Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do Classes Really Help?

I recently took a class called "Once More With Feeling. Cheryl St. John, a well-known and multi-published HQ author was my instructor, and I learned so much from her. I urge anyone who has the opportunity to enroll in Cheryl's classes to do so...she instructs in plain English and makes it so easy to understand.

I know she won't mind if I share my favorite point of contention with you. I've written several novels, but no editor has actually pointed out how I'm jerking the reader out of the character's head by using phrases like:

he thought
she wondered
he believed
he remembered
her thoughts wandered to
he thought to himself (who else would he think to?)

or if you use excessive italics or underlining.

Cheryl pointed out that huge passages of italics can be irritating and can easily be just as effective as text. Another publishing house I worked with restricted to your internal thoughts for this very reason. I now find them irritating and try to avoid using them at all.

As far as using the "jerking" phrases, I'll share two examples Cheryl so expertly used to demonstrate the difference:

He wondered where she'd hidden the deed to the house. He believed it was probably hidden in that old trunk upstairs. Travis saw several photographs on the table as he passed through the kitchen, and he picked one up. It was a picture of the two of them, taken the summer they'd rented the house on the lake. She was smiling at him the way she used to.

See the problems? If you are telling the story from the characters POV, then we know who is wondering, believing, and seeing. The new rule that seems to be popular in eliminating as many instances of "was" as it is considered passive. Here's an improved version.

Where the hell had she stashed the deed? Lydia's predictability was one of the things he'd always loved about her. She kept everything from old canceled checks to her birth certificate in that trunk upstairs. On his way through the dining room, a scattered pile of photos captured his attention. He recognized the one on top before he even picked it up and held it to the late afternoon light slanting through the blinds. That summer they'd spent at the lake had been one of the best times of his life. Back then, they'd still smiled at each other like silly teenagers, still held hands on the beach...still had dreams.

In the second paragraph, it's clear that the author became Travis and experienced the scene through his eyes.Without even using backstory, you can tell that Travis and Linda aren't getting along as well as they used to.

Cheryl also reminded us to make our character's thoughts match their speech, intellect, upbringing, ethnicity, and personality. For instance, if you're writing from a child's POV think like a child. An uneducated person will think like one. Get into the character's head and write from that perspective.

And if you are like me and wondered what about Deep Point of View, I can finally explain it. As a writer, you want to be invisible. Stay deep in the POV of the character by avoiding any words or flowery phrases that remind the reader that someone wrote the story and they aren't experiencing it firsthand.

Kudos to Cheryl St. John for helping me to continue to grow as a writer and for not suing me for using her material on my blog. She's an awesome instructer, friend and author. (Is that enough sucking up?) *lol*

To find out more about Cheryl's vast backlist and her newest releases, visit her website.


Lisabet Sarai said...

Really good example, Ginger!

I don't think that classes can make you a writer if you don't already have the passion and the ideas. However, they can definitely help you hone your craft.

I'm sure that I'm guilty of this overuse of mental attribution at times. Next time I sit down to write, it's going to be at the front of my mind.


Margaret West said...

Great info here. I copied and pasted some to remind me. Thanks for a great post.


Lorrie said...

Hi Ginger,
Yes, a very interesting article and I agree up to a point. I agree 100% about the jerking, but, and I'm still learning so correct me if I'm wrong. If you use a beat/action before the second set on inner thoughts that are in italics--the long section--why do you need italics at all since you are in his POV already?

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

Thank you so much for this post. I went back to ms and did a find on "he thought" Wow, I see it so clearly, now. It's much better without.

Lin said...

One of the problems I faced and I hope have solved is two characters at the same moment reacting to the same stimuli. Since one is an angel in flehs, I decided to make it possible for them to read each others thoughts, so I never actually leave her POV when he, in the current form of a wolf, reponds negatively to his paw suddenly getting wet. She can "hear" his grumbling snarls and respond.

Cheryl St.John said...

No lawsuit today. :-)

Thanks for the kudos. You are a agreat student and an ever better friend, sweetie.

here's a link to my online class site:

Christine London said...

Great insights/reminders, Ginger. Thanks for sharing them!
Christine London

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Great blog, you have made some very relevant comments. I always struggle with deep POV



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