For example, if you were to come from all those fairy tale stories I’ve posted recently to reading “Lavender’s Blue”, my Septimus short story, you might find yourself a little puzzled – it’s not a fairy tale; but what exactly is it?

So, for those of you new to the Septimus world, here’s a little intro. The nickel tour to Catriona’s life, as it were. For those of you who’ve followed Cat’s adventures all along, you might enjoy this little refresher.

Covers1-4Composite

It all started a number of years ago, when Catriona McMurphy, an ordinary 21st-century librarian, was in a museum in her hometown of Greenward Falls. She looked into a turquoise-coloured pottery bowl, and all of a sudden everything went swirly and blue around her. Next thing she knew, she found herself in a forest, in a whole other world.

This is a world that has no electricity, flush toilets, internet or cell phones – but it does have magic. Subtle, gentle magic; nothing that involves waving wands or throwing around sparkly curses, but that permeates the very existence of the people of this place.

Cat soon found out that she herself has some of that magic – in her case, an ability that is called “The Knowing”, a strong intuition bordering on clairvoyance particularly about the people she loves. One of those people turned out to be a tall, red-headed potter by the name of Guy, who is a member of the Septimus family, the most prominent group of people with special gifts in the town of Ruph, descended from the seventh son of a seventh son.

When Cat first met Guy, literally lying at her feet, he had a small red-headed daughter named Bibby, possessed of a double dose of “The Knowing” and a charm that wormed itself irresistibly into Cat’s heart. A few years down the line, Catriona’s life is, let’s just say, not short on red-heads of various sizes and descriptions, and she has her hands and her heart full keeping them all in order, and getting in some time to read the odd book at the town library of Ruph, too.

And of course there is always something that throws a wrench in the works – ordinary life in Cat’s world is never all that ordinary. A speechless young boy and a plague of mice – a girl bullied by her sister, and a new kind of clay that seems to have special properties – a teenager that has dropped in from Cat’s old world and desperately wants to get home… There is usually some knotty problem that Cat needs to solve in between stoking the hearth fire and keeping Ruph’s library books in order.

If you’re wondering just what Cat’s new world is like, there are descriptions in the books, of course, but roughly speaking, in technology and climate it’s very similar to pre-industrial Europe. Of course with there being some magic, they have options that your 17th-century Englishman didn’t have – for example, closed stoves with attached water heaters, so Cat can still have a nice hot bath without having to lug a cauldron to the fireplace first. They also don’t have antibiotics, but there are wise women who know their way around a herb patch and the odd person with healing power in their hands, which is just as good.

If you want to get a taste for Cat’s world, give “Lavender’s Blue” a read (it’s FREE!). And if you enjoyed that, dip your toe a little deeper (because you taste with your toes, don’t you?) and get a copy of Seventh Son (also FREE!).

If, of course, you’re already a die-hard fan of Cat & All the Red-Heads, there’s only one thing left to tell you: STAR BRIGHT IS COMING SOON! Honestly, Book 4 in the series is written, and is being edited as we speak. No exact release date yet, but it’s coming! As soon as I know when, you’ll get to see the snazzy new cover so you can start drooling in anticipation.

Life, the Universe, Cat and the Red-Heads. Welcome, or Welcome Back, to the Septimus World.

 

Pennies Dropping – A Retelling

PenniesDropping-OFFENWANGER-ArttAmandaBergloff

A Fairy Tale Flash Fiction piece of mine is now up on Enchanted Conversations: “Pennies Dropping, a retelling of the Grimms’ “The Star Talers”.

“Pennies Dropping” is double-featured with another Fairy Tale Flash, “Midnight” by Fanni Sütö. Two for the price of one – check it out!

Enchanted Conversations Introducing… Yours Truly!

Meet Angelika (2)

Just look at this: “Meet Angelika – The EC Team”!

That’s right – I’m being interviewed over on Enchanted Conversations by way of an introduction as their new “Contributing Editor”. What that means is that a couple of times a month, I get to write a post for their blog (sneak preview: some of it will be fairy tale flash fiction, which are short pieces between 100 and 500 words long), and I even get paid for it!

So head on over to Enchanted Conversations and find out what’s my favourite fairy tale (okay, one of them – they made me restrict myself to a single one, cruel people), whether I work from an outline when I write, and other fascinating and earth-shattering information about Yours Truly that I know you’ve been lying awake at night wondering about.

Life, the Universe, and a New Endeavour! It’s all very exciting.

And We’re Live!

MagicInTheNight-OFFENWANGER-ArtAmandaBergloff

“Magic in the Night”, my first ever officially published story, is now live at Enchanted Conversations! Go over here to read it (and if you feel inclined, tell me what you think).

When you’re done, go here to the table of contents to read the other submissions in the “Elves and the Shomaker” issue:

What happens when the solution to writer’s block may be worse for the writer? Can a worthless girl discover a talent she never expected? Why does an online store make sure all their hats are specially wrapped in a secret? And what is the price to be paid when elves have things stolen from them?…Plus three more tales where elves and shoemakers are not always what they seem. Enjoy!

It looks like a fantastic lineup of stories and poetry; there are some real gems there.

Life, the Universe, and My First Published Story – out there for all of you to read!

PS: Hmm, so I just realised that they didn’t publish the last few lines of the story as I had it submitted. I’ll let you know if or when it changes. EDIT: It’s fixed now – all good!

I’m Going to be Published!!

So, this just happened:

“Hi Angelika,

This is Amanda Bergloff, editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and your story, “Magic in the Night” was selected for The Elves and the Shoemaker December Issue.”

Eeeeep!! I’m going to be published! With a fiction story! In a real online magazine!

Here’s the awesome piece of artwork Amanda Bergloff did as the cover image for my story:

MagicInTheNight-OFFENWANGER-ArtAmandaBergloff

“The Elves and the Shoemaker” has always been one of my favourite fairy tales, so when Enchanted Conversation announced that that was the theme for the December issue, I had to give it a try. As a matter of fact, it was my first few thousand words for this year’s NaNoWriMo – and the last few thousand, as well, as I was editing it at the very end.

Incidentally, “The Elves and the Shoemaker” counts as a Christmas story, as the climax of the tale, when the shoemaker and his wife spy on the elves, happens “just a few weeks before Christmas”.

One of the reasons I love this story so much is that it has a thoroughly happy ending for everyone involved, and the reason for that happiness is goodness and kindness. Unlike the parallel story of “Die Heinzelmännchen zu Köln” (“The Little Gnomes of Cologne”), where the elves disappear after being offended by a mean trick – the housewife scatters peas on the stairs to make them slide and fall so that she can catch them – in this story they leave after the grateful shoemaker’s family gives them gifts. The shoemaker no longer needs the elves’ help, and the elves get rewarded for their good work – goodness is rewarded all around, and they all live etc etc (you know the drill).

In my version, there’s a bit of a twist to that… But you’ll have to wait to find out what it is until the magazine comes out, which will be very soon! I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s up.

Meanwhile, pop on over to Enchanted Conversations and check out their fantastic back issues, for example the “Diamonds and Toads” one from last April.

Life, the Universe, Elves and Shoemakers – and my very first published story!

 

 

On Character-Driven Stories, or: It’s About the People

“Don’t tell Angelika,” a friend of ours, an engineer, said to my husband, “but I tried to read her book, and didn’t make it past the first few pages. There are way too many feelings in it!” My husband did tell me, because he knew what my reaction would be: I laughed long and hard.

But also, quite contrary to our friend’s expectations, I took his statement as a compliment. For one, he only tried to read the book because it was mine, i.e. it was an expression of friendship, which I appreciate. But the other thing is that the average engineer is not exactly my target audience. So if I managed to turn one off by dint of having too many feelings in my book, I think I may have succeeded in writing for the other kind of person: the one who wants to hear about emotions, about the inner life of characters, about their relationships to one another.

The point was brought home to me again just the other day in my writers’ group. One of the critiques I got on a piece of mine, the beginning of another novel, was, “Do you really need three different points of view to tell the story?” I was a little taken aback (not to say  hurt, which is, alas, the price of getting all-too-necessary critiques). But once I’d mulled it over for a while, I came to a conclusion: the answer is Yes. Yes, I do need three points of view, because what my stories are about is the characters and their interactions.

SeventhSon_CVR_XSML

One of the Amazon reviews of Seventh Son says: “The character relationships are subtle and involved. In fact, all of the book’s true drama comes from how people relate to each other”. Precisely. I write character-driven stories.

And the reason I write character-driven stories is because that’s what I like to read. Now, I’m fully aware that I’m in somewhat of a minority with that preference. What’s popular, what sells best, are plot-driven stories, stories where things happen, where there is action and external drama. Battles! Kidnappings! Sword-fights! Car chases! Explosions! Murders! Wicked witches poisoning girls with apples and being chased by workaholic dwarves with pickaxes!

Personally, I find action scenes boring. Crash, bang, boom, bash – just tell me who wins already, and get on with the real story, about the people. (Plus, I don’t like the tension and extra adrenaline; I’ve got too much of it coursing through my system already – a side effect of being an HSP; but that’s a post for another day.)

To me, what is interesting in a story is not so much what happens, but what the people make of it, how it affects them. I want to get into their heads. It’s the character of the, well, characters that matters to me, that creates stories. Of course you always need a plot – a beginning, a middle, an end – but to me that plot can be as simple as “girl meets boy, girl has trouble getting together with boy, girl gets boy”.

In fact, the latter is the plot of all six Austen novels; the only thing that changes is the characters. And Austen is still in print after 200 years. It’s also the plot of every romance novel, which are, in fact, as a group the biggest sellers on the fiction market. Character-driven stories roll across the screen in every TV serial like Downton Abbey or Coronation Street which follows a group of people through the years, watching them live their lives and interact with one another; and they shocked movie critics when My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel became sleeper hits.

Austen2

Come to think of it, given the popularity of the aforementioned tales, maybe I’m not in such a minority with my preference for character-driven stories, after all. There are a lot of us who prefer people stories, which can be easy to forget when you hear writing gurus go on about “what sells” or castigate the fledgling writer for “not writing tightly enough” or – gasp! – using adverbs, those touchy-feely markers of emotion.

There are a lot of us – but even if there weren’t, I’d still stick with my preference. I like Austen, and L. M. Montgomery, and Georgette Heyer, and even Miss Read. No swords, no car chases, no bad guys and nary a dead body. Just wonderful, fascinating stories about people.

Okay, I’ll grant you that writers of these stories don’t often populate the weekly bestseller lists. But I have a hunch that they are disproportionately represented on the long-sellers list. Which is all to the good, because it means their books are going to be around for a long time for the likes of me to enjoy.

Life, the Universe, and Character-Driven Stories. It’s all about the people.

 

Let the Crazies Begin, or: Why I’m a Wrimo

IMG_20171020_155853704

“What’s the point?” someone asked the other day, when the conversation came around to NaNoWriMo. (NaNo-whatmo? you say. NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. You know, that Novemberly craziness where I, and several hundred thousand others across the globe, vanish into a deep rabbit hole of mad, bad and dangerous-to-know novelling, aiming to write a 50,000-word novel in the space of 30 days. I might have mentioned it a time or three [dozen] before.)

What’s the point, indeed. Why do this to yourself? Why engage in such a bout of insanity? And don’t get me wrong, it is insane. Every year, I get stressed to the hilt, moan and whine, say I’m not going to finish (my fellow local Wrimos can attest to that). And every year, I sign up again. This will be my seventh NaNo in a row. But why?

Grant Faulkner, the current executive director of NaNoWriMo, just wrote an excellent article about it: “How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing“. A lifetime of better writing. Or, in my case, writing at all.

If it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t be a writer. Because writing, dontcha know, is for special people. People who have talent. People who have passion, who must write or go insane. People who have grand ideas, big stories to tell – stories of adventures in far-off places, of lives lived in danger and darkness, of deep and harrowing emotions or high and lofty ideals. People who create unforgettable characters and bring them to life on the page. In other words, people not like me.

I’ve always loved stories, and as a kid in school, I was good at writing them. I even took creative writing courses in my undergrad studies, and a night class on how to write books for children. But what I learned from those classes, among other very useful things, was that I don’t have what it takes to be a novelist. I don’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to finish a whole novel, and even if I did, my ideas are kind of basic, trite. Light-weight, as it were. Not the stuff that real novels, and therefore real novelists, are made of.

And that was okay – it’s not like I was crushed or heartbroken about it; it was just a realistic estimation of my skills and abilities. I’m not one of those people who “always wanted to write a novel” – it never occurred to me that I could, because novel writing, dontcha know, is for… (see above, rinse and repeat).

Enter NaNoWriMo 2011.

I wasn’t going to “write a novel” – nah, I had no such lofty goal. All I wanted was to see if I could do this thing, could write 50,000 words in one month. I was going to have fun, and tell myself a story that I liked, and that’s all.

And you know what? I did. I wrote 50,000 words, told myself a story, and “won” my first NaNo. But that wasn’t all. When I was finished, I had a novel. A full, completed novel. And just like that, I was a writer.

Because a writer … is a person who writes.

And that’s what NaNoWriMo is about – writing.

The goal that all us crazies sign up for is to write 50,000 words. Not everyone makes that goal; in fact, not very many Wrimos do – a rough estimate is that maybe 1 in 4 reaches the full word count. But for the rest of them? They still write. Even if someone falls 40,000 words short of the goal, that means they’ve still written 10,000 words they hadn’t written before. Ten thousand words! That’s a lot of words, people. It’s about forty pages, printed out, and there’s novellas out on the market of that length.

And the reason these Wrimos wrote those words is because they signed up for it, and got caught up in the sheer enthusiasm and excitement that’s NaNoWriMo and swept along in the current of writerly excitement. Caught up just like I get caught up again, every year, for the seventh time in a row now. Surrounded by other crazies, talking titles and plots and word count tricks, sharing ideas and cheering each other on.

It doesn’t matter that those stories we write aren’t deep, or lofty, or weighty or important. They might be, but then again, they might not. They might be terrible, riddled with spelling mistakes, more full of plot holes than a broken sieve. But they are still stories, and they have been written. Written by writers.

And that is the point of NaNoWriMo: it makes me a writer. That’s why I do it, year after year.

Like I said, you don’t have to join in – by no means do you have to join in. But if, perhaps, this is something you think you might want to try – do it! Come on in, join the fun! It’s the best thing ever. And who knows, at the end you might have a novel in your hand – that’s what happened to me. And it was a game changer.

Life, the Universe, and Being a Writer. Thank you, NaNoWriMo!

SeventhSon_CVR_XSML
The book that started it all.