What is Deep POV? (Spoiler: It’s “Show Don’t Tell”)

 

Showing Versus Telling

Today I wanted to talk a little about the idea of “deep POV.” I’ve had a couple authors approach/email me asking questions about the concept. While I was familiar with the idea of point of view (POV) and how to sink deeply into it, I wasn’t uniquely familiar with that terminology. So, I did what I always do when seemingly new knowledge presents itself, I tracked it down.

Typing “Deep POV Books” in Amazon yielded many questionable (in regards to author credibility) self-help type books regarding deep POV. About ten books down on the list, I found some pretty interesting erotica. Scrolling farther down yielded even more eyebrow-raising search results. Anyways, that wasn’t the deep POV I was looking for…

I grabbed the two books (writing books mind you) that had the most reviews regarding the subject. The two books are the following:

While both books have some decent information, holy macaroni folks, deep POV is just show, don’t tell dressed up in new words. While the showing/telling song and dance is geared toward many facets of writing, this deep POV concept is geared toward characters.

*Sigh*

Deep POV.jpgThe marketing folks must by doing a river dance right now. There’s nothing like slapping lipstick on a well-used term and screaming, “I’ve uncovered a new gem! Whadayamean it’s the same as…oh…I see. Okay, one-line show don’t tell and write in deep POV!”

Regardless of how used the concept is, if you are unfamiliar with showing versus telling, or deep POV, just know the terms are basically interchangeable in regards to writing characters.

Here are some blog posts I’ve generated regarding showing and telling, if you need a quick fix. The quality of these posts, much like the quality of my brain, is questionable. Though, a few people have found them useful (the posts, not my brain…yet).

Tics and Tells to Show not Tell (talks about using character mannerisms in your writing)

Using Sensory Detail to Enhance Fiction (talks about taking advantage of your senses)

Show vs. Tell & Intensity Scales (talks about the concept and offers a tool to determine when to show or tell)

resourcesTo be honest, if you are looking for resources on deep POV, you would do well to simply search for solid writing books that have a chapter or so on showing/telling. The two books I listed in the beginning are a great start. S.A. Soule’s book is filled with examples, if that floats your literary boat. If I had to pick a couple of books to recommend on the subject, because you all know I eat my greens, I would point toward:

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (This book is simply jammed full of tips and examples of how to write believable, visceral character cues. Tackles 70+ different emotions. Great if you can’t deal with emotions…in your writing.)

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction, by Marcy Kennedy (Confused about the concept? Can’t find a blogger or source of information to solve the problem? Marcy Kennedy does a good job of clearing the fog. Also, this author states that telling isn’t always wrong, or bad, or bad-wrong. Indeed, telling had its place.)

That’s a wrap for today. Sorry to be away for so long; life has been busy (editing, writing, conventions, stay-at-home dadding, military spousing). As time opens up, I’ll spend a little more of it here. Shooting for a post a week here and on the author page, we’ll see if I can pull that off.

question markQuick question! What books or resources would you all recommend to tackle the idea of deep POV or show don’t tell? I’m always looking for more pieces of information to add to my library. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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The Art of Character: Book, Blurb & Collage

The Art of Character

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Art of Character, written by David Corbett. Image created by me and free to share.

 

During my transition to the new state over the last month or so, I’ve continued hitting the books and eating my greens. The Art of Character, by David Corbett was a delight to read. Honestly, I’ve burned through so many bloody books about writing characters and examining archetypes that it was starting to get repetitive — this book caught me by surprise.

art-of-character-200.jpg

Image linked to Goodreads.

Corbett offers some fresh perspective about understanding how to craft and build believable characters. Unlike many of books I’ve read, he emphasizes the importance of shaping the character before your build the book. In my experience working with other authors, many go the opposite direction: starting with the story or general plot, then populating it with characters.

The issue, and I’ve seen it happen, is the characters are custom fitted to the story and one dimensional when you plot the story then begin to craft the characters afterwards. They say, “I want a scene where he/she commandeers a pirate vessel then builds a robot out of Pixy Stix, duct tape, and bubble gum…oh, they must be able to knit kitten sweaters too! I better make sure the character has X, Y, and Z traits.”

The book is separated into four main parts: Conceiving the Character, Developing the Character, Roles, and Technique. Each section builds on the previous and provides instruction on how to weave characters into the tapestry of your story. This is bolstered by countless examples from a smattering of different genres.

Speaking of examples, one thing I like to do when I read books on the craft of writing is glance at the bibliography at the back of the book. Corbett’s bibliography is three pages long with about fifty cited sources. That’s a goldmine!

When it comes to character studies, this book has quickly jumped to the top of my go-to pile. I can see it being one I refer to clients and friends alike. If your Amazon trigger finger is itchy, give it a go!

question markThat’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I’ve read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here (going to have to update this beast soon), or jump to my Reads section. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. What writing books are you reading? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Feature Friday #1 (Bloggers & Books)

feature-friday

Welcome to Feature Friday!  Today we will talk about some bloggers who are writing amazing posts on the craft.  More specifically, bloggers who are providing tips and tools for people to improve their own skill and understanding.

In my opinion, it’s important to step outside of what we think we know and examine how others perceive writing.  Personally, and for the purposes of this blog, this allows for ideas and concepts to evolve via positive outside influence.  This week, these were the bloggers who I felt enhanced the way I view subjects.

spotlight (facing right).jpgThe first spotlight shines on Nichole McGhie over at, The Excited Writer.  Nichole writes a lot of great posts, and she does an outstanding job of bringing her passion for the craft (and for life) into her voice and style.  If you’ve never been to her page, I recommend stopping by her, About Nichole, page first.  Not only will this give you a most excellent snapshot of her background, life, and adorable kids, but she also smartly linked some of her most popular and impactful posts into the content.

The individual post I wanted to highlight is one about passive voice.  The title is, What is Passive Voice and Is It Bad?  

Besides being well-written, it is loaded with resources for you to sink your teeth into.  For me, when a blogger links outside resources this tells me (1) they took the time to research the content, (2) this isn’t just their solitary opinion, and (3) they want to offer other sources of knowledge.  Another great thing about her post is you can learn a thing or two from the conversations within her comments.

spotlight-facing-rightThe next spotlight casts a glow on Adam over at, Write Thoughts.  Adam applies a critical eye, and thorough depth of knowledge, to break down character archetypes.  However, he covers a number of other topics in addition to providing insightful book reviews.  I encourage you to first stop by his, About page, where he does a great job of both introducing himself and breaking down his site content.

Adam’s posts on how to write characters, relationships, and virtues are loaded with solid takeaways.  The post I wanted to focus on specifically is, Working with and Past Stereotypes

I like this post because it examines gender roles, stereotypes, and the role of children in fiction, as well as cultural expectations and norms.  For me, it goes beyond just being a list and offers additional insights I wouldn’t have thought of.  Ultimately, I was able to glean some positive takeaways.

thanksI wanted to take a moment to thank Nichole, and Adam, for allowing me to link over to their pages. Personally, I have you both bookmarked on my “Bloggers to Watch List,” and will make every effort to swing by more often.

resources

These are the resources I used this week (Friday to Friday) to create my posts.  I wanted to take a day to feature reference materials as a, “one-stop-shop,” for folks.  I’m a voracious eater of greens and believe in the power of self-study to improve writing skill and understanding.

For a more comprehensive list of books I have utilized to build content here on QE, you can refer to this post.

(This week will be a very short list given I had a glorious two day vacation.)

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein [Amazon] [goodreads]

Conflict & Suspense – James Scott Bell [Amazon] [goodreads]

Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales – Stephen King [Amazon] [goodreads]

hourglassThat’s it for today, another week down.  If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me and point me in your direction.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Writing Characters & Role-Playing Games

vintage computer.jpg

Similar to my first computer.

Today’s post is going to look at how earlier role-playing games (RPGs) introduced the basic concept of archetypes to me when I was younger without me even realizing it.  For those of you who are nerd types, this post will likely appeal to you.  For those of you who aren’t, perhaps you’ll find some of it amusing.

When I was twelve or so, my dad surprised my mom and I with a new computer.  I should preface this by saying my dad was notoriously tight with his money.  I say this in a good way.  The comforts I enjoyed as a young boy were due to my parent’s ability to manage a limited budget.  Regardless, I was awe struck.  It was sometime in the late 90s.  We weren’t the most technologically advanced family out there (I grew up on a farm) so this wiz-bang addition was mind boggling.  The new computer had amazing features!  It came with a mouse, and a color screen was now standard.  This new computer also unlocked a new world for me.  The world of in-depth RPGs.

baldurs gate.jpgThat following Christmas, I received Baldur’s Gate from my parents.  I carefully opened the box with the smiling skull on it and looked at the five discs.  Five discs!  This game was going to be huge.

Christmas was at my grandma’s house.  Needless to say, I was chomping at the bit the whole hour plus drive home.  The game box came with an instruction book and a little map.  I must have read the book ten times before we got home.

I popped in Disk 1 and waited through the installation.  I couldn’t believe how fast it was going!  It must have taken less than an hour to install all of it (if only I knew how technology would evolve).  The game fired up and I was blown away by an amazing cinematic.

Baldur's Gate Intro.jpg

I quickly clicked “New Game.”  The game asked me to build a character.  I would be a sword and shield wielding hero!  Then it asked me to select my alignment.  The question caught me off-guard.  The younger me thought, “Heroes are only good…duh!” I selected Lawful Good and off to the races I went.

baldur's gate logo.jpgAs I began the game (in a state of sheer wonderment) I began clicking and watching as my character navigated around.  I clicked on a person and to my surprise a dialogue box popped up.

[Note:  From here on out I am roughly recalling the dialogue and actions of the game.  If you played the game, don’t bust my proverbial balls too much if my memory fails me.]

The computer character I clicked said something to the extent of, “There are rats in my cellar, if you help me out I’ll give you a reward.”

baldurs gate gameplay.jpgI selected the most heroic option.  “Leave it to me!”  With that, I moused the character to the house, found the cellar door, and brought down the fury of lawful goodness down on their rodent heads.  I nearly died.  My baby character was either using a crappy dagger or his fists.  I can’t really remember.  But I do remember my heart pounding because I thought I was going to die five minutes into the game.

After the battle, I noticed I could click on the environment.  I figured it would be foolhardy to not reward myself with some items from this cellar.  As I clicked a chest and opened it there were a few items inside.  However, instead of saying, “take these items,” it said, “steal these items.”

I quickly navigated away.  I would not be tempted by the fruits of evil.  Nay I say!  I found the gentlemen who assigned me the task and informed him of my glorious success.  He responded, and again, there were different options to respond with.  I could accept a small reward, or just say something to the extent of, “Think nothing of it.  I can’t accept a reward for helping a person in need.”  A heroes glory is reward enough after all…I selected the the no-reward option.  I continued playing the game in this manner.  Never straying from my Lawful Good alignment.

baldurs gate character.jpgAs minutes turned into hours, and I continued to explore and play, the dark side started calling to me.  Wouldn’t it be more fun to have just punched that first guy in the face and stolen his promised reward?  Then I could have went into his cellar and looted it as well.  I considered how much more powerful my character would be if I had chosen a different path.

I saved my progress, went back to the main menu, and created a new character.  This one would be Chaotic Evil.  I would do whatever the heck I pleased and reap the rewards!  The game was much harder to play in this manner.  Suddenly game mechanics popped up and began murdering me.  Magical police forces would materialize and blast my character into oblivion.  It didn’t matter what I tried to do, there was no escape.  Where the heck were these guys while I was getting mauled by rats when I was lawfully good?

baldurs gate map.jpgThen I considered that perhaps a blended option would be best.  Maybe not a total goody two shoes, but someone who was willing to take a reward and cut corners every now and then.  I selected a Neutral Good character, that seemed to fit the bill.  For me, this yielded the most enjoyable results and allowed me to wander in ways that didn’t confine me to alignment.

I noticed that each character gained different benefits/consequences in the game world.  For instance, when I would encounter a shopkeeper how they responded to me would be different depending on my character alignment and my previous actions.  I would click on the shopkeeper and indicate I wanted to purchase or sell some gear and these could be the shopkeeper responses.

  • Lawful Good: I’ve heard of you good adventurer, enjoy this discount. 
  • Lawful Neutral: Welcome to the shop.  Feel free to browse my wares. 
  • Chaotic Evil : Guards!  He’s here!  KILL HIM!

Flashing forward to now, this concept is no real revelation.  Most modern RPGs are carefully crafted and written.  They all have built in mechanics to reward/punish you for the choices your characters make.  It’s standard.  But back then, it challenged my perception of what a hero could be.  After all, even as a chaotic evil character (exercising moderate restraint) I could still win the game and beat the big bad boss.

skyrim.jpgTo this day, when I play a RPG I typically create three characters.  A good one, a bad one, and a neutral one.  I want to see what the game developers and writers built into the game to cope with these types of characters and their subsequent decisions.  For me, it adds a whole new dimension to the game play.

I encourage you to apply this same methodology to your writing.  Especially when you are outlining and creating characters.  Consider how the character’s alignment will impact their interaction with the world you are creating.  Really take the time to fully realize this early on.  Make sure you select an alignment that will offer the most interesting and rewarding results in your story.

The benefit you gain when writing (which most RPGs fall short on) is the characters you create can evolve in your world.  Their world views and alignments can change.  In essence, you control the character arc and can direct it in a way that best elevates your story.  It just needs to be believable.

question markAs for me,  I think I’m going to track down Baldur’s Gate and take a trek down memory lane.  We’ll call it research.  If you are a gamer, was there an RPG that really impacted your view on characters and what they can do?  If you’re not a gamer, do you take the time to consider character alignment and how it impacts your character?  Are there particular character alignments you find especially appealing to read and write about?  I’d love to hear about.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!  (Keep gaming too.)

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Writing the Origin: The Ordinary World

batman.pngOrigin stories run through most popular works: religious texts, comics, ancient mythology, fiction, sports, and the list goes on. Pretty much everything and everyone has a state of beginning, and many of us want to know the details. It’s human nature to want to know where things come from.

When it comes to stories, the origin story is often the account of the Ordinary World. If you’ve been following the blog, I talked about the The Hero’s Journey a while back. Today we will examine the first step in the journey: the Ordinary World.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World is where it all begins.

In Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writer’s Journey, it’s explained that, “If you’re going to show a fish out of his customary element, you first have to show him in that Ordinary World to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world he is about to enter” (p. 19).

When you shape the Ordinary World, and the character who lives in it, you are creating the very first dot of their character arc.  This first dot is the point from which they will grow and change through the duration of your epic masterpiece.

flying carpet

Everyone has a magic carpet here…sigh…I wish I could go to a place where they are used for wiping feet.

You are also introducing the reader to the world they are slipping into. Depending on the genre you write in, this introduction to the Ordinary World can be breathtaking or it can be very average. Whatever it is, it tends to be business as usual for the character who dwells there.

newspaper.jpgWhen we consider examples of the Ordinary World, and the origins of the characters who live there, it reads like a dating ad in the newspaper.

  • Strapping farm boy wants to shake off the sand and explore the galaxy. Those blue eyes will Force you to fall in love all over again. (Star Wars)
  • Girl with the voice of an angel, and equally angelic heart, dreams of leaving the farm and going somewhere beyond the rainbow. Likes long walks on the yellow brick road and ruby red slippers. (Wizard of Oz)
    [I’m noticing a farm theme going on here…]
  • Don’t let the hairy feet and lack of height bother you, this bachelor is looking to put the “one ring” on your finger. If you like a cozy homebody, and a pantry always brimming with food, then look no further. (The Hobbit)

These examples may be silly, but there is a point: a story becomes all the more interesting when we know where the characters come from. What I like about these three different examples is they show three very different worlds: Kansas, Tattooine, and the Shire. Despite the differences, it’s just an Ordinary World to the characters living there.

wizard of oz.jpgThe Ordinary World provides you some important opportunities. Beyond the scenic descriptions, we begin to grasp what makes the hero/heroine tick. We get a taste of their maturity, motivations, fears, real/perceived conflicts, and a host of other items. I mentioned character arcs before, this is the first plotted point. Unless you do some kind of extended flashback (potential red flag), the character will likely begin their arc of growth once introduced in the book.

Does the story need to start with the Ordinary World? Do you have to take a chapter to describe the lilies in the field, setting suns, and introduce a complex sprawling scene? That’s completely up to you. Your book may start with your character in the thick of a chaotic situation. You went for shock and awe. However you start, the Ordinary World will be gradually revealed through action, dialogue, and setting information.

No-Blueprint.jpgIt’s worth noting. Your story doesn’t have to follow the blueprint of The Hero’s Journey. It doesn’t have to follow any blueprint. I’m sharing the steps of The Hero’s Journey with you because it’s a great tool. For me, the beauty of writing is that you have hundreds of options and tools available to solve problems and capture readers. The Hero’s Journey is just another tool you can break apart, sharpen, and use to carve out your story.

That’s it for today. What’s your take on the Ordinary World? Do you want to love it, leave it, or salvage it for parts? Is this a concept you’ve used yourself? Do you have some examples that worked for you? I’d be happy to talk about it. Thanks for reading and happy writing!


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Template for Tracking Character Arcs

I had a couple emails from folks regarding how I track character arcs.  Specifically about the extra notes I take chapter to chapter to track changes in character.  I’ve talked about character arcs in the past here (use in self-editing) and here (what they are).  I do have a standard template I work from and attach to chapters as I roll through.

Below is the one I mocked up a while ago.  I just recently converted it to Flickr so you can click on the image below and print it out if you need it.  It’s been formatted to fit a standard piece of printer paper (landscape) so you should have no trouble printing.

It’s pretty self explanatory as you look at it, so I won’t go into any great detail about how to use it.  If you do have questions about it, don’t be afraid to leave a comment. I’m pretty good at getting back to people.  I destroy trees at an alarming rate so I just print them off as I need them.  This template would cover six chapters.

Character Arc Tracking Sheet.jpg

Give the image a click and get teleported via interweb majesty to my Flickr page.  You can print a higher-resolution version there.  Created by me, and as always, free to use and share.

 

Today is a mercifully short post, but provides you a handy tool.  If you can get your beta readers to use something like this – you win the prize.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Build & Control Characters: Dungeon Style

Critical HitA few weeks ago I shared a post about how I sometimes (when bored or low on inspiration/creativity) use dice to create chaos for my characters.  Letting the roll of of the die determine how effective a character is at coping with a situation.  If you missed that day – it’s here.  Today I wanted to talk about how I use character sheets to keep track of characters, build them, manage what they are carrying/wearing, and also how I sometimes use dice to build minions.

This method hearkens back to my nerd roots, and nights spent playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) down in the basement with my best buddies.  If you have no concept of what D&D is, give episode one of Stranger Things a try on Netflix (if you haven’t watched this series, you can thank me later).

First, I thought I would show you an example of what a character sheets looks like.  You can simply use a search engine and type, “Dungeons and Dragons Character Sheet,” to find endless variations.  Or, if you are already keen to the concept, make you own.

character sheet.jpg

Now you have a rough concept of what character sheets look like (if you had no idea what I was rambling on about before).  Like I mentioned earlier, these are just two variations – there are hundreds of them online you can print out.  Now let’s tackle some uses of them.

arrows.jpgManage Inventory.  Depending on the setting of your book, gear (the things your character carries) might really matter.  In the novel I am finishing up now, Wastelander, gear is limited.  People have to scavenge and build the things they need.  One of my Alpha Readers is quick to point out things like, “Dude, are you sure Jim has arrows left?” or, “Why didn’t they use [insert item]?”.

These are important continuity issues that must be addressed.  When I get into a writing rhythm, I don’t like to scroll back pages to try to recount how many of an item is left.  I just take a guess and move forward and tell myself I’ll fix it in rewrites. Using a character sheet can help you keep track of those items and speed you right along.

character template.jpgWhat the heck does you character look like?  I’m not a big fan of blasting out two or three paragraphs describing characters as they show up in the book, but that doesn’t mean I don’t slowly reveal how the character looks.  I like to sprinkle description in dialogue and narrative to slowly build the character over time.

A character sheet is an easy way to record what your character is wearing and some of their physical traits.  If you are an artist (lucky) you can sketch them out.  By having this quick reference handy while you write you can sprinkle in character description along with dialogue and narrative as beats (i.e. “My hand shot up to the black leather stitching of my eye patch.  It was still there.”).

It also lets you keep track of the condition of what they are wearing.  This is another continuity issue you can run into.  Alpha Reader: “Bro, he fell down a cliff last chapter.  Shouldn’t his clothes/gear be messed up now?” Yes Alpha Reader, they should be.

strength.pngQuick reference for character statistics.  While you may have a cement foundation built for how your main character looks and acts, some of those supporting characters may not be as fully developed.  Character sheets can allow you to record character statistics (i.e. Strength, Charisma, Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution).

Maybe you are building a supporting character and aren’t sure what they should look like just yet?  Grab some die, give them roll, and start assigning values.  What makes D&D fun is the characters are built around luck.  When you first generate a character in D&D you had to roll die/dice to determine those statistics, as you play through the game you are now saddled with those traits.

diceGenerate Characters.  Maybe you need to make some minions.  Here’s an easy way to do it.

Let’s say you are using two six-sided dice.  The worst number you could roll would be a 2 and the best would be 12.  So if you are determining Strength (can they punch through walls and carry cars), Constitution (do they stay healthy or does a paper cut cause massive infection), Dexterity (how nimble are they), Charisma (can they talk their way out of situations), and Intelligence (master tactician) – you have five statistics to work with.

Roll five times and record the numbers.  Then assign those totals to the character however you want.  Now you are saddled with a character that is competent at some things, and terrible at others.

Use sheet to record character arc.  I recently wrote a post on character arcs here.  If you are using character sheets to keep track of your characters you can also record important things that happen to them as you write.

Character Arc TrackerAt the close of a chapter I like to scribble down things like, “Drake realizes so-and-so is betraying him.”  Doing this gives you a quick reference to look at as you write.  You can, at a glance, recall important things that have already happened to a character.  This should help you navigate them through the story in a more believable manner.

That’s it for character sheets.  For me, I like physical things like character sheets.  References and tangible items help me sink into the world I am creating.  Often times, having a quick reference to guide me, helps me move my characters in a believable manner.  It is also nice when you are managing a host of characters.  It can get tough to keep track of everything when we fall into our worlds, tools like this can act like a compass.

Do you use character sheets?  Do you have some other method of keeping track of your wandering character?  I’d love to hear about it.  I’m always looking to improve my craft.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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