Saturday, 29 January 2011


Writing DPOV means using words and expressions the character would habitually use. They won’t explain what they already know
It stops you writing of another character: "She was stupid," because your DPOV character can only guess that the new character is stupid. But there are ways around it. Characters have body language and facial expressions, so your DPOV character can read those as well as the reader.
Introspection or internal questioning is a temptation in DPOV and sometimes I take some of it out when I re-read, because its way too easy to go on too long and become boring. No one wants to be boring, do they!
That’s about it for DPOV from me.

As a taster for the next topic, which will be on accent and dialect, if I can manage it, here are some starters…
"There's a difference between Geordie vowels and words, and Tynedale or mid Northumberland, and north Northumberland," says Kim Bibby-Wilson from the Northumbrian Language Society.
"So you get "dinna" for "don't" up on the Scots border and "dinnit" further south. You get "divvent" in most places."

Friday, 28 January 2011

What was their world like?

This link should take you to a short video showing the renovation of the Royal apartments at Stirling Castle. click Try it. This is exactly the period I'm writing about in my books Treason! and Defiance and I love looking at it.

Have a scout around the Youtube videos on offer. An earlier Historic Scotland video gives a wider perspective here and Andy Campbells's video of the old town gives views of the exterior of the Castle here I don't suppose he was allowed to film inside. Assuming he's a native of Stirling, his accent is atractive. I wonder if I could find some Northumbrian accents for comparison? We use lots of the same words, but say them differently which is why I don't always go along with the dinnae, cannae school of fictional Scottish accents.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Deep Third continued

A friend thinks using Deep Third POV would make for a larger word count, and in some ways she’s correct. But DTPOV does wonders for characterization because it’s like being inside a character’s head and their perception of the world colours everything the reader sees. You then don’t need to describe the character’s personality (words saved right there!) because it’s coming through, in the character's own words, in a painless way.

You do need to know your character well so that you can express his deepest thoughts/reactions. Usually I go back over a chapter more than once, and every time I put in another layer. If the surroundings have changed recently, I let the character describe them. Second time around, I'll see where to deepen the conversation. Third time around and I’ll find I can pin-point a character’s reactions to what’s happening. If you don’t know what they feel first time around, don’t worry. By the third trip, you’ll have it.
Not everyone starts writing with a fully-fledges character in their mind. I certainly don't. They grow with the writing, so if you need to get to the end of the story before you truly know your characters, then don't let it worry you. You can always go back and add stuff later.
Expressing things through a character means you need to keep track of them and their thought processes in your own mind (or a little black book), but it is an easy way of revealing why the character does things. If they like or hate someone, enjoy food, or feel insecure, it can all come out in their internal dialogue. Here’s a little example of my own: the opening paragraph of Treason, currently doing the rounds of agents.

Matho’s hands clenched. Though he’d bathed in a barrel yesterday morning, cut his thick red hair and cleaned his nails on the point of his dagger as would any man of fortune seeking advancement, Sir Thomas’s steady grey gaze unnerved him. Snatching his brown felt cap from his head, he rolled it in his suddenly damp palms, gazed shiftily back at the great man and dipped his head. ‘Sir Thomas.’
‘Good day, Spirston. Come forward.’
Matho pressed his sword flat against his hip to avoid chipping the chair at his side and moved up to the vast desk standing like a challenge across the centre of the room. He wasn’t going to grovel like a dog after scraps even though Sir Thomas wielded power enough to make most low-born men wary.

Pic is of one of the vehicles used to pick up passengers from the railway station on arrival in Zermatt.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Deep Third

On Friday I got into a discussion with a couple of writer friends over Point of View, and we wondered why Deep Third had suddenly become so popular. I ventured the opinion it might have something to do with television, where sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, we are made privy with every detail of the protagonist’s life. A new series has begun with Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen and slowly, week by week, we are picking up on his past life and how he thinks. Not that he tells us; but television has many techniques at its disposal: dialogue, pictures, flashbacks, gossip and dreams to name but a few.

Is it like writing ‘I said, I ran, I thought’ all the time? asked one writer. Well, yes, it is - and no, its not. It’s a mixture of the two. Third and First Person are written in a way that requires dialogue tags and verbs such as see, notice, understand, feel, realize and think. All of these words come under the dreaded term “Telling” as opposed to “Showing.”

Compare the following passages. a) I ran across the bridge thinking I could hear footsteps behind me, and regretted wearing my wonderful new high heels. I hadn’t gone far when my heel jammed in the pavement.

b)Jane turned onto the bridge. Footsteps followed her. Imagination? Possibly, but that nasty-looking teenager at the corner might have followed her. She walked faster. Damn this tight skirt. And these heels were killing her already. If only she’d waited for David instead of flouncing off in a huff. She snatched a swift glance over her shoulder, and caught her heel in a crack in the pavement. Her heart leapt to her throat. Oh, Lord. The shoe was stuck fast.

Deep Third might take more words, but the effect should grab the readers’ attention by making them feel they are one with Jane, stuck with one expensive shoe rammed into the pavement and a possible stalker approaching. Deep Third is not unlike acting. The writer must imagine themselves into Jane’s position, become her and then describe what she sees and feels. Some might say it's vicarious pleasure, fright, adventure.

But at least in this world, it is safe!
(And the pic is the hotel at the top of the Gornergrat railway, 10,000 feet up in the mountains)

Friday, 21 January 2011

High Stakes

You have to have something for a hero/ine to aim at. I understand that. Start with the inciting incident, preferably on page one, and go from there. Small problems get worked out and larger difficulties follow.
Some people call these high stakes stories where the hero/ine is absolutely bound to face hardship, danger, and emotional pain before s/he gets to that happy resolution. If the story is not in the romance genre, then the resolution may not be pain free, either.
We’ve all read about common themes in storytelling. For heroes, one event leads to another, and as he nears whatever it is he’s striving for, the difficulties get higher, larger, and hurt more. At the moment I’m trying to decide where my hero goes next and my musings led to thinking about the delicate art of storytelling balance.
The problem for the writer is in keeping the imagination within the bounds of what is possible. For example: Events have to be believable, and the hero must, in some weird way, like David and Goliath, be equipped to deal with the things that confront him. These days it’s not everyone’s good luck to be a whiz with a slingshot, but you take my meaning.
If the winning shot that fells Goliath also costs the hero in some way, that’s excellent from the writer’s point of view, otherwise it all seems too lucky to be credible if he got away with a wry grin, and a shrug of the shoulders. That belongs to the cartoon character. Or maybe Indiana Jones.
No, I take that back. Indie suffers physically and from his fear of snakes in almost every film, and sometimes Dad steals his girl. That's the thing about Indiana…a writer needs to know when enough is enough. Indie doesn’t; he goes on chasing the demon until he himself verges on becoming a cartoon character.
If we once ask ourselves if a man can survive all this pain, then we’re very close to the borderline of believability, where a thumping good storyline will suddenly be taken over by cartoon characters like the feminine creation in the film Salt I talked about a few posts back. And unless you are writing for movieland, then personally, I think cartoonland is a bad place to be.
Yippee! Being Human is on the way back! Next time I'll have to write about how BH gets away with being a high stakes story (hee hee) and avoids the cartoon trap.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Writers and readers

Do writers read books? I read fewer these days. Or rather, I finish fewer books. Returning six items to the library last week, I read only two cover to cover.

The other four didn’t hold my interest, and the reasons they didn’t were varied. Too much unneeded information, too little story; too gruesome; too boring; too little/too much character description; an unrealistic storyline plus downright inaccuracies. If this sounds far too critical, let me add that the things that turn me off a story may be just the thing to capture and hold your interest. Who knows?

Gabaldon’s novels are always long, and Echo in the Bone was no exception. The 1000+ paperback kept me entertained all through the Christmas break. I skim-read the bits on the American War of Independence, because not knowing the *real* characters and being geographically challenged as to where things were happening made that part of the story a blur for me, but the story about the fictional characters was endlessly interesting. I grew curious about how old Clare is at this stage of the story*, and looked for the first novel Cross Stitch (now called Outlander in the US) in order to check it out.

Checked the library, no result; passed a charity shop and popped in on impulse and immediately found myself in a discussion of How Could Clare Sleep with Lord Grey after Jamie’s Death, and hadn’t that ruined the whole series for me? Well, no, it didn’t. Who knows what we’ll do in deepest grief? I find Gabaldon’s character psychology so true and occasionally so deep that it makes me think hard about what she’s saying. I never noticed this in her earlier novels, and now I wonder if that was because the younger me didn’t see it, or the younger Gabaldon did not write such pieces.

* At the youngest, early fifties. At the oldest, approaching seventy. Unless, of course, going through the stones keeps you miraculously young, like HRT.

Monday, 17 January 2011

It's good to know

I finally got time to go back to the rules of fiction link I put up for you on my last post, and read through Hilary Mantel's ten points. Not that they aren't all good, but two of them struck a real chord with me, so here they are.

7 Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that's the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don't notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they're trying too hard to instruct the reader.

8 Description must work for its place. It can't be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.

She says it so much better than me, but I realise that I have been trying to show all my description through a viewpoint character in my new stories Treason and Defiance. I don't always succeed, but I'm reassured to know I'm on the right track.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Last day and tips

If you don’t normally read newspapers, make sure you click on the link and read writing tips from people like Mantel, Rankin and more. Some are very earnest and serious, others have a more pragmatic approach – “Shut up and get on with it!”
Interesting to read. Rankin lists as his 9th tip “Get lucky” and his 10th “Stay lucky.” How right he is. Luck has such a big part to play in this game.
Our last day of skiing was a beaut. Sunshine and blue skies and we had a wonderful time (If I forget the horrendous queues for the Cable car to the Kleine Matterhorn early this morning.) Zermatt seems quieter than we remembered in previous years. Perhaps the recession in Europe has something to do with it, but it has meant uncrowded slopes, which we liked. At times we had whole ski runs to ourselves, which means no worries about kamikaze skiers shooting out of nowhere and leaving a blast of wind and cold particles of snow in your face. I can remember the long past days as a beginner when such a skier would disturb your rhythm so much you’d retreat shaking to the side of the piste muttering dark words.
All this time I’ve been away I’ve done no writing and very little reading. All I can say is that exercise and fresh air do not mesh very well with writing. Hey ho. Lots to do when I get back.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Another rant

Wandering about the net last night I found an interesting article comparing books today and thirty years ago. Even though the bestsellers cited are from the New York Times I easily recognised the titles in the older list and had read many of them. But the new list? There are names I know, like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. There are names I recognize but don’t read, like Grisham and Cornwell, but the biggest change for me was the number of names I don’t know.

We have a great many new (as in unknown to me!) authors infiltrating our shelves in the UK these days and I’m not totally happy with it. The trouble is so many of the historical/romance genre published recently are so blatantly modern day heroines plonked down in Regency Bath or London.
If I wanted a sassy, feisty heroine who cares nothing for convention, I’d read a modern story. If I wanted a hunky abs-rippling, shoulder-length haired male who wore his shirt open to the navel come hell or high water, (or the weather conditions, come to that) I’d read a modern James Bond type yarn.
What I want from a historical is a hero/heroine who lives by the conventions of the time, and dare not kick over the traces because they would be ostracised by society, yet still manages to think their way out of trouble. Having a heroine run away in nothing but her petticoat on a snowy night is lunacy, not feisty, and she ought to come to the same bad end as Jane Eyre, who would have died but for that preacher fellow who found her collapsed on the moor. It took her weeks to recover.
I’d like authors to do their research and not do the literary equivalent of the production company that made Elizabeth the golden years (the one with Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen) where they supplied a shot of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland and stuck a caption reading Fotheringhay Castle, England, on the screen. Do they think people don’t recognise these things?
I think they borrowed the silver foil armour Blanchett wore from the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, and with a straggly wig hanging to her hips she looked anything but regal. I suspect any army would have sniggered in its fists at such a sight. Nor does she have the voice for rousing speeches in the open air. They’d have done better to omit the whole scene in my not so humble opinion. It seems I fall into rant mode too easily these days, but hey – it’s good to let off steam now and then. There – rant over. For a little while at least!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Blue skies

A fine day’s skiing. We took a gondala to Schwarzee and found a new lift had been installed, and we sat still, marvelled at the views and travelled on to Trockner Steg. The sun shone and the Matterhorn stood clear and sharp against a blue sky, but it was extremely cold. So cold that once we started skiing, the cold air struck the forehead and really hurt. Undaunted, we skied 100 yards and took the chair lift to Kleine Matterhorn which is about as high as we can go – it’s also where people pop over the ridge into into Italy – but today the wind must have been too strong for no one was crossing to Cervinia.

We completed one run, and as we rode the chair lift again, we noticed the sky behind the Matterhorn had turned grey. Cloud seeping in again, but we did another two runs and then took the longer route to Furggi. We managed the long, looping run down and the steep section leading into the lift without tumbling head over skis. The only time I’ve fallen was when I was standing still, talking, and turned too swiftly. A lovely hot chocolate and then up to the Gornergrat and another couple of runs before the light started to deteriorate. Then it’s hard to read the snow and bumps and hollows merge into the general flat whiteness and the surface drops away under your skis. Time to quit then.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Too tired to write

If the weather was odd yesterday, it was even odder today. We got to Gornergrat and thought the sun was coming through the cloud, but a couple of runs later we noticed that the Matterhorn had disappeared from view. It was never wholly clear, but it was there as a shadowy presence. Looked around and saw the cloud coming up the valley as if someone had laid a grey blanket over our heads. Time to head down the mountain.
We fetched up in one of the hotel’s two Jacuzzi, both brand new, and fabulous. The whole of the pool complex has been re-done in the two years since we’ve been guests.
Then tea and cake and a brisk walk around Zermatt. All this exercise is good for me, but it leaves me with little interest in writing, either longhand or directly to my mini laptop. I’ve noticed this before, and conclude that writing requires physical energy. You’d think that using your legs would not stop the brain working, but it seems that it does, in my case at least.
It's just a pity that sitting writing doesn't suppress the appetite because then it would be easy to stay svelte and slim. Seems that doesn't work either.
Makes me want to say a rude word, but I won't give in to such temptation.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Away again

Away again, this time skiing in Switzerland. Journey from England to Zermatt takes time, but is well worth it. Plane to Geneva, coach to Tasch, train to Zermatt. Electric taxi from Station to Hotel, arrived around eleven-ish. Too late for dinner, but found a beautiful platter in our room – wafer thin slices of several kinds of ham, fresh bread rolls and generous slices of cheese. We whizzed down to the bar, ordered glasses of wine and went back to enjoy our meal.
In spite of having the window open, we were still hot beneath our duvets, even in the dark of the night. The weather here is strange; in Geneva it was around 15 degrees, much warmer than back home in England. We had a slow start this morning, but once we were unpacked, breakfasted, etc, etc, we headed up the mountain on the Gornergrat train. It’s two years since I skied, and as luck would have it, we stayed on the train right up to Gornergrat, which meant I had to face the bit I hate most on the mountain in the first five minutes. A narrow trail going downhill with a wall of rock on my left, and a drop-off on the right. It’s OK until the person in front of you falls over in the middle of the track and the options are: ram the wall (painful) go off the cliff (possibly deadly) or hit the person who fell.
As it happened, someone had fallen over, but they had the sense to wriggle to the side, so I got down intact. I wobbled a bit, felt uncertain, but by the time I got to the bottom of the run at Riffleberg I felt pretty pleased with myself and had a cup of coffee to celebrate, and then scrambled onto the chair lift to do it all again but a route that avoided the hated bit!

Friday, 7 January 2011

How was it for you?

I read fewer books these days. Or rather, I finish fewer books. Returning six items to the library this week, I read only two cover to cover. One was An Echo in the Bone (Gabaldon) and the other I Remember You (Evans). The rest? I’d rather not name them, as I don’t want to hurt an author’s feelings, or to influence anyone who may yet try them.

But they didn’t hold my interest, and the reasons they didn’t were varied. Too much information, too little story; too gruesome; too boring; too much characterization and therefore boring; unrealistic and downright inaccurate.

There are so many permutations on these basic faults and it’s possible to mix and match among the labels. And I accept that the things that turn me off a story may be just the thing to capture and hold your interest. Who knows?

Gabaldon’s novels are always long, and this was no exception. The 1000+ paperback kept me entertained all through the Christmas break. If I only skim-read the bits on the American War of Independence, who is to know but me? Not knowing the *real* characters and being geographically challenged as to where things were happening made that part of the story a blur for me, but the story about the fictional characters was endlessly interesting.

I got curious about how old Clare is at this stage of the story*, and looked for the first novel Cross Stitch (now called Outlander I think in the US) in order to check it out. Explaining what I wanted to a sales assistant, she immediately launched into a discussion of how could Clare sleep with Lord Grey after Jamie’s death, and hadn’t that ruined the whole series for me? Well, no, it hadn’t. Who knows what we’ll do in deepest grief? And Jamie wasn’t dead (sorry, but the book has been out a couple of years, so I don’t suppose I’m letting out secrets here) but very curious as to why they had slept together. I find Gabaldon’s character psychology is so true and occasionally so deep that it makes me think hard about what she’s saying. I never noticed this in the earlier novels, and now I wonder if that was because the younger me didn’t see it, or did she not write these little asides when she was younger?

* At the youngest, early fifties. At the oldest, approaching seventy. Unless, of course, going through the stones keeps you miraculously young, rather like HRT.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Downton and dumbing down

Downton Abbey’s airtime is to be cut from eight to six hours when it goes out Stateside next week amid fears it will be too complex for American viewers.
It is thought “there might be too many references to the entail and they have been cut. It is not a concept people in the US are very familiar with.”
Well, I have to say I’m not familiar with an entail either. Why would I be? My family even at its most extended and affluent has never had cause to think of such a thing, and I think that goes for most of the British population.
“American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television drama and you need to get into a story very quickly.” Not only in their tv, darling, but in their books, too. Miss out the detail, go for the action seems to be the cry.
“Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) – a middle-class third cousin of Lord Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) who becomes the unlikely heir to the family’s estate – will also arrive earlier than he did in the UK version to increase the show’s “drama and conflict." He is a pivotal character and his arrival brings with it drama and conflict. In the British version he doesn’t arrive until episode two. In our version he is there in episode one.”
The eight hour running time has been cut to six for the US, but there is hope for those who would like to see the whole story – the DVD boxed set will be the eight hour version.

Perhaps this goes someway to pinpointing the differences in UK-US film/tv culture. Most of the film stuff that comes out of the US these days makes me think of the cartoon characters in the comics we used to read as children. Angelina Jolie in Salt, for one – the action sequences should have killed her off in the first reel but no, up she bounces, dives off a motorway bridge and ricochets off yet another moving juggernaut on the lane below. I gave up counting how many times she ought to have died and thought of her as an indiarubber doll rather than a human being.
This is a bit of a rant for the New Year! Maybe I'll save books for the next post.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year, New plans

Everyone’s busy making New Year resolutions but I prefer not to embarrass myself when the year ends by taking stock and revealing that no resolution was kept beyond a day or two!
One thing I know is that I must make time to send stories out. I so enjoy writing the things that I tend not to do the necessary submissions. But perhaps it is just as well. I have a contemporary ghost story set in France which, through no fault of its own, fell foul of its first publisher (they went bankrupt) and recently found a second home with Sapphire Blue. Now, I had already added another twenty thousand words to the story before they saw it and I thought it was – well, done. As in complete. Finito.
But two rounds with an editor have shown me that is not so. I’ve added motivation, internal physical reactions, external physical reactions and removed almost every use of the pronoun ‘it.’ I’ve discovered that words like ‘rucked’ seem unknown in the US. It was an interesting exercise and a learning curve but eventually, once more I thought I was done. But no: my story has now gone on to the copy editors. I’ve never had a copy editor before, and I wait to see what they will require of me.
It was just as well that I had no second or third story out, for Sod’s law would have brought them home with demands for attention at the same time. Phew! Narrow escape.

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...