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Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Demystifying Deeper POV Part Two: Me, Myself, and Fly

Last week, we talked about Telling versus Showing being the difference between the Fly on the wall watching the scene, Telling what it sees, and your character experiencing the moment, Showing the event through his or her specific perspective/interpretation, which is the simple basis of Deeper Point of View (Deeper POV). If you are just joining us or want a refresher, you can find Part One HERE.

Do you have your fly swatters ready? Because we are about to start the fun stuff—finding out the sneaky ways the Fly buzzes into manuscripts…and swatting it right out!

Today, we are going to take back your character's identity.

For example purposes, let's start with this excerpt of a scene:

            Kathleen bent down and picked up Dane’s Stetson. She slapped it to his chest. “Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” Kathleen asked.
          But, he was just as stubborn as her.
          Casually, Dane held his hat. “So, Kathleen, you want to make a bet you can ride the mare?” His voice held a lot of humor.
          Kathleen just looked mad.
          “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word,” Kathleen began, and she breathed heavy. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          Dane put his hat on. He looked over his shoulder at the horse. A slow grin creased Dane’s face. 
          “Okay,” he said.
          “Okay?” Kathleen questioned.

Did you see the Fly? What if I do this…

          Kathleen bent down and picked up Dane’s Stetson. She slapped it to his chest. “Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” Kathleen asked.
          But, he was just as stubborn as her.
          Casually, Dane held his hat. “So, Kathleen, you want to make a bet you can ride the mare?” His voice held a lot of humor.
          Kathleen just looked mad.
          “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word,” Kathleen began, and she breathed heavy. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          Dane put his hat on. He looked over his shoulder at the horse. A slow grin creased Dane’s face. 
          “Okay,” he said.
          “Okay?” Kathleen questioned.

Overuse of proper names is one of the sneakiest ways the pest tries to take over your manuscript. This is FLY POV, especially when the main point of view character’s name is overused--because most people don’t think of themselves in the third person. Do you talk to yourself or talk aloud about yourself in the third person? I know I don’t go around saying to my friends or coworkers, “Stacy is having a good day.”
“Hey, Stacy needs a copy of that file.”
“Stacy would love a hot tea.”
“Yes, Stacy may have a bit of a cupcake obsession.”
(Err, uh, yeah…maybe I have said that last one a couple times before, but you get what I mean.)

The excerpt above may appear obvious (for example purposes), but be prepared when you check your own manuscript, because you will probably be stunned by how much the Fly dives in and commentates with an overuse of proper names right before your eyes.

Did you notice the other issue with the example? Whose scene is this? Dane’s or Kathleen’s? It's hard to distinguish the main POV character, isn’t it?  If I said Dane was supposed to be the main character, would you be surprised? I know it is Dane…but you as readers had no real clues, no sense of Dane being the one experiencing this moment, did you?  The Fly stole his identity by simply Telling the scene to the reader:  Kathleen did this...Dane did that...Kathleen said this...Dane said that...etc.

This is why it is so important that you take back your main character’s identity by Showing the scene through his or her specific perspective.

Now, BE CAREFUL you don’t just take the easy way out by simply going through and changing the proper names to pronouns or you will only end up exchanging one kind of overuse/repetitiveness for another, and worse, fall into the Fly’s trap of the same type of monotonous sentence structure—She did this…He did that…She did this…She did that…He did this…and which keeps that Fly POV buzzing in your manuscript.

          She bent down and picked up his Stetson. She slapped it to his chest. “Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” she asked.
          He was just as stubborn as her.
          Casually, he held his hat. “So, Kathleen, you want to make a bet you can ride the mare?” He put humor in his voice.
          She just looked mad.
          “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word,” she began, and she breathed heavy. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          He put his hat on. He looked over his shoulder at the horse. A slow grin creased his face. 
          “Okay,” he said.
          “Okay?” she questioned.

As you can see, simply changing to pronouns also did not help to establish the actual main POV character, did it?

Where secondary characters are concerned, repetitive clumps of proper names can easily be reduced by changing a few of the instances to descriptives or nicknames specific to the main character’s perspective, by the way he or she knows the person and depending on the tone of the moment/scene—her sister-in-law, the annoying man, the idiot, his depressed buddy, Miss Scaredy-Pants, Mr. High And Mighty, big-haired diva, etc.—and reflecting the mood and interpretation of your main character in that moment.

But again, BE CAREFUL you don’t simply change secondary characters to one basic description use such as her mother, her father, the woman, the man, the child, etc., or you will find once again that you are letting that pesky Fly Tell a simple/passive story.

          His girlfriend bent down and picked up his Stetson. She slapped it to his chest. “Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” his girlfriend asked.
          He was just as stubborn as her.
          Casually, he held his hat. “So, Kathleen, you want to make a bet you can ride the mare?” His voice held a lot of humor.
          His girlfriend just looked mad.
          “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word,” she began and, his girlfriend breathed heavy. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          He put his hat on. He looked over his shoulder at the horse. A slow grin creased his face.
          “Okay,” he said.
          “Okay?” his girlfriend questioned.

[Again, yes, this scene reference is meant to be more than a little obvious for example purposes, but at the same time, you would be surprised at how many manuscripts cross my desk with very similar repetitive natures.]

As discussed last week, each person, each character, has their own interpretation of other people and events, all based on their life experience. So, let your main point of view character be your guide for each scene.  Show, what he or she is experiencing by dotting in personal perception, thought processes, sensory details, etc.

For example, watch how the scene "deepens" when we let Dane Show the reader how he feels about Kathleen. 

Fly Telling:

          ...“Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” Kathleen asked.
          But, he was just as stubborn as her.

Swatted version (Character Showing):

          ...“Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” 
          She’d always had a temper beneath the raw beauty, and he loved it, loved her. She challenged him, pushed him, made him laugh, and made him strive for more than he’d ever thought possible...like her hand in marriage.
          But he was just as stubborn and wanted this done right—his way.
          
And further, when he Shows what he is experiencing in this moment (simply referred to as layering in Deeper POV):

Fly Telling:

            ...She took what appeared to be a fortifying breath. “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word,” Kathleen began, and she breathed heavy. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          Dane put his hat on. He looked over his shoulder at the horse. A slow grin creased Dane’s face. 

Swatted version (Character Experience):

          ...She took what appeared to be a fortifying breath. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          Setting his Stetson back on his head, he glanced over his shoulder at the red-maned filly batting her head around and strutting on the other side of the stockyard. There was no way Kathleen would be able to ride her. No way. A slow grin tugged his lips. And if she couldn’t ride the mare, his proposal would be even more of a surprise in her depressed funk afterward.

Both examples now give a very distinctive presence of Dane as the main POV character.  The reader feels with him the depth of his love for this woman, and is also included in his thought process leading to him experiencing cocky overconfidence.

This is very important, because remember, it is your character experiencing the event, so how he or she perceives the moment and reacts is pivotal to painting a vivid and colorful, character-driven story for your readers.

As for secondary characters, using physical descriptions once in while instead of names can be an alternative to clarify who is speaking, and adds a sense of Deeper POV by giving the reader a visual of the other person through the intimate perspective of your main character.  Not to mention, dotting these little descriptives in here and there also helps to mix up sentence structure and dynamics to keep the pace flowing and the read interesting.

Fly Telling:

          Kathleen just looked mad.
          “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word,” Kathleen began, and she breathed heavy. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”

Swatted Version:

           Cobalt blue eyes darkened. “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word.” The embroidered flower on her shirt rose as she took what appeared to be a fortifying breath. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”

Another quick way to tighten some instances of repetitive proper names is to simply delete them from dialogue. Especially when there are only two characters in the scene, speaking proper names can often be redundant. When you talk to your best friend, do you constantly reference her name in the conversation? Probably not, so your main character doesn’t have to, either. Save the usage in dialogue for a time when the characters are making a point so as to add tension to that particular moment.

Fly Telling:

          Kathleen bent down and picked up Dane’s Stetson. She slapped it to his chest. “Well, Dane? That all you have to say?” Kathleen asked.

Swatted version:

          Kathleen bent down, picked up his Stetson, then slapped it to his chest. “Well? That all you have to say?”

Not only does the revision take out the overuse of proper names and/or overuse of pronouns, but also tightens and condenses the descriptions, which is important for pacing and tension in a scene.

Along the same lines, at least 60% of basic dialogue tags can easily be deleted--he said, she said, he asked, she replied etc.--because, again, if there are only two characters in the scene, it is often understood who is speaking. If not, then deleting tags in favor of an action or visual descriptive can be a stronger choice.

Fly Telling:

          “Okay,” he said.
          “Okay?” Kathleen questioned.

Swatted Version:

          “Okay.”
          “Okay?” She pushed a brunette curl behind her ear and eyed him warily.

Don't get me wrong, tags can be beneficial to show how the words are being spoken--muttered, whispered, screamed, stuttered--so simply ensure they are necessary, and if so, use stronger verbs for the moment rather than the basic version of said.

 Now, it is important to note that dotting in Deeper POV is not about deleting every reference of proper names, simply finding a balance so as not to have clumps or constant repetitive Fly usage.  Also, layering in Deeper POV does not mean adding gobs and gobs of descriptive prose--a few well-placed phrases/sentences with strong word choices mirroring the particular moment's tension--light-hearted, humorous, terrifying, angry, etc.--can be very effective. Balance is the key.


So, let's swat that Fly from our full excerpt by giving Dane back his identity in this scene (or better known as layering in Deeper POV):

            Kathleen bent down, swiped up Dane’s fallen Stetson, then slapped it to his chest. “Well? That all you have to say?”
          She’d always had a temper beneath the raw beauty, and he loved it, loved her. She challenged him, pushed him, made him laugh, and made him strive for more than he’d ever thought possible...like her hand in marriage.
          But he was just as stubborn and wanted this done right—his way.
          Casually, he took his hat and dusted the brim with a sweep of his hand. “So, you want to make a bet you can ride her?” He tried to throw some humor in his voice, hoping she’d follow suit.
          She didn’t.
          Cobalt blue eyes darkened. “I don’t want to make a bet, Dane. I want your word.” The embroidered flower on her shirt rose as she took what appeared to be a fortifying breath. “If I can ride Flamin’ Jane, you finally put a ring on my finger.”
          Setting his Stetson back on his head, he glanced over his shoulder at the red-maned filly kicking up dirt on the other side of the stockyard. There was no way Kathleen would be able to ride her. No way. A slow grin tugged his lips. And if she couldn’t ride the mare, his proposal would be even more of a surprise in her depressed funk afterward.
          “Okay.”
          “Okay?” She pushed a brunette curl behind her ear and eyed him warily.
          He nodded toward the horse. “Go on, give ‘er a try.”

Take a moment to pop back up and read the very first version, and then this one above again. Which excerpt paints a better image in your mind? Do you get a real sense of the main character? You will also note the second one is not much longer than the first. And notice how the overuse of proper names has basically been eliminated? Yes, you need a reference or two to establish characters, but balancing the usage and dotting in Deeper POV allows the reader to stay in the main character’s “head” instead of just the Fly’s sight. Be the character, not the Fly.

Oh, there’s another good one to write down, type big, make a sticky on your computer, post on social media—whatever will help you remember:

BE THE CHARACTER, NOT THE FLY.

One last, quick notation about your main character's identity and proper names involve parents and/or relatives. When parental proper names are used, 90% of the time it is a sure sign the Fly is Telling the story and not your character reacting like a son or daughter would. Do you call your mom by her first name? Your dad? I would be roasted alive if I did that to my parents! Most people don’t call their parents, or grandparents, by their proper names, or even think of them that way in their heads…so neither should your characters, unless his or her life experience includes those issues with a parent--long standing feuds, abuse, adoption, or just because it is established family history, etc. If there is a valid reason for thinking of family members by their first names, then that makes up part of his or her characterization and can work well. But if not, then make sure the way a parent or relative is addressed or thought of by your main character comes from his or her experience with that person, and not just a Fly on the wall Telling the names of the people it sees.

BONUS EXTRA:

I often use the highlighting technique to show clumps of proper names in manuscripts so as to give the author a quick visual of this repetitive pattern. It is an easy way for you to double check if your manuscript is falling into the Fly Zone.

i) Select all text on the page, scene, or chapter(s) that you wish to work with.

ii) On your toolbar, go to Edit—Find—Type the name in the field. For Word 2003, click the box next to ‘Highlight all items found in’—click Find All. For Word 2007/2010 click Find In and choose Current Selection.

iii) You will now see all instances of that name selected. Click on the Highlight button on your toolbar, select a color and all should now be highlighted that color.

iv) Save.

v) Repeat for each character’s name (and possible clumps of overused basic descriptives such as—his mother, the man, the boy, etc.), using a different highlight color for each. If you don’t have a highlight button already on your toolbar, simply review the Help section of your word program for assistance in this and the above.


Over the next week, take a few pages of your story, from the beginning, then the middle, then the end and try this technique. Don’t be surprised if your manuscript lights up like a Christmas tree. But remember, you now have a new tool in your writer’s kit, the fly swatter, so don’t hesitate to use it when necessary and swat that identity thief right out of your manuscript.
If you are comfortable with sharing, feel free to post a Fly Telling "before" and a Swatted version "after" sentence or paragraph of your own in the comments.  We all learn from each other!


And please keep spreading the word to join us here for some good old fashion swatting practice!


All content ©bystacydawn
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23 comments:

  1. Awesome post, Stacy! This is why I love having you as my editor. :)

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  3. Thanks for an interesting and very helpful post.

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    1. You're very welcome, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.

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  4. Brilliant, thank you for sharing, it puts a complicated technique into lay person's terms

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  5. Great tips, thanks for helping authors tighten up their stories!

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    1. So glad you joined me here, Elf! And thanks for your support!

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  6. So, I was rewriting the opening scene of my second book in a trilogy. It felt static and empty. I continued to amend it until it went from crap - to crapier - to the crapiest! I decided to stop and read your blog post above. It helped tremendously. Now I'm ready to go back and I've already come up with a fearful, yet funny inner monologue for my heroine as she sits on a surfboard for the first time. Thanks Stacy!

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  7. Great post! When I first started writing, I had flies all over. Learning how to edit so it flows is the key.

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  8. Love this post. It's certainly sent me back to my manuscript. Thanks so much!

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  9. Great post. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of the importance of deep POV.

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