MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks

WritingOne of the first things I learned about writing was the correct way to write a scene. After years of reading I had become accustom to what is known as ‘head hopping’. For those who may not be aware of what that is, ‘head hopping’ is where two characters point of views are shared in the same scene. This is not to be confused with conversation. I am referring to the scene starting with the heroine’s POV and then in mid scene, it switches to the hero’s POV, and back again or to another character without a change in the scene or start of a new chapter. Sound confusing? Imagine how it feels to a reader!

That style of writing is no longer accepted in manuscripts today, unless of course your one of the old school authors who were allowed to do it years ago. Chances are they haven’t been forced to change. In fact, I know they haven’t. One of my favorite romance authors who have been around for years still does it in every new book. But for the new author, agents and publishers are looking for a more polished style of writing, starting with characters whose POV’s are the only one featured in a chapter. Even if you plan to self-publish, taking these extra steps to polish your writing will make your work stand apart from the rest!

So how do you make this happen? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay in one viewpoint from the beginning to end or your scene! (I write in 1st Person POV, so I will write these examples in both 1st and 3rd POV when needed.)

Make sure your reader knows who is speaking.

The easiest way to have this done is by having them addressed by name by another character in the scene. Doing this in the first few lines of the chapter will let your reader know who’s speaking:

Example:

(1st Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” my brother asked.

“Things could be better.” I grimaced while holding my stomach.

Or

(3rd Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” John asked.

“Things could be better,” she said while holding her stomach.

As mentioned above, NO HEAD HOPPING!

Doing so destroys the tension your building by staying in one character head. You know the saying, ‘the right hand can’t know what the left is doing?’ When sticking in one POV, it’s the same way. If Phil has a secret that he is trying to hide from Bob, his actions and what he says should say that to the reader, but the reader can’t know that Bob already knows that Phil is guilty.

Example:

Correct:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie. He tried his best to ignore Bob when he asked another question, and continued to stare out the kitchen window.

Incorrect:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie.

Bob knew Phil was guilty, because he refused to look at him. It didn’t matter if he answered his question or not. He was going to tell grandma.

Phil knows he’s guilty, but tries his best to hide it. If we are only in his POV, he can’t know what Bob is thinking, only assume, or in this case ignore Bob all together. What he thinks Bob knows or doesn’t know is not important. You only want to share Bob’s thoughts if/when his POV is addressed in another chapter.

Describing your character from their POV.

Every now and then it’s necessary for a character to tell the reader what they look like, what they are wearing, or describe their expressions. You have to be careful their voice does not slip into the voice of another character that may be looking at them. Try some of these tricks:

  • Have your character stand in front of a mirror and talk about what they see, but don’t be technical (and it should be relevant to the scene!)
  • Use feelings and descriptions to guide your reader into visualizing what the character is trying to say about themselves.
  • Quote another character’s thoughts about their appearance.

Example: Here’s how my character, Ebony Campbell, describe herself in the opening chapter of A Heart Not Easily Broken: (1st Person)

I smirked (facial expression) before sipping my margarita. Yasmine’s light-skinned complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cup breasts suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’. According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye. (Opinion of others)

And last but not least, select ONE character to focus on in a scene!

In other words, don’t split up your chapter into two different points of view. Extend the scene, or shorten it, with chapter breaks instead of scene breaks. Doing so will keep the reader from missing the POV switch at the break point, because sometimes inserting *** just doesn’t do it. Doing so generally means there is a change in the scene itself, not POV.

I hope this helps! For more tips on writing, check out my page with links to previous articles on writing. Until next time, Happy Writing!

MJ

#WritingTips- Use Your Microsoft Word Doc Tools to Make Writing Easier!

When my Muse wakes me up in the middle of the night, or I have an epiphany of a new scene to add more life to my manuscript, the first thing I do is search for any means of recording my thoughts. Paper and pen, notes on my iPhone, voice recordings if I’m driving, or sometimes I just grab my laptop, open up a blank word doc, and let my fingers fly over the keys. Then I file it away until I’m ready to work on it again.

I am a plotter with a hint of panster. I take my time when I write, letting my stories marinate as I decide what trials to put my characters through. I spend even more time discovering who they are. When my research is complete, my outlines written, and I’m ready to add dialogue, the last thing I want to do after spending hours bringing my story to life, is have to go back and reformat the entire manuscript before editing it.

Let’s face it, authors, the mere thought of the words edits, editing, or editor are daunting, especially if you are new to writing!

I remember those days! But, have no fear! Since then, I have learned when you put in the work, the editing process can run so smooth, it’s nearly as fun as watching your story come to life from the blank page!

Okay, okay, stop laughing!  Let’s keep it positive people! 🙂 I’m about to share a tip that will have you grinning from ear to ear! (If you had no idea about it, that is!)

Did you know there are tools built into Microsoft Word that can cut down the amount of editing you or your editor need to do if used while you write?

I learned this while working on my first manuscript, (A Heart Not Easily Broken), and my dear friend and fellow author enlightened me to these amazing settings. I can’t lie; I am NOT a tech savvy person. What I’ve learned to do with my laptop, be it building my webpage, (the one you’re visiting now), or surfing the web, all of this has been because of being pointed in the right direction by people who discovered these shortcuts and shared them with me, or by taking the time to keep hitting buttons and trying over and over again until I figured it out. In other words, HOURS of frustration mixed with patience, coffee, and chocolate!

Now it’s my turn to reciprocate!  If any of this is new to you, I hope you find this information useful, and that it makes writing easier!

***NOTE: The following directions and screen shots are based on Microsoft Word 2010. Similar functions can be found for 2007, though they will not be as detailed. For more advice, I suggest searching Google or YouTube for instructional videos on how to use your editing/proofing features.***

Unknown tricks to Word 2007 and 2010 to avoid unnecessary editing issues (AKA – Quick Access Tool Bar). Let’s face it, we all didn’t sit down to read the manual…

IMG_0438[1]

Screen shot of the steps below. Daunting, but well worth the work!

Use of this function will allow you to set up Word to point out common editing issues as you type, allowing you to rethink your sentence before you continue, or make it easier to find some of the editing issues that make your writing passive. To customize this feature, follow these steps:

  • Open up a blank Word Document
  • Select the REVIEW tab at the top of your screen; Right Click and select CUSTOMIZE
  • Select PROOFING. (Here you can choose what kind of typing issues you want Word to ignore or point out to you).
  • Look lower in the box marked: WHEN CORRECTING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR IN WORD
  • Select WRITING STYLE, then click on the drop box, choose GRAMMAR & STYLE, then click SETTINGS. (From here you can have Word point out EVERYTHING!!! From punctuation issues, misused words, fragment and run-on sentences, to the use of cliches phrases, and so much more. Using this feature to help point out issues you need to correct before submitting your manuscript to an editor will make the editor quickly fall in love with you!)
  • Be sure to select OK before exiting to save your settings.

***By the way, once these settings are saved, they stay that way  for every document you create, until you go in and reset them.***

I touched on this a few posts ago when sharing tips for writing query letters, but again, putting this simple step into practice BEFORE you write one word will make the rest of  your writing experience pleasant.

The Universal Settings for your Manuscript (or Prepping you MS for Query Letters and you Editor)

IMG_0440[1]

Your screen should look like this when selecting your font type and size.

Set your Font:

  • Open a blank document.
  • Select the HOME tab.
  • Choose TIMES NEW ROMAN Font with a 12 Point  size.
  • Save and exit

***Check these settings for each new document created! They do not always stay the same!***

IMG_0441[1]

This is the easiest fix!

To Set Page Borders/Margins:

  • Select the PAGE LAYOUT tab.
  • Choose MARGINS.
  • Set to NORMAL. (1 inch border on both sides and top and bottom)

***This usually the normal setting, but it never hurts to make sure it’s set correctly. Technology is funny, and can revert back to the original settings  without warning!***

IMG_0439[1]

Set your page to automatic indent and line and paragraph spacing.

  • From the HOME tab, select PARAGRAPH.
  • In the INDENTION box, choose HANGING.
  • In the SPACING box, choose DOUBLE, and change the  AFTER PT to ZERO (O)
  • Check the box below to avoid  spaces between paragraphs
  • Select OK to save changes.

***Again, check this feature with the start of any new document. The default settings are not the same as what you need when writing. Any new document created will not have your new settings.***

 Other Advice:

Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing cleaner:

  • Make sure you have clean chapter breaks. In other words, when Chapter 1 ends halfway down the page, Chapter 2 should start on a fresh page. The final page of Chapter 1 should not have the first part of Chapter 2 .
  • Italicize words meant to stand out for emphasis, do not highlight or underline.
  •  When inserting a scene break in a chapter, use ### or *** to show the break in time, or the start of a new scene and/or location. Which ever one you use, stay consistent throughout the MS, do not flip-flop.
  • If you have already written you MS and have not used these settings, there’s no need to type it over again! Simply go to page one, hold down the CTRL + A buttons; it will highlight the entire manuscript, from page 1 to 1000+. Follow the steps to set PAGE MARGINS and FONT while highlighted, and it will fix all of your work. Be sure to scroll through in order to separate your chapter headings on fresh pages, or else, some of them may find their way into the previous chapter. Don’t forget to save and back it all up when you’re done!

I know, I know, if you are technically challenged, the whole idea of learning how to properly format your work is daunting. But believe me; editors appreciate working with authors who take the time to learn how to use their writing programs. It cuts down on the amount of tedious stuff they need to do to get your work up to par, and allows them more time to focus on the real work, the mind-numbing technical side. And who knows, less work may end up saving you money!

Happy Writing!

MJ

 

Crash and Burn…Are Your Manuscript Files Backed Up?

A computer crash is the biggest fear of any author. Months, even years, of hard work, creativity, and research are gone in a matter of seconds. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

The latest laptop to fail.

Over the past year, I’ve gone through three laptops and now a computer. Okay, the laptops weren’t the newest on the market and two of them were free. I’m not complaining because they got the work done. The more I worked, the more it got used, and apparently, they couldn’t keep up with me or the newer programs I needed to keep my writing going.

Last week, I began having problems with my and newest laptop. My husband is a technical whiz and has rebuilt his computer several times. He’s been able to recover files from major crashes and do major overhauls on his machines to make them run faster. Simply put, he’s got the best computer in the house! He needs it since he produces, engineers, and records artist  on his machine. In short, he’s got money sitting in his hard drives.

He informed me that my computer needed to have the Windows uninstalled and reinstalled in order to make it work better. So far he’s had to save my butt and fix the thing about 5 times in the last three months. I backed up all of my files, anticipating my computer hard drive being completely wiped out, and happily handed it over. Needless to say, something went wrong. It wasn’t his fault, it’s the computers. It’s about four years old and had already been having some issues with the hard drive. Long story short, it accepted Windows 7, but refuses to accept Word. How is a writer supposed to write without WORD????

So, I sucked it up and got my son’s computer tower, brought it to my office, and promised him I would not take it over forever. Just long enough to keep my writing momentum going without getting behind while waiting for the laptop to be fixed.

That black spot is what caught on fire!

All went good for a few hours. I managed to start typing the first chapter of the second book in The Butterfly Memoirs series, Jaded. I had already printed out the MS and went line-by-line with my red pen doing edits. I typed of the first ten pages last night. As I was going through the words on my Passive Words checklist, I began to smell smoke. My first thought was the stove had been turned on accidentally and a pot or plastic cup was on it. (My office is right off the kitchen). I looked over at my 11-year-old son who was washing dishes and asked what was burning. It was then I noticed smoke coming from under my desk. I pushed back from the desk and realized the computer tower was on fire! I, of course, freaked and yelled for my husband. Everyone in the house came running. Fortunately, I was able to blow out the flames, but the computer was done.

I was sitting there on the verge of tears. After waiting, fretting, and struggling with the desire to sit down at a computer and get things moving along, I was once again computer-less, not to mention my son’s computer is now toast. But then I realized something that made me laugh. My family thought I was crazy. In the scene I was working on, the heroine, Yasmine Phillips, is stressing because her computer crashed and literally burned.  Don’t believe me? Here’s a brief glimpse at the WIP:

My paper work filed away, I turned back to my computer and pulled up the accounting program used to manage the hotel.

“No, no, no!” I pounded on my key board, but nothing worked.

“What’s wrong?” Brandon leaned forward to peer around my monitor.

The screen flashed a rolling script before it went completely black.

“Oh shit,” I groaned, flopped back in my chair, and put my hands on my face. I wanted to snatch my hair out. “Shit, shit, shit…”

Brandon whistled. “You, my sister, are seriously screwed.”

If looks could kill, he’d be dead right now. I sat up and even though knowing it was a waste of time, flipped the on switch of the computer tower. There was a spark of energy that flashed and burned out in the grounding wire of the extension cord. Brandon and I jumped up; he lunged for the cord in the wall while I ran for the fire extinguisher in the hall.

Fortunately I didn’t need it.

My brother fanned smoke as the smell of burnt electronics permeated the air.“I hope you had that information on a backup system.”

“No, I know I’m supposed to, but I never got around to it,” I grimaced.

            Brandon reached over and patted me on my shoulder. “So far, I’m not liking the idea of being manager at the new location”

Talk about irony! My office still smells of burnt plastic!

Several months ago, my husband asked me if I’d been backing up my writing files in case of a computer crash. At the time I felt that wasn’t necessary. I had my files saved to USB and that was enough. Then I began hearing horror stories of computers crashing, partial files missing, USB’s lost, and realized I needed to step it up.

I’m not the worlds most computer savvy person. Thankfully, my husband is. He walked me through the steps and showed me how to save entire files on to a CD. Not only have I backed up my manuscripts, I’ve backed up all research, articles on writing, photos, and e-books on writing. If anything ever happens, all I have to do is pull out the disk and download it to whatever computer I’m on and have a perfect snap shot of my work. Doing this every couple of months, weeks, or whenever major changes are made, can keep your work current. That way if you ever experience an issue with your computer, you can rest assured your time dedicated to your work was not in vain.

Other options for additional places to store your work are:

  • Online storage services (some are free, some you pay for.)
  • Emailing a copy of latest work to yourself and archiving it. 
  • Create a buddy system with another writer you trust. Exchange digital copies of you MS for each other to hold in case yours ever is lost or destroyed.
  • Even though this is the age of digital information, there’s nothing wrong with going old school and printing out a copy to have on hand.
  • Purchase an external hard drive to save your work on. That way if your main drive on your computer fails, the external hard drive will still have your work. Think of it as a giant USB. 

These are the few that I can recommend. If anyone has any other methods, please share! 

MJ

Connect with me on the following sites: 

Facebook


Twitter


Google+


Linkedin