Category Archives: Publication

Just Me and My Personalities: How to Juggle Multiple POV Characters

When I started taking classes from my writing teacher, mentor, and now friend Laurel Leigh (perhaps you’ve heard of her?), she gave me some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten.

Fortunately, I completely disregarded it.

Before I tell you what her advice was, why I ignored it, and why that turned out to be a good thing, let me provide some background for the subject matter: writing in multiple Point of View (POV), or as I like to call it, expressing your multiple personalities in a single work.

I grew up reading epic fantasy, and I’ve known since I was a teenager that this was the genre I wanted to write. If you aren’t familiar with the genre of epic fantasy, I’ll give you the briefest introduction. Basically, the hero always has nothing less than the fate of the entire world on his or her shoulders. Picture Frodo attempting to drop the ring into the cauldron of lava in Mordor while everyone he cares about fights for their lives. No pressure, right?

In order to succeed in such a monumental task, the hero needs a large and competent cast of supporting characters. Would Frodo have succeeded without Samwise? I don’t think so. Gandalf, Aragorn, and Legolas played important roles too, among others. In epic fantasy, the battle is always fought on several fronts.

Because the hero can’t be present on all these fronts at once, epic fantasy is often written in multiple points of view. In one scene, we’re in Frodo’s POV as he inches toward the cauldron; in the next, we’re with Gandalf, holding back the orc army in the last ray of light left on Middle Earth.

Now, the advice Laurel gave me was this: Don’t attempt to write your book with six-plus POV characters. Find your hero—she might not even be the hero you have marked out as the main character—and tell her story.

Given my background with epic fantasy, these words broke on barren shores.

I should start by saying that Laurel was absolutely right. I would have had a much easier time, and probably produced a much better first novel, if I had followed her advice. I should also mention that I have followed, or tried to follow, at least 90% of the advice Laurel gives me, with winning results every single time.

Unfortunately for me, epic fantasy is what I wanted to write. I needed to start there.

I should also add that there have been several incredible epic fantasy tales told with a single point of view. In fact, my favorite author, Robin Hobb, uses single first person POV in her first work, the Farseer Trilogy. So multiple POV isn’t a rule of the genre, though it is the norm.

When I told Laurel this, those many years ago, she replied that it may be a convention in the genre, but that doesn’t matter. You should tell the story the way the story needs to be told.

Again, she was absolutely right, and again I ignored her advice, but her response got me wondering why so much epic fantasy is written in multiple POV. To be honest, before she suggested maybe I should scale things back, I hadn’t really considered writing in any other format.

The answer I come up with is this: multiple POV epic fantasy novels are actually the story of several different characters woven into one book, united by plot and setting. Through this method, the writer explores the implications of the main event (usually, but not always, the end of the world, or some great and final battle) on the various POV characters.

The benefit for the reader is that they can experience several different personalities under the same conditions. The farmboy becoming the prophesied hero experiences the dramatic arc differently from the wise old magician, who experiences it differently from the inexperienced young battle Queen. As a reader, I can experience the same story in a variety of different ways. It’s like the difference between ordering off the menu and exploring the buffet.

One of my favorite things about this kind of epic fantasy is how opinionated readers get about the characters. Even when all of the “good” characters are drawn as sympathetic by a given author, all of them have their haters on the online fantasy forums. Entire threads are devoted to tearing apart these characters, evidence perhaps of how deeply epic fantasy writers are engaging their readers using multiple points of view. Continue reading

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Guilty until Proven Innocent

anthony inmate pic

Anthony’s mugshot from 2006

My essay titled WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING was just published in the July 2014 issue of The Sun.

It’s about my nephew, Anthony Shaw, who was arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend’s two-year-old son.

This is a story about guilt and innocence and trying to live with the difference.

Some readers have asked me if this is a true story.

It is.

Read an excerpt or subscribe to The Sun.

 

The Sun July 2014 Issue 463

The Sun
July 2014
Issue 463

 

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An Evening at the Independent Writers’ Studio

Clover BuildingIn downtown Bellingham WA, on bustling Holly Street between Cornwall and Bay Street, you will find the Clover Building—whose ground level houses a bridal shop and a printing shop. If you’re a writer, you must grow immediately bold and enter, because inside, amidst an array of private offices, counseling rooms, even an ayurvedic wellness center, you will find the Independent Writers’ Studio, a third-floor haven for writers of all sorts with one thing in common: they come to the Studio to study and write with Mary Elizabeth Gillilan.

Most Monday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, and many other times, you’ll head up the tall flight of stairs (or you can hop into the elevator) to find Mary in her white chair, book in hand, or at work at the large polished-wood table that doubles as her desk and a gathering place for writers.

Mary Elizabeth Gillilan

Mary Elizabeth Gillilan, founder of the Independent Writers’ Studio and Editor-In-Chief of Clover: A Literary Rag.

The author of Tibet, a novel in journal form, and garnering awards for her writing and editing—including a Governor’s award for editing a history of Washington State—Mary has been leading writing groups for more than thirty years. At the I.W.S. gatherings, she gently and quietly guides both emerging and seasoned writers in their craft, offering advice for how to hone a line or bring a character’s motivation into focus.

Clover Winter 2013

Clover Volume 6: Winter 2013, published by The Independent Writers’ Studio

This night was my second visit to the Studio and my first time at an I.W.S. night. By the way, your initial visit is free and if you decide to continue (as I know I want to!), there’s a modest fee for a month of workshops that now occur Mondays and Wednesdays. And London bus–style, you can jump on or off when it suits you and your writing, although the writers I met at this visit were all long-time habitual attendees. After a timed writing to some optional prompts, on the lineup this evening was a coming of age story set in Alaska and a tale about a pair of high school sleuths. As the newbie, I was invited to read my pages, too, so that added some cheap sex in a car. You know that high you get from coming together with other writers and sharing and discussing your work? So I’ll just say, great high! Continue reading

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Plug Into a Poet and a Flash Fiction Contest

Would like to put in a big congrats to Michael Odom, an honorary Dogpatch poet, for his latest poem, Death Starts, just published online at A Clean Well-lighted Place!

If you click through on the link, you’ll find they’ve announced a Flash Fiction contest with an August 5th deadline. So submit if you’ve got something ready!

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Oddly enough, Michael and I both worked at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco while I was earning my MFA.

You can check out more of his work at his blog: Maostrap or buy his recently published chapbook: Strutting, Attracting, Snapping

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CONGRATULATIONS, MICHAEL!!! 

 

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Hellos from The Hague by Cecile’s Writers

Hello from the Dogpatch! We’re jumping out of our skins and very honored to present this guest post from Cecile’s Writers in The Hague—Sofia, Samir, Vanessa, and Cecile—an awesome foursome of bloggers and the editors of the upcoming Cecile’s Writers Magazine, a literary magazine for intercultural writers.

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CecileIn general, the Dutch know and understand a certain level of English. And we’re all very happy to switch to English to make it easier for people who don’t understand Dutch. (Though most never consider the possibility that the other person is trying to learn the language.) Yet even though most Dutch people know English, there aren’t many who write fiction in English.

Luckily, there are a few who do. Editing their stories is an intriguing process. Ungrammatical sentences are easy to spot and to fix. However, there are plenty of sentences that aren’t wrong in the grammatical sense, but still don’t come across as natural. For example, as a teacher I often heard the phrase ‘How late is it?’ instead of ‘What time is it?’ It’s easily corrected, but whether I would change it depends on the voice throughout the story. The structure can reveal much about the origins of the author.

When I write, I try to avoid such sentences, but in the end, I’m not a native English speaker and that will remain evident in my writing. Now, is that a bad thing? It depends. Some people are put off by it. (Usually, these people tend to have heart attacks when they come across spelling mistakes in newspapers, etc.) Others don’t mind. When editing stories written by non-native English speakers, I can correct all those sentences (as far as I recognize them), but that’s not the objective at Cecile’s Writers Magazine. We like to keep the unique voice of the writers provided sentences make grammatical sense.

—Cecile Continue reading

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The Anatomy Of A “Viral” Blog Post

Hello from the Dogpatch,
Check out this very interesting account of how a truly great post from 101 Books went viral. The lovely story behind the “author” of the post is even better.

101 Books

It’s been a crazy week here on 101 Books, and I thought I’d share that experience with you.

The main purpose of this blog is obvious: To read through the Time list. That’s my priority. But 101 Books is also a blog about writing, and even blogging in general at times, and that’s where this post falls.

Last Friday through this past Tuesday was just nuts. I’ve experienced abnormally high traffic with one post before, but that traffic usually comes from one or two main sources, like the WordPress Freshly Pressed feature, for instance.

I also have steady traffic from all of you guys who read the blog every day—for which I’m extremely grateful. So I guess you could say I’ve had some success here and there, after many failures too.

But my post on Friday, April 26—My 2-Year-Old Judges Books By Their Covers—was the first time…

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Cate Perry on Hooking

Dogpatch Writers Collective welcomes guest contributor Cate Perry.

Angela sat on the edge of the hospital bed, letting the news sink in: Her own heart was a ticking time bomb.

Now that I’ve got your attention, allow me to take a step back and tell you Angela’s life story in 100% exposition. She was born on May 7, 1985. She had blonde curly hair that turned brown over time. She never caused her parents any trouble. Now she works as a receptionist for Happy Days Travel Agency. Every day at breakfast, she eats an apple and blah, blah, BLAH!!!

We’ve all heard the bleak news about slush piles. Agent panels at writers’ conferences around North America tell us 95% of their submissions are crap, while 5% are decent enough to read past the first couple pages. And when we hear this, we simultaneously ask ourselves the same, pleading silent question: Would my work merit that 5%?

When I started as an intern for a literary agency five years ago, I got to answer that question for myself. Moreover, I got to see the 95% who got rejected and why. Continue reading

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