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

Support and Sacrifice in a Relationship: When Dreams Are Not Your Own

(This was originally posted on The Butterfly Memoirs Blog on 8/7/12)

I found this article the other day and had to share: (for the full article, click the link below)

‘One of the key components of a relationship is the support that two people provide for each other, yet it is typically one of the most overlooked aspects of choosing the perfect mate. A relationship that is built upon mutual support will overcome just about any obstacles that two individuals encounter along the way.

Lack of support in a relationship can surface in many ways. It can be something as simple as a failure to be sympathetic when a mate has had a bad day at work, to the major support that is required when embarking on a new business endeavor or during life changing events. 

Support can take on many forms, but in the broadest sense, it is the willingness of two people in a relationship to lift and encourage each other to be the best that they can be. It is also the willingness for each of the individuals to be there for each other through both good and bad times.’ (For the rest of this article, visit WorldVilliage)

Looks. Personality. Goals. Sexual Attraction. All are important during the beginning stages of a relationship.

Over time, personalities clash, good looks fade, and the intense sexual attraction experienced in the beginning can simmer.

In A Heart Not Easily Broken, finding a supportive relationship is one of the key things that aids Ebony’s decision to ignore the color of Brian’s skin and focus on building a relationship.

“He’s persistent, that’s for sure. He kept after me even when I told him no. And he is a hard worker, not a slacker at all. He doesn’t use his love of music as an excuse not to work in the meantime. He’s very realistic about what he wants and is supportive of my dreams. That’s what I love most about him.”– Ebony Campbell when talking about her boyfriend, Brian Young.

It is because of this supportive and loving relationship, the two of them are able to make it through the tough trial they face.

So, do you support your significant other?

Do you go out of your way to help them reach their dreams? How important is it to you that your mate support your life goals? Be it a new job, a life changing career, or the decision to move away from their family and closer to yours. How important is it to you that you have their support in return?

MJ
 


Let’s Talk About It!: Women as Entrepreneurs

With today’s economy, jobs are scarce. No matter what the news reports as the number jobs available, you and I know it’s different when you walk outside your door. You can’t help but think, ‘Really? Where’s that at?’ Over the past few years, I have heard and seen countless numbers of friends who have lost their jobs due to company downsizing, budget cuts, and various other reasons. They have had to fight for unemployment and take jobs with major pay cuts in order to make ends meet. Or worse, if they still have a job, the amount of hours worked is cut drastically, reducing the amount of their take-home pay.

Let’s be real: having skills outside of just having a degree is what it takes to make it today.

Being able to make a living performing services no one thinks about and owning your own business while doing so is how many people are finding a way to pay their bills. Skills such as auto mechanics, auto glass technicians, artists, musicians, landscapers, maintenance, you name it, there’s probably a very talented and traditionally unemployed person who has the skill, could not find work with a big company anymore, and decided to open their own business.

Entrepreneurship is nothing new. Women have been entrepreneurs in jobs you may not have thought of: beauticians, cosmetologist, seamstresses, daycare providers, caterers, party planners, beauty consultants (Mary Kay, Avon), the list goes one.

And, in the case of Yasmine Phillips, Fashion Consultant.

Yasmine comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Her parents have owned a Bed and Breakfast Hotel for several years. They put her through college to get her Business Degree in the hope of having her take over the business when they retire. For the past three years, she’s been in charge of the second Phillips’ Family Inn, and has been responsible for training her brother, Brandon, to manage the third location that will be opening soon. She’s good at her job and loves working for her family.

But, hotel management is not what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

Like most of use, she aspires to do more than follow in her families footsteps. She has goals of owning her own business and helping women dress to look their best, no matter what the occasion. She gives back to her community by participating in the Dress for Success program for underprivileged woman looking to enter the job market, as well as private consultations for clients of the hotel where she works.

When Yasmine approaches her family with the idea of starting her own business, the results are not what she expects. Their lack of support leads her to having to rely on herself to see her dream to fruition. The choices she makes introduce the possibility of a future she’d given up on.

Jaded, Book Two of the Butterfly Memoirs, Available March 2013 from 5 Prince Publishing

 Autumn landscape

A devastating breakup leaves Yasmine Phillips in shambles. Unable to trust another man with her heart, she focuses on the one thing she can control—starting her own business.

 When her computer crashes, taking months of hard work with it, she must rely on computer genius Zachariah Givens to save her. A complete opposite of men from her past, she doesn’t expect the passion that ensues. But just as she finds happiness, she learns the truth about the other women in Zachariah’s life.

Get caught up before the next book comes!

Book One of The Butterfly Memoirs, A Heart Not Easily Broken! 

BUY your copy of this Amazon Bestseller for $3.99 today! For REVIEWS, SAMPLE CHAPTERS, and LINKS of all formats…all with just ONE-CLICK! 

What You Don’t Know About Queries CAN Hurt You!

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don't Trash Them!So, you’ve written your story and want to share it with the world. But first, you have to query.

What is a query?

A query is a presentation of your manuscript shortened into brief paragraphs in the effort to draw an agent/publisher’s attention to your work. A well-written query letter can lead to a request for more information about your project: a full synopsis, a request for the first couple of chapters, or the entire manuscript. The goal is to receive a request for representation (agent) or publication (publisher). But like writing, in order to tell a good story, it takes research and planning  in order to make the process flow smoothly.

So, what steps should you take?

First of all, research the agent/publisher you want to submit your letter to. No two agents or publishers are alike.

  • Agents:  Visit the personal pages of agents on the company websites. Most will tell you if they are looking new clients.  Some welcome new, unpublished clients, while others prefer to work with already-published authors. Some have a wish list with the types of stories or genres they are looking for. Knowing this before you waste time sending them your work saves time on both of your parts. Submitting a query of a Sci-Fi story to an agent interested in only Romance novels is asking for rejection.
  • Publishers:  Whether you’re looking to self-pub through a vanity press, Indie Press, or Traditional Publisher, you MUST read the submission guidelines. No two are alike. For example, one publisher may want your manuscript  typed and submitted in 12 point Times New Roman font, while another may request 11 point Calibri. (Yep, I had that happen!). If I hadn’t read the submission guidelines and assumed they wanted the manuscript written in standard Times New Roman, my manuscript would be ignored for not following their guidelines before they read the first line!

Prepare various files ahead of time to save time. While researching agents/publishers, make note of what type of file they want you to send. (Note: this is the age of digital. Gone are the days of only mailing your manuscript or query letter. Most require emails, not snail mail. ‘Snail mail’ –traditional mailing- can add longer wait time to getting a response to your request).

Here are the various requests I ran across:

  • Query letter– that’s all they want. Keep it short and simple, to the point.  Open with a hook that leaves wanting to know more. Talk briefly about your writing experience (if applicable) and where samples of your work can be found. Leave with a respectful and professional closing. Be sure to include correct contact information for phone, email, mailing. (Note: if including social networking information, know that they WILL research you before contacting you. Having an unprofessional presence online can cause them to lose interest, regardless of how great your story is.)
  • Query and Sample Chapter (s) or Pages In addition to the standard query, some want to sample your writing voice. Here is where having a strong opening to your story comes in. The first three chapters are your make or break it points in your novel. If an agent or acquiring editor can’t get hooked then, then they push your work to the trash pile and send the dreaded ‘rejection form’ letter. Create separate files for the following page counts: 5 pages, 20 pages, 50 pages. (or 1st chapter to 1st-3rd chapters).
  • Query and Synopsis The dreaded synopsis letter can take more work to write than the 350 page novel it’s being written about. The point is to share the highlights of your story, from beginning to, yep, the actual end…not the lead up to the end. They want to know how the story ends to decide if what happens in the middle is worth the time to read. Synopsis request can be as brief as one page, to as lengthy as 4 pages. Prepare a one-page, three-page, and four-page to have on hand. No need to pull hair out after writing a one-page synopsis and run across a request for a four-page and have to start all over again.
  • Query, Synopsis, and Full Manuscript:  Not many will ask for a full manuscript from the get go, but some do.  Be sure to have your manuscript completed BEFORE submitting it. Agents/Publishers want to see a finished product, not one that is incomplete. If they like what they see, they will want to jump on it. If they have to start working with you by giving you a deadline to finish the project, it could be a turn off.  As a rule, most manuscript requests come in the form of the following:*12 point Times New Roman font  *1 inch margins (all around) *double spaced (entire document, without space between paragraphs)

***Be sure to have your manuscript edited and as clean as possible. DO NOT SEND ROUGH DRAFTS! Try to have your work as close to professionally edited as possible. Not doing so and having blatant misspellings and punctuation errors can result in rejection of your work! ***

Once you have these things in place, you are nearly ready to start querying! With so many agents and publishers out there, it’s hard to keep up with what information was sent to which publisher and when. I suggest creating a spreadsheet to make note of the dates and information sent. If you don’t have time to make your own, visit QueryTracker.com. Create a profile, make notes of sent responses and request, as well as look up information about the agents/publishers you’re interested in. There’s also an area that allows you to view comments from others about their experience with those agents/publishers and turnaround time for responses.

The query process is time-consuming and a real test of your will and patience. The pay off; seeing your work in the hands of readers.  This is the time to grow thick skin. Prepare to get rejection letters, either as form responses or the very rare letter with actual feedback.  Take it with a grain of salt and look for the good part. No, I am not saying being told NO, is a good feeling, but sometimes it’s comical. I got one that said, “No, not interested.”…that was it, no hello, no Ms. Kane, nothing.  I laughed my butt off because it appeared that particular person was having a bad day.  I could only imagine what it’s like to trudge through a ton of emails day after day in search of a line that catches your attention. Just because they said no didn’t mean it was about me or my work. Remember my above comment: Wish List. If looking for the next hot book about Vampires is what is on everyone’s list, your next love story that’s about the average Joe won’t get a second look, no matter how well it’s written.

Don’t be afraid to explore your publishing options. If you don’t have the time or patience to look into self-publishing, then look at Indie Publishing companies.  They still request the same type of information as the big publishers, but you have a better opportunity to have your writing voice heard. The beauty of going Indie is being able to tell your story the way you want to without being told what you can or can’t write.

I survived the query gambit,  kept my writing voice, and ignored the negative responses that told me ‘no’. And now I am an Amazon Bestselling Author. 🙂

Here are a few links to articles on writing query letters synopsis. Good luck!!

MJ

eHow.com- Query Letter Sample Search

eHow.com- How to write a Synopsis Search 

Query Tracker.net  

Does Your Story Have A Soundtrack?

Soundtracks. They can be found on T.V. shows, movies, and commercials. Even life has a soundtrack.

Have you ever found yourself doing random things like, cleaning the kitchen, walking down the isle at Wal-Mart, or sitting through the dreaded school conference bored to death and your mind wanders…a random song comes out of no where, yet fits the moment perfectly?

That’s your personal soundtrack. Or laugh track, depends on the moment. LOL!

Every author finds inspiration for their story somehow, be it life experiences, a television program, newspaper article, you know the drill. Music is a big thing in my household. With my husband being a music producer, there are artist coming through at least once a week to record. If not, then he is always working on a new track, playing it for everyone to hear. My son, who recently finished playing in the Youth Orchestra for the Alliance Theater, plays the string bass and bass guitar. Suffice it to say, music is always playing around here, no matter what time of day. Because of that, the combination of my husband and son’s artistic abilities were the bases of one of my main characters in A Heart Not Easily Broken, Brian Young. 

While writing the first book of The Butterfly Memoirs Series, I ran across the perfect song for Brian, Butterfly, by Crazy Town. No the title of the song has nothing to do with the series, just pure coincidence. I’ve been driving my kids crazy – no pun intended – for the past two years listening to this song. It’s the first track on “Mom’s Driving Music’ CD in the car. If I’m driving and a scene is formulating in my head, the poor kids are held hostage as I keep hitting the repeat button over and over again. To bad! It works for me!

The bass line played in this song speaks to me. Brian is a bass guitar player in a band called Diverse Nation. When he meets his love interest, Ebony Campbell, he’s playing in a night club when he spies her dancing in front of the stage. One look and he’s hooked. When I picture this scene in my head, I can imagine him, eyes glued to her curvaceous body as her hips sway, arms held over her head and eyes closed, lost in the music. He is captivated, his fingers strum the bass line while the band does a cover version of the song. Listen to the song…can you picture it?
 

 Another song that inspires me while writing the women in my books is Miss Independent, by Ne Yo.

It sets the stage for the strong female characters I write in my series. In truth, it’s also the type of woman my male leads are looking for. The kind of woman that can stop them in their tracks and make them take stock of what she has to offer. She’s strong, hardworking and has her own goals in mind. She will never be needy, yet always appreciate what the man in her life has to offer.

When editing, I refuse to listen to anything with words. Instead, I pull out my list of instrumentals.While working through my dreaded forty-six word Passive Words/Phrases list, my favorite song to listen to  is Fantasy and Fables, by KTEK.  Follow the link to track number 16. (Shameless promotion, this song was produced by my husband, so if you follow this blog, you MUST listen to it. I promise it won’t disappoint!)

Other songs that have made their way into my writing soundtrack include,  Making Love In the Rain, by Herb Alpert -great for writing love scenes- and Through the Bamboo Forest, a song from the movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, performed by Yo Yo Ma. A hauntingly beautiful song I can feel in my soul, I pull this track out when I’m deep in editing mode and need to ‘be’ my character in order to write what it is they see, think, hear and feel. Since I write in first person, I put my heart and soul into every action and statement made by the characters in order for them to become so realistic, I can hear their thoughts. I put on my headphones and the song on repeat. It’s amazing how focused I get and how much can be accomplished while this song plays.

 

So, these are the songs that fill my head and inspire me while I write. What do you like to listen too? Do your characters have a story that is inspired by a song? Please share!

MJ

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