What is Deep POV?

Deep Point of View (Deep POV) is a style of writing that encourages readers to experience the story through a single character’s perspective at a time, making the events of the story more personal and compelling. This technique is a popular one in modern genre fiction, as it mimics the experience viewers have when watching many of their favorite films.

It cuts the narrative tags of “said” and other words that replace “said” that jerk a reader out of the character’s head. By using deep POV, the reader steps right into the character’s shoes. For strong, emotional writing, Deep POV is a skill that every novelist should learn and conquer. Although it can be difficult at first, it is so important, that I have written an entire post just on this skill.

Deep POV eliminates narrative tags that remind the reader that they are not the hero or heroine of the story. Deep POV adds depth of emotion while stuff is happening, rather than apart from it in patches. This makes the passage more interesting and weaves emotion through the scene right through the action and dialogue. It draws the reader in by  providing that emotional punch that takes your story from a manuscript to a riveting tale by drawing the character into the story’s emotions.  Deep POV, with all its jam-packed emotion, grabs your reader with hard-hitting emotional punch! In this way, our writing takes on a life of its own.

With Deep POV you can utilize any tense and grammatical person (e.g. first-person, third-person, etc.), making this technique fairly adaptable to your style and your story’s needs. What defines a certain type of storytelling as being written in Deep POV is its subjective nature, distinct character voice, and limited marks of authorship.

Deep POV gives a third person POV a first person POV feel.  With Deep POV, you weave in sights, scents and sounds while the characters dialogue. You get inside the POV character’s head.  You show action and dialogue while at the same time you learn the POV character’s emotional response to what is going on.

How to Master Deep POV

To do deep POV right, we have to leave narrative tags behind. Tags like “he said, she screamed/whispered/wondered/thought/cried” which without Deep POV are necessary evils and drag the reader out of the story reminding them that it is just a story. Sometimes they must be used for clarity, but rarely in deep POV. This works equally for comedy as suspense or straight romance or any genre. It automatically cuts down on adverbs. Deep POV involves using signature actions to identify characters, using only one person’s thought, but never saying “he thought”. Weaving emotion right through dialogue and action is the key to this emotional punch.

In order to get your reader to be able to identify with your character, you have to first identify with the your characters. I have found a fun way to do this. I interview my Interview my characters not only to separate myself from the character, but also so that I can identify with that character.  

Become Your POV Character

As time goes on, I become my POV character! Role-playing is a fantastic method to give real, true emotional depth to my characters. I do this all the time. Sometimes I’ll take a scene and look at it from inside every character’s head. I create soundtracks and signature of smells for my book, so that I feel I am in their world. I close my eyes and put myself right into the world where they are. I try lines for specific scenes and feel the emotion. I’ll then back up and look at the scene from just the viewpoint of POV character and have that character look at each of the other characters and notice how each of the other characters is reacting to the scene unfolding. Everything then is only what the POV character sees and feels during that scene in relation to what the other characters are saying and doing.

I have a new novel coming out later this year called The Tower of Babel. It is a departure from the Locket Saga because it is a contemporary suspense mystery. To set this scene up, our POV character is at a party where she learns that the man she is working with is friends with the family whose child she surrogated. She doesn’t want the man she works with to know about it.

Have you ever read a book in which you felt one with the point-of-view character? That’s what can easily happen when you are reading a book written in Deep POV.

From the very first page, the author drops you in the protagonist’s shoes, encouraging you to see their world and experience their journey through their eyes. It’s novels like these that are often so easy to consume, and deep POV makes many of them tick.

Parameters of Deep POV

Once you’ve taken the time to develop your characters, it is time to go even deeper into POV. Here are a few key parameters to keep in mind.

  1. Limit your character’s knowledge
  2. Cut filter words
  3. Limit dialogue and thought tags
  4. Show Don’t Tell
  5. Become your POV character
  6. Avoid passive voice
  7. Avoid character thought explanations
  8. Handle hide your POV character’s thoughts carefully
  9. Avoid having the POV character asking questions in his internal dialogue.
  10. Avoid having POV characters filling the reader in on story facts.

In most contemporary fiction, characters don’t speak to readers. They don’t acknowledge that they’re even there. If you want readers lost in your fictional world, you don’t want to do anything that reminds them they’re reading fiction. Once characters acknowledge readers, readers become distracted by story structure. The reader is no longer a participant but revert to being an audience. The reader sees more than the events of the story, he sees the framework and the individual pieces and loses the fictional flow.

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Time to Edit Your Novel

During the past several weeks in my blogs about editing novels, I have been about dialogue and this week I am continuing on this theme. This week we’re going over an important aspect of dialogue that actually relates to every aspect of the novel and that is, it must be interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. I know I have mentioned this before, but this is so important, I have designated an entire post to this subject.

Why Are We Having This Conversation?

When writing a conversation between characters, it is important that these conversations draw your readers along through the story and move the story forward. Every conversation in your novel must have a point that draws the story forward or that conversation should be eliminated from the story. When editing your dialogue, be conscious of what you want to achieve. What information o you want to pass to the reader. Do you want to get the reader get to know one or more of your character better? Knowing dialogue’s purpose beforehand allows you to direct your conversation.

Be sure that your dialogue sounds like real people talking. Ask yourself as you edit, “Does it sound like a real conversation or does it sound contrived.

Determine the correct topic for the conversation. What goals do you want the conversation to accomplish? Determine if this is the right place in the story to have this conversation or would it be better to have it earlier or later in the book.

If two people are just getting to know one another in the story, try to find things that they have in common interest that the reader would also find interesting. Discovering common likes and dislikes opens up a bond between two people. It harnesses the human touch to one’s relationship.

Maintaining Reader Interest During Monologues

Keep the theme of the conversation interesting to the reader. If you find that a conversation between characters is getting boring, cut. If you find that your reader is likely to skip over a portion of dialogue, delete it. (that goes for any portion of your novel. If it isn’t moving the story forward or keeping the reader engaged, cut it.)

Create Empathy in Your Reader for your characters, especially the POV character. Create a conversation where the reader will put him or herself in the shoes of the people in the conversation.

To help avoid what appears to be a monopoly, have your characters listening to and validating the other person thereby creating a dialogue. Rather than leaving one long passage, break it up with another character’s reaction to what the other character is saying.

Clarity, Please!

Allow your characters to show action and use their senses between sections of dialogue. If the one character misunderstands the other, allow the character to be misunderstood and make the conversation seem real. In addition, you can have characters ask for clarification to show the character’s interest in the topic. This also shows if the character is paying attention. If not, show it in the dialogue.

By creating dialogue that is realistic, your reader will better identify with what is being said and will create a better reading experience.

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As writers, we should be ever evolving in our craft. This is why it is helpful to hear what others have to say about the editing process because it helps us develop better writing skills. Sometimes we hear advice that seems logical, but then we realize that maybe we need to take that advice with a grain of salt. Here are some strategies that defy some of the rules we’ve been told about writing dialogue.

Should Our Characters Always Stay on Topic?

We have been told that “dialogue should stay on topic”. However, in real life we talk in spurts and in incoherent mumbles, grunts, and murmurs while we try to form our thoughts. We stumble on our words and correct ourselves. We pause and reflect. We backtrack. We circle around in tangents. If our character is to seem realistic, our character’s dialogue needs to do the same.

These reveal character traits and priorities. If dialogue is too focused and direct, it’ll sound predictable and flat. Readers want to see the motivations, the quirks, the uniqueness our characters. These add texture when our characters speak.

When one character asks another character a question that the other character doesn’t want to answer, a great technique for showing that the character doesn’t want to answer the question is by having the character interrupt, change the subject and attempt to stay on their own course even though the conversation has taken a different course. Conversations overlap to reveal the characters’ attitudes.

At times you’ll want your dialogue to be layered with meaning to show character goals of, social context of the conversation and the scene’s subtext. Subtext and innuendo bring depth to triviality so sometimes it is important to include trivial things to the conversation. What the reader is witnessing is not what lies at the heart of the scene.

Scenes with romantic tension will often have dialogue in which the characters banter or engage in small talk. But in those instances, it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that matters most. Identify the core tension of the scene, then plumb subtext and use apparent triviality to your advantage in dialogue. Of course, not every scene will need subtext, but when you want to emphasize the emotional, subtext is necessary.

Dialogue digressions can also be useful. You can use them to insert red herrings, foreshadow important events, reveal clues about what motivates your characters, or add new dramatic elements to the story line.

Use Dialogue in the Context of What Each Character Trying to Accomplish in this Scene?

Another Mistake often made in dialogue comes from the advice to “dialogue as you would actually speak.

Although in real life people speak primarily to give information, in fiction a conversation is not simply a way for something to be expressed. In writing, rather than asking yourself, “What does this character need to say?” ask, “What does this character need to accomplish in this scene?”

Create mutually exclusive goals for each character in the scene to create tension which affects how the conversation will play out. When determining your character’s response to stimuli, remember that his agenda toward the other person will trump the topic of conversation.

Give each character an agenda. The speaker might be trying to impress the other person, entertain her, seduce her or punish her. Whatever it is, the goal—whether stated explicitly or not—shapes everything that’s said.

Often you can move the story forward more effectively by having the characters respond in a way that implies an answer, showing that they’re reading between the lines of what was said or have questions of their own.

“SAID” and other Dialogue Tags

It’s true that you’ll want to avoid cluttering your story with obtrusive speaker attributions. They can and will become a distraction. Readers will stop being present in the story and will start looking for your next synonym for “said”.  They will realize that you own a thesaurus and know how to use it, but they don’t want to learn new words, they just want to hear your story.

On the other hand, “said” can become tiresome when it appears repeatedly on the same page. And, when used improperly, it can be proof that you are a novice writer.

“Kayla said” does not equal “said Kayla.”

To hear how your dialogue reads, try inserting the pronoun instead of the character’s name. For example:

“That’s an awesome boat,” Mark said.

“That’s an awesome boat,” he said.

Both of those statements make sense. But look at what happens when you write it the other way:

“That’s an awesome boat,” said Mark.

“That’s an awesome car,” said he.

If you wouldn’t write “said he” then don’t write “said Bob.” Stick with placing the speaker’s name before the verb unless there’s an overwhelming contextual reason not to.

Don’t use attributions simply to indicate who’s speaking. Use them to create pauses reflected in actual speech, to characterize, and even to orchestrate the pace and movement of the scene.

Additionally, speaker attributions can be used to maintain or diminish status. Compare the two following sentences.

“Come here,” he said. “Now.”

“Come here now,” he said.

The placement of the speaker attribution in the first example creates a pause that emphasizes the last word and raises the dominance of the speaker.

You Don’t Always Have to Avoid Long Speeches

Sometimes allowing a character to have her say reveals more about her than forcing her to speak in sound bites ever could.

When deciding whether to let a character launch into a diatribe, consider if she’s trying to get her say in before anyone else can interrupt. Also, take into account the buildup of tension that precedes the speech. Like a garden hose, the more pressure, the more dramatic the release.

Must Your Dialogue to be Grammatically Correct?

Always be willing to break conventions when it’s in the service of the story and the reader. Getting the story right is more important than being grammatically correct.

In dialogue, sentence fragments sound more realistic to readers than complete sentences do. Cut semicolons from dialogue. Cut semicolons from any fiction. If you find them, it’s usually because you’re trying to include complex sentences that wouldn’t sound natural. Choose commas and periods instead.

Are Talking Heads Always a Bad Thing?

Just as dialogue should reveal the intention of the characters, so should the actions that they take while they’re speaking. When we read that a character folded his arms, we’ll naturally wonder why he’s doing that. What is it meant to convey about his attitude or emotional response to what’s happening? Don’t confuse your readers by inserting needless movement. Rather, include action only as long as it adds to the scene or enriches it. If the action doesn’t convey anything essential, drop it.

It is sometimes okay that the reader doesn’t see what the character is doing when speaking. If you find your character brushing his nose or repositioning his chair or crossing his legs and so forth for no other reason than to provide a respite from the dialogue, recast the scene.

Keep Characters’ Speech Consistent?

When I am at work, I talk differently to other teachers than do with students. When I am talking with elementary children, I speak with them differently than I speak with high school students. In addition, I treat my daughter differently than I treat my husband or sons. A character should not respond the same to every other character exactly the same.

Dialogue needs to be honest for each character in that situation. Don’t try to make your characters consistent in the sense of always sounding the same, but rather allow them to remain in character within each unique social context.

If one of my characters responses exactly the same to every other character, I need to consider rewriting. Each character’s history with  other characters affect the character’s tone, word choice, grammar, sentence structure, use of idioms, everything. Even his posture is likely to have changed.

So, if a character is highly educated and every time she speaks she’s using impressive words, it gets old. The character will seem one-dimensional. In addition, if she’s from the south and says “You’all all the time, she will become cllched.

Few people are always blunt, always angry, always helpful. We speak differently in different situations. Mood, goals, state of mind fluctuate. This ties in with character believability. Remember: status, context, intention.

Yes, we’ve gone over all of this before, but it really does improve your novel when you give characters a goal, a history and an attitude toward the other people in the conversation. And always strive for honest, believable responses rather than scripted ones. Don’t be afraid to play with your conversations within your scenes. The more human you can make your characters, the more your reader will identify with them.

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When Your dialogue starts to look like a monologue, it is probably time to edit!

Dialogue is not only a useful tool, it’s an important component of effective storytelling. The time that you invest in editing and polishing will pay generous dividends.

Dialogue lets you reveal character, advance the plot, establish the setting, and deliver a theme, all at the same time. Well-written dialogue is a fast and easy read. Make sure you fix these problems in your dialogue.

Beware of Wooden dialogue

It’s important to read dialogue aloud while editing it, because the words you put into your character’s mouths need to sound natural and spontaneous coming back out. At the same time, unlike real people who often stammer and repeat themselves when conversing, fictional characters are expected to “talk edited.” Avoid these mistakes that make the dialogue sound stiff and rehearsed.

First, avoid Radio talk. In old radio dramas, scriptwriters peppered the actors’ dialogue with narrative details to help the listeners picture each scene more clearly.

“Marshall, why are you have that gun pointed at me?”

Therefore, as you go through your manuscript, remove or revise speeches where a character is doubling as narrator.

Second, avoid unnecessary naming. Unless there is a good reason for doing so, including the name of the person being addressed can also make dialogue sound wooden.

“Way to go, Andrew.”

As you read through scenes of dialogue, be alert to excessive or unnecessary naming and trim it out.

Eliminate Insignificant dialogue

Real life conversations often begin with exchanges such as: “How have you been? Nice weather we’re having.” We use small talk as a way to dispel initial discomfort, or to ‘sound out’ the other person before raising more sensitive or important topics.

As you edit your manuscript, consider whether there is any true dramatic purpose for your characters to engage in small talk (to betray nervousness, for example). If the line is insignificant, remove it and let the speakers get right to the point.

Also, look for speeches that recap things already known to every character as well as the reader in the scene. If the speaker has nothing new to say (or ask, or reveal) about the past event being recalled, then the reference as it stands is insignificant to the story. Either put it to work moving things forward or delete it.

Delete Repetitive dialogue

Speeches of dialogue need to be edited as rigorously as any other part of a story, especially when it comes to ‘trimming the fat’ by getting rid of unnecessary repetition. Read each speech aloud; repeated words and idea echoes will pop out at you. For example: “He was elected unanimously. Everybody voted for him.” (The second sentence is an echo and can be deleted.)

Sometimes entire scenes are repeated in dialogue, by a character who has experienced an event in an earlier part of the story and proceeds to describe it in detail to another character later on. If the scene has already been shown to the reader and this revisiting of it reveals nothing new about either the speaker or the listener, then the narrator can sum it up in a sentence: “He told Rachel what had happened at the party.”

Dress-up Naked dialogue

In every real-life conversation, there is an underlying subtext communicated by unspoken clues. Each speaker’s state of mind and trustworthiness are revealed by such things as the speaker’s posture, physical actions, facial expressions, and tone of voice. In order to bring a written scene of dialogue to life, you need to envision and communicate a subtext for it that the reader can picture in his or her mind.

While some spoken lines contain their own subtext, others do not. So, as you edit your manuscript, look for ‘naked’ speeches in need of one or more:

Descriptive tags (she said, he insisted, they chorused), to help the reader keep track of who is talking and reveal a character’s manner of speaking when the words alone don’t imply it. (“I’m not going in there,” Jerry muttered.)

A speaker’s actions, when they contradict or reinforce the spoken words, or when they help the reader to picture the scene more easily.

A speaker’s thoughts, when the speaker is the point of view character and the information helps to deepen the reader’s understanding of the character or the scene. (This wasn’t an ice cream parlor – it was a dental office! “I’m not going in there,” Jerry muttered.)

 Undressing Overdressed Dialogue

Tags or speaking verbs describe a character’s voice, and because they tend to chop up a scene of dialogue, they should be used sparingly, primarily when there is likely to be confusion about which speaker is saying what, or how the words sound coming out. When editing your manuscript, look for tags that can be removed without diminishing the effectiveness of the scene. Look also for tags that describe actions rather than voices. Compare the following examples:

“But why do I feel so miserable?” she scowled unhappily.

Jenny scowled. “But why do I feel so miserable?” she demanded.

Three Rules for Editing Dialogue Punctuation

Although we will be discussing other aspects of punctuation later in the series, we’ll deal with dialogue punctuation here. There is a right and a wrong way to punctuate dialogue. Here are three important things to remember about dialogue punctuation.

1. Insert double quote marks around the beginning and ending of the spoken portions within your story.

“That television program is the worst I have seen in years.”

There are double quote marks at the beginning of this dialogue and at the end of this dialogue. If your font has straight quote marks, be sure to keep them consistent. Nothing like inconsistency on something so small as quotation marks that sadly ruin a great reading experience!

2. Place the comma on the inside of the quote mark, before the dialogue tag. This error is very common in manuscripts.

“She’s a good time girl, all right,” Dad said and looked up from his daughter’s grade card.

3. Watch for inconsistent structure in dialogue. You might have beautiful dialogue, but the structure is messed up. When you have action beats and dialogue beats around a segment of dialogue, it can be tricky to know how to organize it.

“I think you’re crazy.” Susan shook her head. “You’ll never get away with that.”

But what if you want to include a dialogue tag instead of an action beat? Try this:

Maddie wasn’t sure how long she had been unconscious, but Deke’s tone made it sound as though it had been a long time. “How long was I out?” she called.

The question mark goes inside the quote mark, followed by a lowercased pronoun and a comma after the dialogue tag and the exposition of how the character’s voice sounded. Please do not capitalize the pronoun after the character speaks. You want to keep good form.

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A scene is more than just the background of your novel. A scene is everything that happens in the reader’s mind as it relates to your novel.

Two Basic Scene Types

Scene writing is the most integral, and obvious part of any story, but it is also overlooked and the least understood part of storytelling. First, type of scene is the scene proper. The second type is called the sequel.

Scene Building Blocks

Each scene follows a specific structure. At its heart, the arc of the scene is the same as that of the larger story structure exhibited over the course of the book: 1. Beginning which is the Hook. 2. The middle which is where the scene develops and finally there is the end or the climax of the scene.

What is the Scene’s goal?

Possible scene goals are endless, but very specific to your story. Your character can want anything in any given scene, but within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your scene to those that will drive the plot. Everything else needs to be cut and either discarded or put elsewhere in the novel where it becomes an integral part of that scene. What information do you want passed on in this scene? How can you best pass that information on? As we learned last week, that information is given in the form of narrative (or internal dialogue, action, or dialogue).

Scene Conflict Options

In the scene proper, conflict keeps your story moving forward. “No conflict, no story” because without conflict, the story comes to an end. When the character’s initial goal is stymied by conflict, it causes the character to react with a new goal, which is stymied by further conflict, which causes that person to again modify his or her goal until the goal is reached and the story ends.

Options for Disasters in a Scene

The disaster is the payoff at the end of the scene. This is what readers have been waiting for—often, with a delicious sense of dread. It answers that question: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Or later in the story in might be to answer the question “How was he going to get out of that one?”

Scene Variations

You’ve already probably seen some successful scenes, in your own stories and in popular books and movies, that don’t seem to quite fit the proposed structure. How exactly does that work? Your scene might be something as simple as a transition scene where narrative is used to describe that time or location changed. Your scenes might not be action or dialogue, but rather it is internal dialogue which is our second main form of scene which is the sequel.

Sequel Building Blocks

The sequel—the second half of the Scene—sometimes gets shortchanged. But it is every bit as important, since it allows characters to process the events of the scene and figure out their next move.

In a sequel, a character or characters ponder what has just happened and to plan how to deal with this new information.

Options for Sequel Reactions

At the heart of every sequel is the narrating character’s reaction to the preceding scene’s disaster. This is where the author gets the opportunity to dig around inside his character’s emotional and mental processes and find out what he’s really made of.

Sometimes the sequel reaction is not just the reaction of the protagonist, but the reaction of everyone involved and their decision on how to move forward as a group.

Sequel Dilemmas Options

Once your character’s first emotional response to the previous scene’s disaster has passed, he will have to get down to the all-important business of thinking about what he’s going to do next. The previous disaster has left him in quite a pickle. It was a catastrophic declaration. The character or characters now respond with, “What do I (we) do now?”

Sequel Decisions Options

The most instinctive of all the sequel’s building blocks is the decision. This third and final piece of the sequel grows out of the character’s dilemma and leads right into the next scene’s goal. The decision is the little cattle prod on your story’s backside that keeps it moving.

Variations on the Sequel

Sequels, even more than scenes, offer all kinds of flexibility. To help you realize the possibilities of the sequel, let’s take a look at some of the common variations.

The key to getting a sequel is in the emotions that are portrayed in the sequel. In the sequel, you’re expressing how what happened in the scene affected the POV character. You can do this in several different ways. You can do it through description and narration. For instance, you could tell the reader that the POV character was elated by the event. You can do it through an internal monologue with the POV character telling you that he feels sad and hopeless, or you could do through dramatization like the POV character showing anger by punching a wall. Finally, you can show how the person is feeling by giving away the tone of how he’s feeling by using elements of the setting and weather. For instance, a strong sequel might be shown after a fire that burns down the POV character’s home, as the fire trucks are pulling away, it begins to rain and the POV character is soaked to the skin with someone else coming up to him and putting a blanket around his shoulders and leading him out of the rain.

At first, scene development can be a subject that takes a while to fully grasp and, as a result, can spawn all kinds of questions. However, once authors grasp scene structure, the whole approach to storytelling becomes clearer and more refined and easier to navigate.

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To get a scene right, it takes a balance in narrative, character interspection, action, and dialogue.

Want to write the best novel ever? Wouldn’t you love to write a book that a reader couldn’t put down?

Part of the skill needed for this to happen is to have a compelling story, but another part of it involves balancing these three elements of fiction: dialogue, narrative, POV character introspection, and action.   

This is an intuitive process, and you probably didn’t think about how you wove these elements when you were writing that first draft, however, now that you’ve nailed your plot, your characters, and your scenes, you’re ready to zero in on these three elements as well. To do this, move inside your characters. Now, during the revision process, when reading back through the story, you can better identify with dialogue, narrative or action that overtakes the scene.

The perfectly balanced scene has a perfect pitch, like a well-balanced stringed quartet and you are the musical director.

Balance Novel Elements like a Stringed Quartet

Dialogue is like a first chair violinist who carries the melody of a musical piece. The dialogue should always be the main emphasis in a scene, however, dialogue should never be the only focus of a scene. Just as the second chair violinist, the celloist, and bass player adds depth to a scene, so also can narrative, introspection, and action.

Just as a musical score sometimes has one of the instruments do a solo portion, if you want to highlight a particular character trait in your viewpoint character or focus on something specific that the characters are talking about, you don’t want the scene cluttered, the reader distracted, or the pace slowed by action or narrative. When someone is telling you a story, the setting, the other people around you, everything just kind of fades away, and you’re intent only on what the other person is saying. You cut away action and narrative and leave only your characters’ spoken words.

If an author weaves action and narrative throughout the dialogue, slows the pace of the novel down, however, if you keep the dialogue primary to fast-paced scene of dialogue. If a scene is just dialogue, we get the full impact how life expresses itself in his life. When you isolate a character’s dialogue, if the reader is paying attention, he’ll become privy to the character’s personality and motives in a way that’s not possible in the woven scene just because there’s too much going on.

Scene Pacing

Pacing is probably the most common fiction element to address when considering how to weave dialogue, narrative and action. If you’re creating a fast-paced conflict scene between two or more people, you might do well to consider only dialogue, at least for parts of it. In this case, use action to create movement, and use narrative and introspection only when catching your breath.

The passage would be very effective without a bunch of narrative bogging down the moment. The dialogue should demonstrate a character’s feelings toward another person. Dialogue can take the protagonist pages to tell us something in narrative, whereas a scene of dialogue can quickly show us through that character’s own words said out loud. Narrative explains, and dialogue blurts out.

Similar reasoning applies when writing scenes with only narrative, character introspection, or only action. You want to focus on something in your character’s mind or describe something that would only sound contrived in dialogue, so you use straight narrative.

If the action needs to drive the scene forward because it’s intense and emotional, your characters just wouldn’t be talking during this time.

Sometimes, as in real life, there’s just nothing to say at the moment. Always, let your characters lead the story along.

Adjusting Pace

Blending dialogue, action and narrative requires finding your story’s rhythm. As you write our scenes, to help you determine what you need to do in your rewrites, consider answering these questions about your story.

Ask yourself:

Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)

Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)

Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative to break it up.)

Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds (use narrative).

Do I need to get out of my character’s head because a conversation would be more effective? (Use dialogue.)

Does this scene have too much dialogue? Narrative? Action? (Insert more of the deficient elements.)

Do my characters provide too many artificially created background details as they talk? (Use narrative.)

Revealing Character Motive

Whether we’re using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements reveal character motives. Your story’s dialogue can reveal motive in a way that’s natural, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives. Understanding a character’s motive is to understand the character.

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Over the past several weeks, we have discussed how to move the story along through transitional means of scenes and chapters. This week, we’re going start looking at what goes into each scene. We’ll assess each scene and build them to appear realistic and draw the reader into story.

Imagine the story is part of a scene of a play. You have well developed characters in the wings ready to act out the story lines that you have ready for them. However, the stage is still bare, and the props have not yet been gathered. The characters also do not have their scripts. By the end of this month, your characters will have all of these.

This week our focus will be on the setting so get out your paint brushes and get ready to develop your story’s backdrop.

Setting

Setting is the place of story and answers the questions where and when. Writers and readers expect a story to take place somewhere and at some time.  Setting includes locations (indoors and outdoors), cities or countries or planets, era or age, time of day, and cultural milieu.

Since you have written the first draft and have developed your book this far, you have, at least, a general idea of the details of your setting. Setting is a necessity, but it doesn’t affect readers the way plot and character do, and readers aren’t drawn into the novel because of the story’s setting. However, setting does effect mood and event possibilities and character temperament. Change the novel’s setting and you create a new story.

Setting influences character type, word choice, pace, tone, even genre. Setting enhances story by enfolding plot and character in a place where they fit, where their strengths can best be highlighted. Setting helps characters and events shine, it gives them a backdrop that allows them to show what best fits the story and hide what doesn’t belong.

Writers can use setting to bolster their weak areas—bring depth to a plot-first story by introducing a setting that heightens the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Setting can be used as a jumping off place for a dramatic action scene.

Scenes

Scenes in plays are similar to scenes in novels. If you write a short section in which something significant happens in a single setting, then it is a scene. The scene directly affects what happens later. “What happens later” is the sequel. Here is a good article on how to write perfect scenes.

Action launches tend to energize the reader’s physical senses. To create an action launch:

1. GET STRAIGHT TO THE ACTION. Don’t drag your feet here. “Jimmy jumped off the cliff” rather than “Jimmy stared at the water, imagining how cold it would feel when he jumped.”

2. HOOK THE READER WITH BIG OR SURPRISING ACTIONS. An outburst, car crash, violent heart attack or public fight at the launch of a scene allows for more possibilities within it.

3. BE SURE THAT THE ACTION IS TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER. Don’t have a shy character choose to become suddenly uninhibited at the launch of a scene. Do have a bossy character belittle another character in a way that creates conflict.

4. ACT FIRST, THINK LATER. If a character is going to think in your action opening, let the action come first, as in, “Elizabeth slapped the Prince. When his face turned pink, horror filled her. What have I done? she thought.”

5. SAVE TIME BY BEGINNING WITH SUMMARY. Sometimes actions will simply take up more time and space in the scene than you would like. A scene beginning needs to move fairly quickly and, on occasion, summary will get the reader there faster.

6. COMMUNICATE NECESSARY INFORMATION TO THE READER BEFORE THE ACTION KICKS IN. Sometimes information needs to be imparted simply in order to set action in motion later in the scene. Opening sentences such as, “My mother was dead before I arrived,” “The war had begun” and, “The storm left half of the city underwater,” could easily lead to action.

7. REVEAL A CHARACTER’S THOUGHTS OR INTENTIONS THAT CANNOT BE SHOWN THROUGH ACTION. Coma victims, elderly characters, small children and other characters sometimes cannot speak or act for physical, mental or emotional reasons; therefore the scene may need to launch with narration to let the reader know what they think and feel.

8. ENGAGE WITH SPECIFIC VISUAL DETAILS. If your character is deserted on an island, the reader needs to know the lay of the land. Any fruit trees in sight? What color sand? Are there rocks, shelter or wild, roaming beasts?

9. USE SCENERY TO SET THE TONE OF THE SCENE. Say your scene opens in a jungle where your character is going to face danger; you can describe the scenery in language that conveys darkness, fear and mystery.

10. REFLECT A CHARACTER’S FEELINGS THROUGH SETTING. Say you have a sad character walking through a residential neighborhood. The descriptions of the homes can reflect that sadness—houses can be in disrepair, with rotting wood and untended yards. You can use weather in the same way. A bright, powerfully sunny day can reflect a mood of great cheer in a character.

Scene launches happen so quickly and are so soon forgotten that it’s easy to rush through them, figuring it doesn’t really matter how you get it started. Don’t fall prey to that thinking. Take your time with each scene launch. Craft it as carefully and strategically as you would any other aspect of your scene. Remember that a scene launch is an invitation to the reader, beckoning him to come further along with you. Make your invitation as alluring as possible.

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Why Your Book Description Matters

The book description is the pitch to the reader about why they should buy your book. It is the basis of the sales copy that will get them to see that the book is for them (or not), and then convince them to make the purchase.

It may seem that this article was put here out of place, but the truth is, if you haven’t already started it, now is a good time to start putting together your book description for your book either to include in your query letter to agents and publishers or to add to the back cover of your self-published book.

Remember, people are looking for a reason to not buy your book, so having a good book description is key to keeping them on the purchasing track.

How to Write Your Book Description

A good way to write a book description is to use the Hook, Pain, Pleasure, Legitimacy, Open Loop Format

1. Hook

The first sentence should be something that will grab your desired reader and make them take notice. If that isn’t right–or worse, if it’s wrong–you can lose the reader immediately, and then it doesn’t matter what the rest of the description says.

People are always looking for a reason to move on to the next thing. Don’t give it to them. Make the first sentence something that compels them to read the rest of the description. Every good book description you see is interesting from that first sentence. The idea is to focus on the boldest claim the book offers. Think if that most sensational fact or the most compelling idea.

2. Pain

In nonfiction, experts recommend that once you have their attention, then clearly describe the current pain they are in. In novel writing, the idea is similar, but instead of showing your reader’s pain, show your character’s pain. If you can accurately and realistically describe the pain of the character so that the reader empathizes with them, df, you will have them fully engaged in the description and seriously entertaining the idea of buying the book.

What pain does the character face? What unsolved problems do they have? Or, perhaps what unachieved aspirations and goals do they have? Clearly and directly articulate these, in plain and simple language. Make the situation seem impossible.

3. Pleasure

Then offer them a question about a possible solution. Done right, this creates an emotional connection by describing how the book will make the potential reader feel after reading it. Or even better, what the reader will get out of reading your novel.

Legitimacy

This is simply about letting the reader know why they should listen to you, why you are the authority and the expert that they need to hear from. This can be very short and should not be a focus of the book description. You want just enough social proof to make them keep reading.

This can also go in the hook. If there is an impressive fact to mention that should be bolded in the first sentence. Or if there is one salient and amazing thing about you or the book, that can go in the book description, something like, “From the author of [INSERT WELL KNOWN BESTSELLING BOOK.]” If you’re an unknown writer, put in something like “If you liked (a book of the same genre by a famous author,) you’ll love (title of this book). Or if your book is a cross of two genres, write something this “Where Jaws and Twilight meet.”

5. Open Loop

You state the problem or question your book addresses, you show that you solve or answer it, but you also leave a key piece out. This encourages the the reader’s interest and leaves them begging for more.

You do want to be very explicit about what your story is about, but you don’t want the plot’s solution in the description. This is to create an “open loop” that will make your reader realize that they have to buy your novel.  

Here is the description that I used in my first novel: When God Turned His Head:

Beautiful Drusilla was in love with Kanter Thorton but to protect him she was forced to marry another man. After years of abuse her husband is poisoned and all eyes are on her as the likely suspect. Only Kanter and a young lawyer named John Adams believe she is innocent. Will Drusilla finally be set free in this drama set in the backdrop of Post-puritan/Pre-revolutionary War Boston?

It makes you want to read more: After reading this description, any reader is going to keep going into the reviews and other information. You’re hooked—you want to know how the future second president of the United States is going to help solve this murder..

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