Friday, May 6, 2011

Highlights Workshop: Day 5

Sorry for the late post again--internet was not being agreeable last night!

Today was Day 5 at the Highlights Workshop and we're all starting to feel that pressure to fit in as much writing as possible in the little time we have left.  (You know that feeling when you go on vacation--in the beginning of the week it feels like you have time to do everything in the world, then somehow that time disappears and you realize, "Crap! I have to go home in two days!?")
No time to swing!  Must write!

So, my morning was spent busily revising, aka "destroying my baby" as I reworked my first chapter.  Our afternoon consisted of two more peer critiques, then we had a tiny break to write some more, followed by our group workshop.  Today's topic was on Point of View.

I'm sure you already know the fundamentals of Point of View and how it's usually First, Second, or Third Person.  (We didn't go into Second--aka "You"--since it's not commonly used.)  What you choose for your novel has a direct influence on tone, mood, and something we discussed called "Psychic Distance."  To iterate Psychic Distance, our faculty gave us five sentences:

1) It was winter of the year 1853.  A large men stepped out of the doorway.
2) Henry J. Warburten never cared much for snowstorms.
3) Henry hated snowstorms.
4) God, how he hated those darn snowstorms.
5) Snow in my collar, down in my shoes, freezing my miserable soul to its core.

When you read these sentences, you can see how some take you further away from the character and action, while others bring you closer.  As illustrated above, Point of View is no black-and-white concept and there are varying levels of how close you can bring your reader to the story.  So what the pros and cons of each?

First Person: Sentence 5 above, brings the reader closest to the story.
-Pros: Very intimate and reader friendly as reader is experiencing the story with the narrator (usually the main character).
-Cons: You can only see the world from the narrator's eyes and know what they know.  In first person, you can't see off-scene events or know the thoughts or feelings of others; you are solely in one character's head.  As our faculty told us, this can be very exhausting to both read and write, especially if your character has a particularly strong voice.  (The djinn parts in the Bartimaeus Trilogy are told in first person perspective from a very snarky, cocky, smart character.  Some people love him, some don't.  In book one I did actually find him rather exhausting.)

Omniscient Third: Sentence 1 above, the furthest you can get from your reader.
-Pros: Can give the reader all perspectives, which is great for epic fantasy with huge, sprawling story lines and history.  It can also act as a buffer between the reader and traumatic story events, making terrible events palatable for young readers. (Charlotte's Web and The Tale Of Despereaux  are both examples of this where tragedies happen, but kids aren't traumatized by reading them.)  You can also have a strong narrator and give your story a fair-tale/tall-tale feeling, which helps to close thay distance (as seen by the intrusive narrator who addresses the reader in Despereaux).
-Cons: You often lose the intimacy of the story.  (Charlotte's Web is a good example.  It's a touching story, but we never dive into any specific characters or emotions.  Our faculty said this is a general trait of Classic Children's Literature).  You can also often bore your reader by story-wandering and focusing too much on the "outside world" (setting, peripheral characters, etc.) instead of sticking to your main story.

Close Third: Sentences 2-4 (aka Straight Third or Limited Third).
Pros: Close Third is the most common Point of View, particularly in children's fantasy books.  You really get the best of both worlds.  The story is filtered through the main character's thoughts/sensations/feelings, but you aren't trapped there.  You can write chapters following the action of side-characters, villians, outside events, etc. as well.  It's a good way to make your reader feel close to your character and story while being able to delve a bit into side-plots, history, explanation of magical elements, and whatever else enhances the overall story.  (Think Inkheart.  You closely follow the main character, Meggie, throughout the story, but some chapters you leave her and follow the villians or side-characters instead.) 
Cons: There is a tendency to "head-hop" in scenes or bounce around between your characters, explaining all their feelings and actions that don't directly apply to your focus character.  This is jarring and the reader ends up confused, unsure who is important and what to focus on.  (This can be fixed if you remember to only follow one character's emotions and thoughts per chapter.  Other characters can be the focus of other chapters if it adds to the overall story arc.)

Point of View can be tricky, especially picking out the right one for your story.  You might have to play around and find what fits best with the tone and voice of your story (i.e. what Point of View BEST tells your story.)  I personally go with my gut and tweak as I revise and receive outside feedback. :)  Furthermore, you can throw a wrench in the whole thing by combining and mixing up Points of Views!  (Think Holes--the overarching, grand story that sets up the dominoes of fate is Omniscent Third, while the chapters about Stanley are Close Third.  Neat, huh?)  Our discussion definitely left me with a lot to think about!

So that was day five!  Of course, I can't forget about our meals!  Today was apparently Cinco de Mayo (I have zero concept of time here) so some of our meals had a fiesta-flair: breakfast was a gooey french toast bake with apple compote oatmeal; lunch was chile (I don't even like chile and it was amazing!) with cornbread and Mexican chocolate pudding; our workshop snack was chips and guacamole paired with crackers and cheese; and dinner was steak with side veggies and coconut cake with grilled pineapple for dessert.  (No, I am not going to fit into my pants by the end of the week.)

By the way, I did not forget about posting pictures, but they take too long to load with this internet.  I will add some when I am back in Columbus. :)

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