Point-Of-View matters, but it doesn’t matter that much

Reading back through the first draft of a story, I noticed that I’d slipped into first person for a couple of paragraphs. Not big problem, right? Most of my first drafts are handwritten, and I can easily fix the point-of-view when typing up. But to judge by the proto-fascist attitude to POV I see expressed by many writers these days, I might in fact have committed a mortal sin.

How Fiction Works by James Wood

How Fiction Works by James Wood is one of my five indispensable writing guides for fiction writers. And at a time when POV has become seemingly set in stone, How Fiction Works is perhaps the best guide I can recommend to show you a different way of thinking about writing. What is it we’re really talking about when we talk about POV? James Woods answer is invaluable.

“When I talk about free indirect style I am really talking about point of view, and when I talk about point of view I am really talking about the perception of detail, and when I talk about detail I’m really talking about character, and when I talk about character I am really talking about the real, which is at the bottom of my inquiries.”

Style is point-of-view is perception of detail is character which is, the bottom line for all fiction, the real. What readers HUNGER for in fiction is to to step into a reality created on the page. A strict form of POV, like the “Third Person Close” style now made near compulsory by George R R Martin in his Game of Thrones novels, is one way to achieve that reality. But so is the fluid shifting POV style used in so many other novels over many centuries.

If, as I see so many writers and editors doing at this time, you are reject all but a small number of POV writing styles – Third Person Close, First Person Present etc, you aren’t expressing expertise. The opposite is true. You’re telling me you don’t know how to create a reality on the page. In place of that essential skill, which expresses itself in so many ways, you’re simply parroting a style that other writers evolved as one possible answer to the challenge.

I strongly recommend reading Wood’s How Fiction Works cover to cover if you haven’t already done so. And take a look at some older classics of fiction, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which pioneered the free indirect style of novel writing.

Yes stories are formulaic. No that’s not a bad thing.

imagesSome years ago I had a friend who didn’t believe recipes had any place in the kitchen. He would start cooking a meat pie, then decide it needed some fruit. Too sweet? Add some paprika. Maybe it’s not a pie after all. Now it’s a desert. Cover it in honey! I’m not joking. My friend valued originality above all. People enjoyed his parties, but never for their cuisine.

It’s amazing how many writers try to write this way.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron is an interesting book. It pulls together a lot of well researched information about the connection between storytelling and neuroscience. And guess what? The latest insights of science are showing us that stories are waaaaaaaaay more important to how humans think than most people realise. Stories aren’t just idle entertainment. Stories are, quite literally, the way we think.

(Writers have suspected this for a long time, and researchers like Brene Brown are proving just how important the scientific study of stories can be.)

How often have you heard people dismiss a story for being formulaic? How often have you done it yourself? But when it comes to storytelling, our cultural obsession with originality does us little or no good. The great formulas of storytelling, like great recipes, exist because our narrative tastebuds respond powerfully to that combination of story flavours. The task for the writer isn’t to toss away the Hero’s Journey , five act structure, or any of the beautiful formulas for great stories from history, but instead like a great cook, you must flavour them slightly differently for the palates of modern audiences.

Wired For Story is a remarkable foundation to build a great understanding of storytelling upon. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Why does literary fiction hate genre?

Literary fiction is an artificial luxury brand but it doesn’t sell. So nobody benefits by fencing it off from more popular writing.

It’s always a problem when one of literature’s big beasts wanders off the reservation into the badlands of genre. The latest to blunder through the electric barriers erected around the safe zone is two-time Booker prize nominee David Mitchell, whose new book Slade House is undeniably a haunted house story. Or, as the Chicago Tribune put it, his “take on a classic ghost story”. As if the thousands of genre ghost stories written every year by horror writers weren’t also one individual’s take on that classic form.

Read more @ Guardian Books.

When it comes to fighting monsters…why the bat?

Jennifer Brozek’s new YA series, the Melissa Allen trilogy, features a young female protagonist who carries a baseball bat when she’s fighting monsters. In this special guest post, Jennifer explains why Melissa named it Mister Bat, and how it became a repeating factor in all three books. While most people might think a baseball bat is an unusual weapon for a young lady, Melissa has her reasons.


Why would a nice girl like Melissa favor a baseball bat over all other weapons when fighting monsters? It’s an easy enough question to answer on the whole. Melissa is a young teenager who loves baseball. At the start of the book, she’s unable to play but she still has her named weapon of choice. It is a talisman for her and a source of security—like a blanket, only more protective and less apt to hurt her accidentally.

While some would argue that a gun would be a better weapon, guns run out of ammunition. They are also noisy, illegal to carry in some states, apt to be taken from the owner and used against them, or have the weapon owner accidentally shoot themselves with it. On the whole, in a situation with monsters, the bat is a better choice. No loss of ammo and a sense of familiarity. While it could be used against Melissa, it’s not a long distance weapon, thus running away is still an option.

There’s another reason Melissa loves her bat. Her favorite fictional hero, Deroga Darrington from the Dare Files uses one. They are silent, effective damage dealers, legal, and easily replaceable. Melissa is well influenced by her love of Deroga, constantly referring to him and his gritty, sage advice.

The real question is: why wouldn’t a young woman want a baseball bat for protection? Or an older woman for that matter? I have a lovely aluminum bat I keep near me while I’m at home. It isn’t a named bat, but it is still a comfort nonetheless.

Never Let Me Leave is available from Amazon now.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter.

There is only one choice for the new World Fantasy Award

Most readers of this blog will already have read the news that, after a long debate within the community of fantasy writers and readers, H P Lovecraft is to be replaced as the face of the World Fantasy Award. Not everyone is taking the news gracefully, not least critic S T Joshi who performed an epic flounce, returning his World Fantasy awards and asking never to be nominated again!

I have no intention of rehashing the Lovecraft debate here, it has been had and decisively won, and my feelings on old HP are already on record. The really valuable discussion now is what we replace the existing trophy with. It’s interesting because it cuts to the heart of a very important question for fans and writers of the fantastic – what IS fantasy?

“Fantasy” as a category of storytelling means many things to many people. Even putting aside his explicit racism, Lovecraft was a poor choice as the “face” of a world fantasy award because he represents only a narrow – very narrow – range of fantasy’s broad meanings. But, this isn’t just Lovecraft’s problem, it’s equally true of ANY single author. (And, I would argue, any single iconic fantasy character.) For this reason I also do not support Daniel Jose Older’s widely popular nomination of Octavia Butler to replace Lovecraft. Fantasy contains many great writers, none of whom should be the face of the award.

I also understand the general reluctance of many to embrace any of the prototypical fantasy symbols – wizards towers, dragons, unicorns etc and onward. Dragons definitely have profound significance in epic fantasy, but mean very little in horror, for instance. I’d have no problem collecting a dragon shaped WF award one day, but understand that others might feel differently. However, I do think there is one iconic symbol of fantasy that can stand for the entire field.

The portal.

The portal connecting one world to another is more than just a staple of fantasy stories. Yes, a magical gateway opened by a sorcerer, and CS Lewis’ magical wardrobe, are tropes within their respective narratives. But the importance of the portal to all fantasy writing reaches much further than that. In The Rhetorics of Fantasy writer, critic and academic Farah Mendelsohn makes a compelling case that all fantasy revolves around the relationship between reality, and the created fantasy of the story. In a sense, whether a portal is explicitly presented or not, all fantasy is about the act of moving through portals between worlds. It seems to me that when we ask what fantasy is, the portal is the most universal of answers.

How would a portal be represented as a three dimensional trophy? There’s really no end of possibilities for skilled artists to explore. It could take a traditional form as a magical gateway, the more horrific image of the shadowy doorway (how many horror stories turn on a decision to walk through the wrong door?), or a more abstract form as a circle or ring.

If you’d like to see the portal chosen to represent the field for the World Fantasy Award then please spread the word, link to this post, and please leave a comment if you have thoughts to share.

The awesome power of science fiction’s megastructures

The imaginary constructions of science fiction fill us with awe at their alien vastness. Which have you explored, and what was the most overwhelming?

Sci-fi fans call it “sensawunda”, that awe and amazement that the best science fiction stories can inspire in us. The entire world felt it recently when scientists declared that observations of a distant star might have revealed an alien megastructure. Did inhabitants of the KIC 8462852 star system encase their sun in solar panels to harvest energy? Or was this our generation’s canals on Mars moment? The sensawunda effect is so powerful that, even with scant real evidence, we are swept into believing.

Read more @ Guardian Books.