Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Picture Book text up for critique

Everyone, thank you for all your feedback on the other posts. Now, I hope you'll all dive in on this post. I had set a rule that I wouldn't put up anything longer than give or take 500 words. Well, we're stretching it on this one. The following post is the entire story of a picture book (without the pictures), written by one of my talented critique partners Anita Davison. Anita is from Surrey, England, which you'll notice reflects in her writing.

She's anxious to hear your thoughts, so have at it.

The Beach

Rhys bounded down the front steps of the cottage two at a time.

“Don’t go far,” his mother warned. “And stay away from the harbour.”

“Yes Mum,” Rhys called over his shoulder. As he had been told, he paused to look both ways before crossing the road. Once on the other side, he climbed the low sea wall and jumped down onto the sand.

The journey to the coast had been long and hot, so when his Dad’s car pulled up in front of the house, Rhys couldn’t wait to get into the fresh air.

With his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his shorts, his feet scuffed the warm sand. He stopped every few steps to lift each foot in turn to see the grains trickle out, gold and sparkly over his socks.

Fluffy white clouds scudded by in a bright blue sky, while fat seagulls dipped and swooped at bits of discarded picnic on the beach.

The stubby bows of brightly painted fishing boats tied to the quay bobbed and pulled against the ropes. Rhys loved boats. But he had promised he wouldn’t go near the harbour. The water was deep there.

Wet from the outgoing tide, the sand sucked at his feet, his footsteps filling instantly with water at each step. He wanted to tell someone about it, but there was no one there.

Maybe Dad would come with him next time.

Dad. He’d behaved strangely since he came out of the hospital. He spent all his time these days sitting in his armchair, staring out at the garden or nothing at all. He had injured his leg so badly when he crashed the car, Mum said, the doctors had put a metal pin inside. Rhys imagined that must hurt a lot. No wonder Dad was unhappy.

To give his father’s leg time to heal, they were to spend the whole summer in the narrow house with blue shutters that overlooked the bay.

At first, Rhys had been upset at the thought of going away for so long. Would his friends at home forget him? His gaze flicked over the line of houses strung along the base of the cliff, wondering if any children his age lived there.

An orange sun dipped into the sea, and a line of frothy white waves curled and fell in the distance. A boat with white sails skimmed across the bay.

Around him, grown ups sat on beach towels, sleeping. Children played in the sand with buckets and spades, or ran in and out of the surf while a little black dog barked at them.

Piles of stones seemed to be jumbled together at the base of the cliff, some twice as high as Rhys himself. Staggered, like steps, their edges had been rubbed smooth by the waves.

Rhys liked climbing, so he pulled himself up to the top of a section to where a large flat rock rested on the top.

It wasn’t high enough to worry Mum, but he had a good view of the tops of people’s heads as they passed below. The middle was filled with water so clear, Rhys could see right the way down to the sand on the bottom. It was a rock pool.

Bigger than a bath, but not quite as big as a paddling pool, the water sparkled in the late afternoon sun. The layer of sand at the bottom seemed magnified, almost fluffy; its surface scattered with shells and tiny black pebbles.

Taking off his shoes, Rhys lay on his tummy and wriggled to the edge. The sun was warm on his back as he stared into the water, his nose a few inches above the surface and his hands shielding his eyes. “I like it here,” he murmured aloud.

Seagulls screeched over head, and off in the distance, the waves whooshed and sighed on the beach. The smell of seaweed drying in the sun smelled sharp on the breeze.

Rhys grew sleepy lying there and closed his eyes for a second. He didn’t mean to fall asleep, but when a seagull screeched close by, he woke with a start.

The car park was almost empty, and the beach was almost deserted but for a man walking his dog by the shoreline. Two children ran towards the car park, trailing sand-caked spades behind them. Then Rhys heard a familiar voice and turned to look at the house with the blue shutters.

His mother stood at the door, waving. “Your tea’s ready, Rhys.”

Rhys grinned. “Oh, good. I’m starving.” He searched around for his shoes and spotted them half concealed between two rocks. As he leaned forward to retrieve them, he sensed something move in the water below.

He froze. A face stared up at him from the bottom of the pool. A face with flowing blue hair and round green eyes.

“Rhys, I can’t wait here all day, come on now!” his mother called again.

Rhys looked up, nodded and waved. “I’m coming, Mum!”

He grabbed his shoes, then turned back to the pool. It was empty.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion with Dave King. I hope you all found his answers helpful.

During this discussion, Debra brought up an interesting point about receiving criticism of our work.

It can be overwhelming to receive so many conflicting opinions. When that happens to me, I'll simply read through the advice and set it aside for a while. Then I'll come back to it after a few days. Keep in mind, any feedback on your work is simply "advice." That means, take it or leave it. If I get three people that mention the same "problem," then I consider changing it. But if it's just one person and no one else, I ignore it--unless it's something that really speaks to me. In the end, go with your gut. I've seen several writers lose their voice (and their passion for writing) when they've tried to please everyone. You're not going to please everyone. That's just the way it is with "art." :-) Even bestselling authors receive criticism, and sometimes hate mail.

How do the rest of you deal with criticism/feedback on your work?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

An answer to Debra's first question

I am writing in my hero's POV. He is watching and interacting with a secondary character that he knows pretty well. I write "The woman bristled with unspoken opinion." To me, I believe a POV character can tell when someone is itching to speak. But I've been told this is a POV hop. ~Debra

As we walk around in life, we read emotions from other people all the time, either by their actions or facial expressions. The question is has the hero interpreted that emotion correctly? Perhaps the hero assumes the other character was "bristling with unspoken opinion" and then later discovers that the character had remembered something important that had nothing to do with the situation at hand. POV can lead one character to interpret another character's emotion, or misinterpret that emotion. In the case you describe above, the main character can see that the other character is "itching to speak." This is not a POV jump. All of this is simply the art of storytelling, and "The woman bristled with unspoken opinion" is a creative way to "show" that emotion.

Yes, there are rules to writing fiction (that's why we're here), but we become like Microsoft Word's grammar checker when we strike out every line that "could be" a POV jump, or a line that has one "ly" adverb, or one too many exclamation points, etc.

I was once told that I had an overuse of exclamation points in my text. Normally, I'd agree with this, assuming they were misused. But someone was about to die and three characters needed to shout. It wasn't "wrong," but the contest judge marked it as wrong and docked my manuscript several points. Of course, I griped to Dave about it.

Here's what he said (and I don't believe he minds me quoting him here):

"I've run into the kind of editorial comment you've seen -- mechanical and reflexive. Basically, it's easier to strike out, say, every -ly adverb than to think about when they are appropriate. It's Microsoft's grammar checker trying to do fiction."

As self-editors, as critique partners, and as judges in contests, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not the use of that ly adverb, etc, is appropriate. Are people actually shouting? Then use an exclamation point. Are they just excited and not necessarily shouting, then don't use the exclamation point.

The problem with POV hopping is what I explained below. It's to avoid confusion. The statement: "The woman bristled with unspoken opinion" does not create confusion. It does not dislodge the reader, leaving them wondering where they're at in the story. We still know we're in the hero's head, so it's not a POV jump.

Any more questions? I'd be happy to answer them.

I hope this was helpful.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Answers from Dave King

First, thanks to Sandi for giving us a chance to get together.

To take the last question first, Jill, I'm afraid there are no rules. Omniscient narrator is not wrong, but . . .

If you're writing from the omniscient narrator, you lose the opportunity to use wonderfully subtle tools for creating characters like describing things in language that reflects your viewpoint character's state of mind. Avoiding omniscient narrator also allows your interior monologue to flow naturally, without all those awkward mechanics, like "he or she thought," italics, or shifts to the first person. It's not necessary to use first or third person -- Jane Austen created some brilliant characters in the omniscient narrator -- but it is easier.

I've sometimes seen the omniscient narrator used extremely effectively. Consider the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But J. K. Rowling then moved to the third person to let all her readers fall thoroughly in love with Harry.

Debra and Jeannie, I'm not entirely sure what "deep" POV is. I've always thought of the third person POV as being an intimacy/distance continuum, running from something close to omniscient narrator at the distance end to something close to first person at the intimacy end. One of the elements that locates your point on that continuum is the language you use -- including the names your viewpoint character uses for himself or herself and for others. At the intimate end, your character might refer to her father as "Dad." A little further toward the distance end, it might be "her father." Just try not to change distance too abruptly -- by using two or more different referents in the same scene, for instance.

My website, http://www.davekingedits.com/, has an article that goes into more depth on POV.

Hope this helps,


Debra, I will answer your other question in the next post. ~Sandi

Monday, October 5, 2009

Let’s talk about POV (point of view)

A weak POV pulls us out of the story and can confuse our readers, especially if we’re head hopping throughout the story—keeping track of the thoughts of all the characters.

What is POV? It's everything one character sees, feels, hears, tastes and smells. Everything we readers see, should be what that one character sees. Pretend we are a camera placed in a character’s eyes and we’ve set up wire connections to each and every nerve—we are that character. Let's say we’re driving in a car. We shouldn't be able to see what’s going on in someone’s home miles away. Or while we’re driving the car, we shouldn't be able to hear the thoughts of the person in the passenger seat. Your readers will become confused about setting (if we jump from the car to a home miles away), and if we jump into another character’s thoughts. If readers are confused, they have to reread to find out where they are. The last thing a writer wants is to make his readers have to back up and reread everything, and if they get confused, that's what will happen.

A good POV tightens our connection to the main character. We feel his excitement, his fear. We see what he sees. His experiences become ours. When something surprises him, we’re surprised with him because we didn’t see it coming.

So, what if you want to show the thoughts of more than one character? Most editors suggest at every change of time, setting and point of view there should be a double-space between paragraphs. This will keep readers from becoming confused.

Here's a note about POV from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Rennie Browne:

Some authors get into trouble with their point of view because they are trying to track the emotions of everyone involved in the scene. After all, the easiest way to show how someone feels is through interior monologue—get into his or her head and tell your readers what’s there. So when you have several characters in a scene, there’s an understandable temptation to simply write interior monologues for all of them.

And it’s a temptation we hope you’ll resist. For one thing, shifting the point of view back and forth is likely to do more damage to the flow of the scene than the various viewpoints are worth. (Your readers adjust to being in someone’s head—they assume that they are seeing the scene through that character’s eyes. So when you shift to another character, you throw them off their stride, even if just for a moment.) For another, using interior monologue to show your character’s reactions is just one step away from telling. It is far more effective to stick with a single point of view and show us how your other characters feel through their dialogue and actions.

I recommend you get Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. King and Browne talk about all the necessary tools for writing great fiction, and they devote an entire chapter to Point of View.

When he's available, Dave will join us on this topic by answering some of our questions. If you have any questions for him, please leave them below. I can't guarantee he'll have time to answer everything, but if we compile a list, he'll do what he can. Please keep the questions POV related.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Edit: Mourn Their Courage


Thank you for being willing to share you work with us so that we writers might glean more knowledge of the craft.

If anyone has questions about my suggestions below, please chime in. And don't be afraid to oppose one of my suggestions. I'm open to criticism. If there's a better way, please show us. That's why we're here.

Well Victoria, there weren't that many folks willing to jump in on this one. I think it's because the writing was quite good. You have a nice balance between interior monologue, beats of action, description of the setting, and dialogue that readers could easily follow everything. I think Janet made a good point about the names. And Diana did a great job at catching the POV jumps.

My comments are in blue below:

Chapter Two

Jie paced, towel in hand. His thoughts churned between concern for his country and the boy.
He dipped the rag in the last of the water and mopped the Orchard Boy’s forehead with it. Droplets rolled away and wet the blankets, (but Jie didn’t notice. POV jump) He paced again, then faced his wife.

“Mei, I can’t stay here. I must send a message home for reinforcements, then leave for the capital in the morning. (I will I'LL—it's okay to use contractions in historical fiction. Sometimes writers tend to avoid contractions, thinking it makes the writing sound "old." Keep in mind, in every language, people used colloquialisms, contractions, etc. You can read more about writing historicals at Dave King's website. On the left click on "Writing Advice." Then go to the article "Time Travel for Writers." Scroll down the article to "Everyday Language." In my experience, excessive formality is the greatest weakness for most writers of historical fiction. You don't have a lot of it in this section, but I thought it'd be a good learning tool to point out) leave the guards with you and Shan. You have enough cash to care for the boy until he’s well enough for all of you to join me.”

Mei rose and took the rag from him. She nodded (and tried to conceal her trembling lip. POV jump. I can imagine he knows she's trying to conceal it, but if her lip is trembling just say "her lip trembled," that way it won't feel like a POV jump.) “Will you ask the innkeeper for more hot water and perhaps some tea?”

He kissed her on the brow as she knelt beside the Orchard Boy.

Jie closed the door behind him and entered the room he’d rented for his family. Shan didn’t stir while Jie rummaged in his trunk until his fingers touched the worn fabric (OF--great fix, Janet) his scholar’s box with inkstone, brushes, and folded writing silk. As he left the room, he stopped a passing servant and made Mei’s request.

The din from the first floor was twice as loud as when they'd arrived. He looked over the railing. The inn’s main room was overcrowded. A few of his men laughed over cups of wine, but he (did not DIDN'T) see the guard he sought. (Fragile paper lanterns swayed in his wake as he stepped off the landing and breathed in the smells of heated wine and steamed vegetables. Nice way to pull us into the scene.)

Memories drifted across his thoughts. On the eve of war, what he desperately wanted was to talk and laugh with his oldest brother, Mihei. But Mihei was dead. Killed by raiders when Jie was no older than the Orchard Boy upstairs. Jie shook his head. He’d promised Mei he’d leave the past where it lay. It was not an easily-kept vow.

The dice gamers had gathered a small string of cash in the center of their table. He smiled and shook his head at one of his men’s invitation to join the game. Give us some sounds. You've done well by adding smells. We just need a little more.

(“Do you know where Ge Hei is?” Jie asked. Who is he talking to? One of the gamers? If not, let us know.)

“He drew watch duty later tonight and decided to bed down in the stable, my Lord,” (the guard said. Again, is this guard one of the gamers? Who/where is he? This is minor, but it'd be good for us to "see" the scene a little more. Right now, this person is invisible to your reader.)

Jie decided he needed another drink before he wrote his message and ventured outside to find Hei.

Farmers in hemp robes gathered at the bar. He pushed between two of them and caught the innkeeper’s eye. While he waited for his drink, Jie looked at the scroll’s message.

He'd known for months that war brewed beneath the surface of his quiet country. It was why he and his family had journeyed to visit his nephew, the Emperor.

If only the Emperor had not issued this order(! Unless he's yelling in his thoughts, I'd change this to a period. Writers tend to overuse exclamation points to show excitement, etc. In doing so, they end up being overused, and the readers feel like the characters are shouting at them. Only use exclamation points if someone is shouting. I've seen judges in writing contests mark these wrong, even though the character was shouting. Keep in mind, it's not "wrong" to use exclamation points. Just make sure you use them when a character is actually shouting.) Jie might have saved countless people if he had reached his nephew a month ago. But now, the Son of Heaven demanded that Jie attack his countrymen. To do otherwise was treason.

(If I could reach the rebels, I could talk to them! Avoid overuse of italics. We're already in Jei's head, so there's no need to put this in first person to show his thought. So far, everything we've been reading are his thoughts. So, I suggest changing this to third person, and taking away the italics: If he could reach the rebels, he could talk to them. Also, cut the exclamation point and replace it with a period.) He didn’t want to attack his brothers, but the Emperor did not need a mediator.

(Regardless of how they came to be traitors, they must be stopped. Again, no need to italicize.)

His stomach churned. (I’ll send Ge Hei for reinforcements. I will be a soldier in the Emperor’s legions until my men arrive. Here we've skipped to first person, while the entire text is in third. Either italicize the first person thoughts—something I don't suggest—or change these to third with no need to italicize. Keep in mind, we're already in Jei's head, so there's no need to emphasize his thoughts in italics. My suggestion: He'd send Ge Hei for reinforcements. Jei would be a soldier in the Emperor's legions until his men arrived.)

He smoothed his beard in a gesture Mei claimed heralded large decisions, then sighed and shook his head. He longed to do more.

Well, there you have it. Any questions or comments? Let me know.