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Cal's Soapbox #4

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Sat Sep 08, 2007 7:20 am
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Caligula's Launderette says...

Cal's Hyde Park Corner Soapbox

Thought I'd sit down for a spell and talk about things, or stand up on my soapbox and have some discourse about one my favorite pastimes -- writing.


I feel many people have difficulty with this, when we talk about Point of View or POV, we talk in terms of teller, actor, and narrative forms: first person, second person, third person ecetera, ecetera. I like to look at it as if is in the world of film, the teller is the camera, and the actor is the character, makes this visually easier to understand.

1st Person - The Teller is I, usually older; the actor/narrator is I. I am one of those horrible people that dislikes first person narrative, a lot; and when I mean a lot, I mean a lot, a lot. Usually I can't stand it, but there are a few things I like that are written in the first person narrative, most of these include short stories (we are forgoing the existence of articles here).

First person is very egocentric, too egocentric sometimes -- the reason I dislike it. You are in the characters head the entrie time, and your character is going to have to be pretty damned interesting for me to read a whole novel from inside their head. Plus, it is hard to write. Certain moments or events become next to impossible to craft properly because you only have one viewpoint. For example, the actor is talking with a guy, a guy she really likes, she thinks they are flirting, he knows they are not, how do you should that? I'm sure with careful planning, you could flush that out in his dialogue, but when you only get to hear her thoughts, it can be very difficult.

As I said, first person is difficult to write, the big question is balancing between all the inane things one does during the day vs. keeping the reader interested. What do you leave out? - is the biggest question. It is very easy to forget to include description and emotion, far too easy to ramble, and not have enough grounding in the setting of your story.

First person narrators are chameleons. They can change colors on you, the most prevalent is from character with issues/problems to Mary Sue. They can change over the course of a sentence or over the course of a chapter. Because you are dealing primarily with thought, because you are in the character's head, all this talk of issues, problems, etc may morph into one simple phrase I deem: "woe is me...". We try to stay away from "woe is me..." statements in our battle against the Mary Sue.

First person can also force you to create trite or unbelievable situations so it fits perfectly. For example, picking up the phone when someone else is on the line, while that other person never notices the other open receiver. Or walking by the open office door during a sensitive conversation. Overhearing the murderer conveniently incriminate himself. Correctly guessing the bad guy's password in three tries, in order to access the encrypted data that was, of course, conveniently left in a directory titled something like "Villainy", etc, and which can be copied directly to disk without having to reset any permissions. This also falls under the things that happen to Mary Sues.

First person can also yield poor results when try to build a proper character. Some characters usually villians and or character motivations may become flat as a piece of cardboard.

Now that I've told you all the icky things about using first person, I will tell you all the reasons it is good, and nice, and pretty.

First off, first person narrative can bring the reader closer to a character, make the reader more simpathetic, empathetic, or the direct opposite for a character. It helps the narrator connect with the reader, as well as explaining motivations and thoughts of the narrator first hand and clear to the reader.

As a writer, it may be easier because all you have to do is being with I.

First person does not mean you can just ignore the other characters, either. You somehow have to develop them with deapth and realism, through that single viewpoint of your POV character.

2nd Person - The Teller is an unknown outsider; the actor is You. For example: you walk into the room, you pick up the mug, you... This POV reminds me of those choose-your-own-ending mystery novels. Second person is a very forceful way of writing, and not used very often. But, when used properly, is great, especially for making the reader feel uncomfortable. A person in one of the writing class before me wrote a story in second person about a rape.

Mostly though, second person is used in poetry, as us readers can only take it in short spans and small doses.

3rd Person Limited - The Teller is unknown; the actor is he/she/it. Third person limited is only from one characters point of view. But is limited by the fact, that the POV character can only experience things that are in his power to experience. For example, Johnny is in the classroom, Johnny can hear everything in the classroom but the door is closed, so Johnny can't hear the conversation that is going on in the hall.

3rd Person Unlimited - The Teller is unknown; the actor is he/she/it. The only thing different between third person limited and this, is that it can be told from the point of view of multiple different characters. Johnny can have his bit, but Mary is out in the hall, and the overheard conversation can be told from her point of view.

3rd Person Omniscient - The Teller is unknown, the actor is he/she/it, no limits. Third Person Omniscient is where there are no holes barred. The writer can do whatever he/she wants. The narrator can be a god-like, omniscient narrator who knows everything, sees everything, and then it can jump into one characters head, to anothers, to anothers, and back and forth between all points.

Some say this is the easy way to write because there are no constrictions on it, the writer does not have to focus on one certain thing. Codswallop! -- Third person Omniscient is just as hard as any other POV, maybe even harder because you have to cover everything.

Third person is often perceived as harder because the write must deal with all characters, not just the MC.

STICKY-NOTE #1: The narrator is not the author, not even in memoir. It is never about what the author thinks. No, no, no, it's always about what the narrator thinks. Remember, you have no idea what the author thinks, well unless you know them personally.

STICKY-NOTE #2: Narrators are not trustworthy. Take for instance, Claudette's narrator Diedrick Strauss from her NaNo, The Letter. In the prologue, he comes right out and says it: "...your narrator is not a reliable one. Over the years, my memory of these events has started to fade and fall apart." // "Please do not believe all that I say.". Your narrator will lie, and most often your narrator will lie to you. As if my Regan would actually tell me something out of her own volition, or Imp's Tov would ever answer a question with something that made any sense.


I am a horrible person -- why, you ask -- well, when I pick up a new book, I always flip to the end and read the last page, or just the last paragraph, if I like it I'll read it, or alternatively buy it. But, that is besides the point.

How do I begin? I have asked myself that same question many a time, and have come to some conclusions. The first sentence, or the first few sentences, maybe the paragraph should make me want to read the rest. When I begin reading I ask myself these questions: Who? What? When?; later I will ask: Why? How? If there is a MC present I ask myself: Who is [MC]? Do I like [MC]? Why do I want to care about [MC]? And, by god, you better deliever.

You can essentially begin any way you want as long as you grab the reader with it. Kinds of traps include: dialogue, character in unfamiliar surroundings, in the middle of a battle, fight, verbal fight, game, etc. In your beginning, the first thing you want to make sure you accomplish is catching your reader, then your next mission is to character craft, make your reader care about your character(s) and/or situation, so they will continue. The other alternative is to make is so absurd, weird, unreal, funky, or bizarre that the reader reads on because they want to know either: what is going on or how if will end.

When talking about short story, first you have to decide when to begin telling a story. It best to do that first, then decide when that event is taking place. You can craft the rest of your story around that place and time.


(d) The moment at which propells the story into action. The first point of action in a story which really gets the plot moving.

By figuring out what and when your point of attack will be, will help you begin your story. Everything before your point of attack is character development and/or exposition.

For example, in Ernest Hemingway's "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber", the first few pages were dialogue between the characters, and exposition of the surroundings. The point of attack came a few pages later when Hemingway does a flashback to the night before. The writing is full of tension, as Francis Macomber hears, from his tent, a lion roar. It forces the story into action, like forcing the gears to start spinning in a machine.


Avoid using limiting modifiers as much as possible. These include the words: only, even, almost, nearly, hardly, merely, scarcely, simple, and just. They are often misplaced, and often writing-wise the don’t make sense as they do in everyday speech, i.e. almost oblivious. In the writing world, there is full on oblivious or not oblivious at all; almost oblivious doesn’t exist.

When misplaced it often suggests a meaning that the writer doesn’t want. For example, Mary almost ate the whole salad by herself. This translates to Mary meant to eat it all but did not. A limiting modifier should be placed in front of the verb it modifies. For example, the above has been rewritten properly: Mary ate almost the whole salad by herself. Also limiting modifiers should modify the verb, if they don’t, they are useless.


These can get the reader's nerves -that would be me- really fast. Always, always when dealing with metaphor please don't mix and match them. For example, my all time favorites, a leapard can't change his stripes, and this is not rocket surgery. Please avoid mixing your metaphors at all times.

Beware of things like this, snagged from an episode of The Simpsons: With Lenny in, Carl will fold like a domino!

With that said, appropriate metaphors are worth their weight in gold.


Well, there is no leopard in this one, but there are spots. Your reader will most often assume that a word in the beginning/middle of the sentence will have the same meaning at the end of the sentence. Please, don't make us doubt ourselves.


Murder your darlings. - James Patrick Kelly

In layman's terms, all those words that are "...too busy looking pretty to do any work..." need to go. Get rid of all those extra, superfluous words that don't add anything to the piece.

As JPK says, "When time comes to make that final revision, however, you must harden your heart, sharpen the ax and murder your darlings."

Hope these helped, were useful, or made you laugh, giggle, snort, or smirk.
Fraser: Stop stealing the blanket.
[Diefenbaker whines]
Fraser: You're an Arctic Wolf, for God's sake.
(Due South)

Hatter: Do I need a reason to help a pretty girl in a very wet dress? (Alice)

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Wed Apr 30, 2008 9:45 pm
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onceuponatim3xo says...

Thanks for the help :D

I'm probably going to have to switch my story to third person un/limited :?

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Tue Sep 02, 2008 10:09 pm
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kaonna says...

This helped alot I was thinking of doing it either first person or third person but now I see that third person unlimited works just fine.
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Tue Sep 02, 2008 10:31 pm
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Twit says...

It's funny, but I find third person - any variation on it - really, really, really tricky. I breathe first person. But it's a good tutorial. *did not wince at the "avoid using modifiers" part*
"TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules, and likeable leading men. In life, we have this."


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Sat Mar 14, 2009 3:09 pm
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mhmmcolleenx0 says...

This really helped. I was writing a story in first person and it was getting difficult because I really wanted to show what was happening to another character. Maybe not show what he was thinking exactly but show what he was doing. Good thing I wasn't that far in the story because I'm switching to third person unlimited.
"Can't stop, won't stop. I must be dreaming."

He who knows only his own generation remains forever a child.
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