Write Better Fiction: POV and Writing A Series

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing a series, and what an author must consider when it comes to point of view.

AVALANCHE is the third book in the Stone Mountain Mystery Series and is to be released June 25th, 2016. When I first started writing the series, I thought I was writing a standalone novel. Of course my characters took over, and now I have a series.

Early on, I decided to write in close third person from multiple points of view. Little did I know, that once I made that decision, I would have to stick to that for the rest of the series.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you begin your novel. And when you ask these questions of yourself, don’t assume you’ll be writing a standalone novel. You just never know.

Do you plan to switch POVs?

If you’re going to have multiple POVs in your novel, it’s important to let your reader know this early on in the story.

It could be jarring for a reader to get half way through a novel, and the POV is ripped from underneath their feet and a new character steps in.

Changing POVs in the first few chapters will warn the reader this is your style and hopefully they’ll enjoy your book more. They’ll expect different characters to have their say, to drive the novel, and to provide surprises. They won’t get so attached to one POV that they can’t bear the change and toss the novel aside.

What POV type will you choose?

Can you be consistent for an entire novel or several novels?

  • If you chose first person, do you stay in first person? Do you reference anything first person can’t possibly know?
  • For Third person, are you writing third person, third person limited or omniscient? If limited, so you reference things character can’t know about? In limited reader can’t see into characters mind.

For the second book in your series, follow the same POV pattern. The reader will expect a similar style and voice in the second and following books.

BOOKS I’ve read on POV:

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

A Little About AVALANCHE (To Be Released June 25th, 2016):

Avalanche Cover FinalOn a cold winter morning, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed, and Kalin Thompson’s brother, Roy, suspiciously disappears. As Director of Security, Kalin would normally lead the investigation, but when her brother becomes the prime suspect, she is ordered to stay clear.

The police and the president of the resort turn their sights on Kalin, who risks everything to covertly attempt to clear Roy’s name. As threats against her escalate, she moves closer to uncovering the guilty party. Is Kalin’s faith in her brother justified? Or will the truth destroy her?

A Gift to My Readers from Imajin Books:

Imajin Books has put AVALANCHE on sale for $0.99 USD for a limited time. Grab your copy before the price goes up. It’s available for pre-order now.
Thanks for reading…

Thanks for Reading…

Kristina Stanley

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Write Better Fiction: Do Scenes Per Chapter Matter?

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Scenes Per Chapter. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

Last week we talked about the number of words in a scene. Today, I’m going to share how I look at the number of scenes in a chapter.

A scene or several scenes will make up a chapter. The Scenes Per Chapter report will illustrate the structure of your novel based on scenes in each chapter.

An author has two choices. Every chapter can have the same number of scenes, or the number of scenes per chapter varies throughout the novel.

A similar number of scenes per chapter: An author may choose to write chapters composed of exactly the same number of scenes or a similar number of scenes. They create a novel in this format, then they acquire readers, and the readers come to expect the structure throughout the novel. It might be risky for the author to change once they have established a following for their style.

Variable Number of Scenes Per Chapter: You must at least have one scene per chapter. It may only be one word or one sentence but it still counts as a scene. The upper limit is endless.

Potential pitfalls with the number of scenes per chapter:

One chapter with a greater number of scenes than the others: When the reader gets to this scene, he is going to wonder why so much time has been allocated to the scene. Either the author didn’t notice one scene was way too long, or he did on purpose because something very important is happening in the scene.

Switching Structure Mid-Novel: Even if the reader doesn’t register the number of scenes per chapter consciously, they may be jarred out of reading if the first half of the novel is written with the same number of scenes per chapter, and then the number changes. If you choose to have the same number of scenes per chapter, then remain consistent throughout the novel.

You won’t be surprised that I use my spreadsheet to count scenes per chapter and I look for anything that stands out as unusual. I ask myself why I wrote the chapter this way. Below is an example.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 5.06.19 PM

 

In the above graph, you can see that chapter 3 is very different from the other chapters in the novel. In this case, I would consider breaking chapter 3 into two or more chapters.

The first and last chapters are very few scenes. The first chapter has only one scene. I did this because I want the reader engaged quickly and this helps keep the pace fast. I sometimes end a novel with only one scene in the final chapter. This is the chapter that comes after the climax, so I want to close things up but I don’t want the story to drag on.

As with word count per scene, this type of analysis is done when an author has finished the first draft. It’s a bird’s eye view of the structure and allows me to check the pacing and flow of my story.

I critiqued DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher.

Please let me know in the comments below if you examine your scenes per chapter and why you do this?

Thanks for reading…

Write Better Fiction: Scene Word Count

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Scene Word Count. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

When writing genre fiction you should know the length of the novel that is acceptable for your genre, but what about words per scene?

Do you think word count per scene is important?

I do, and here’s why.

Word count per scene is the number of words in a scene. A scene or several scenes will make up a chapter, the chapters get you to the novel. I know, obvious, right? But how can you analyze your word count to improve your novel?

Same number of words per scene: An author may choose to write scenes that are all a similar length. Let’s say 1800 to 2200. They create a novel in this format, then they acquire readers, and the readers come to expect the flow a similar word count per scene would generate. It might be risky for the author to change once she has established a following for her style.

Variable Number of Words Per Scene: In theory, you could have a scene as short at one work and as long as the entire novel. These are extremes of course.

Potential pitfalls with word count:

One long scene: You write a novel with scenes that range from one paragraph in length to 1200 words, but you have one scene that is 2500 words. When the reader gets to this scene, he is going to wonder why so much time has been allocated to the scene. Either the author didn’t notice one scene was way too long, or he did on purpose because something very important is happening in the scene.

My spreadsheet has a column for scene word count. I then have Excel graph the scene lengths.  I have a quick look for anything that stands out as unusual and ask myself why I wrote the scene this way. This graph would extend to the number of chapters in the novel.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 5.53.30 PM

What Stands Out?

Chap 2: The first scene in only 50 words long. This is very short compared to the other scenes in the novel.

Is it too short compared to the rest of the scenes? In this case, am I trying to create an effect of shock, or fast pace, or intrigue?

Chap 3: This chapter only has two scenes where every other chapter in the novel has three scenes.

Was this done on purpose? Was it a mistake? Ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve by the number of scenes in a chapter. You could also create this graph on a per chapter basis and ask yourself the same questions as per on a chapter basis.

Chap 4:  This scene is 2500 words long. The graph shows you it’s out of balance with the other scenes in the novel.

Is a scene too long compared to others? In this case, I must ask what is so special about this scene. If nothing, then I’ll consider breaking the scene into two or more scenes.

This type of analysis is done when an author has finished her first draft. It’s a bird’s eye view of the structure and allows her to check the pacing and flow of her story.

I critiqued DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher. And speaking of publishers, Imajin Books has released  AVALANCHE for pre-order at $0.99 USD for a limited time. This way, my readers get a little gift of a sale price before the novel is released.

Please let me know in the comments below if you examine your word count by scene and why you do this?

Thanks for reading…

Mystery Mondays: Judy Alter on Instincts and Writing

Mystery Mondays is back with Judy Alter, author of Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries, is here to discuss writing instincts? Let us know in the comments hor you use your instincts when writing.

Listen to your instincts

by Judy Alter

rev2-MurderatPeacock-JAlter-LG_edited-1The writer’s world today is filled with advice for using computer programs to track your characters, follow the time elapsed in your WIP, keep track of plot episodes, and even plot. I don’t use a one of them. Partly because I fear a steep learning curve but more because I am not only a pantser but what you might call an unstructured writer. I simply sit down and write. Somewhere along the way I may make a list of characters—helpful in book five to go back to the book two list and see what that guy’s name really was (I once wrote a children’s three-book series in which Jeb was featured in the first two but became Josh in the third. “Who’s Josh?” my editor wrote). I generally have a loose idea of where the novel is going, but then a character surprises me, or an idea comes out of the blue, and the whole thing changes course. That’s why I hate having to write a synopsis until the book is finished.

I’m not sure I believe writing is a precise craft. I think it’s an important art in which the words should flow as they come to you, rather than you getting them from a spreadsheet or folder of incidents. I remember Erma Bombeck writing that she’d rather scrub floors than face an empty computer screen (or was it a typewriter page in her day?). I’m sure artists feel the same way about a blank canvas, but few paint by numbers.

Old wisdom says “Listen to your characters, and they’ll tell you what’s going to happen.” I know few successful writers who don’t adhere to that maxim. Sometimes it may surprise you; sometimes, as it recently did with me, it may require rewriting whole sections—or a whole book. Sometimes a minor character will try to take over a book—let him or her. They were probably meant to be more prominent. My favorite example is not a mystery: it’s the award-winning The Wolf and the Buffalo, by the late Texas novelist Elmer Kelton. Kelton started out to write about a buffalo soldier—a recently freed slave who joins the army and is sent to Texas. But a Comanche chief kept intruding on the story, and Elmer couldn’t quiet him. The book turned out to be equally about them—the chief representing a dying culture, the buffalo soldier representing new opportunity.

I once sat at a stop sign, looked at the house katty-corner from me, and thought, “There’s a skeleton in a dead space in that house.” And that was the birth of my novel, Skeleton in a Dead Space. Another time I was three-quarters of the way through a novel, and I still didn’t know who the bad guy was. One day it came to me—and I had to go back and write him more prominently into early parts of the story.

One more example: I was working on a novel tentatively titled Murder at the Mansion, a title I found very ordinary though I was pleased with the way the novel was progressing. One day as the protagonists drove onto the mansion grounds, suddenly there was a peacock. The whole flock of peacocks became central to the plot, and the title was Murder at Peacock Mansion. A whole lot more interesting, and it led to a gorgeous cover, one of my all-time favorites.

This is unconventional writing advice, and I recognize it. It may also be why I’m not a best-selling author. But it works for me.

 

Judy’s Bio:

judyAn award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current

Murder at Peacock Mansion. Finally, with the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.

She is also the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West, including Libby Custer, Jessie Frémont, Wild West Show roper Lucille Mulhall, pioneer physician Georgia Arbuckle Fix (in Mattie), and Etta Place of the Hole in the Wall Gang. Her latest book, just released, is The Gilded Cage, set in late nineteenth-century Chicago.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

And on to a oten about Sleuthing Women:

Sleuthing WomenSleuthing Women is a boxed set of ten, first-in-a-series books by ten different authors. It offers readers a chance to meet ten authors they may not have discovered before and to read over 3,000 pages of murder and mayhem—all for the low price of $2.99. The set launched May 1. Award-winning novelist Lois Winston (the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries came up with the idea not only as a way to introduce readers to new voices but also as a way to attract new readers for fellow authors. She figured if a reader was hooked on the first book, he or she might well want to explore additional books in the series. Each series represented has at least three titles.

I’m delighted that Lois included my first published mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space. It introduced Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, and there are now six books in the series. Each takes place in the Historical Fairmount District of Fort Worth, Texas, where Kelly O’Connell is a realtor and renovator of Craftsman house, a single mother of two, and the ex-wife of someone she decides she never really new. A skeleton, an unsolved old murder, vandalism, and a new murder plunge Kelly into the amateur sleuth role in spite of the stern warnings of Neighborhood Police Officer Mike Shandy. I had fun writing it, and I hope readers have fun reading it.

Other authors and titles in the set include:

Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston—Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder…

Murder among Neighbors a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths—and handsome detective Michael Stone.

In for a Penny, a Cleopatra Jones Mystery by Maggie Toussaint—Accountant Cleo faces an unwanted hazard when her golf ball lands on a dead banker. The cops think her BFF shot him, so Cleo sets out to prove them wrong. She ventures into the dating world, wrangles her teens, adopts the victim’s dog, and tries to rein in her mom…until the killer puts a target on Cleo’s back.

 

 

Write Better Fiction: Point Of View

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Point Of View. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

What is Point of View?

I use the Point Of View (POV) in many of my spreadsheet columns and have been asked to describe what POV is.

POV is the perspective the story is told from. There are three main types of POV.

  • Omniscient
  • First Person
  • Third Person

There is also second person, but this doesn’t seem to be used much in commercial fiction, so I won’t spend any time on it.

OMNISCIENT is when the narrator of the story knows all. The narrator can get into the head of any character to drive the story forward.

An excellent of a novel written in omniscient POV is the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. One way to determine this is to notice that the narrator provides information that the characters are unaware of.

FIRST PERSON means the narrator is speaking directly to the reader. This comes in the form of ‘I’.

Janet Evanovich writes the Stephanie Plum novels in first person. Often, near the beginning, she’ll write something like: My name is Stephanie Plum. I work as a bond enforcer…

THIRD PERSON is written from the he said / she said narration.

Of course, I have to mention my novels for third person point of view narration. I wrote  DESCENTBLAZE,  and AVALANCHE in third person. I like to change points of view and get into the heads of more than one character, so this style suits me.

My favorite book on point of view is The Power Of Point Of View: Make Your Story Come To Life by Alicia Rasley. If you want an in-depth description of all the points of view and their variations, this is a great book to read.

Please let me know in the comments below if you have any thoughts on POV. What form do you write in and why?

Thanks for reading…

Write Better Fiction: Avoid Repetitive Scene Openings

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Scene Entry Types. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

Over the last few weeks, we covered scene entry, scene middle, and exit hooks. I’d like to back up a bit and look at scene entries again.

My husband was my first beta reader, and he read the first draft of the first novel I wrote. As it turns out, that novel is AVALANCHE, to be published this spring by Imajin Books.

His first comment to me, and I was a little crushed, was:

“Do you know you start every scene with a character in a doorway?”

I was expecting, “I love this book,” not actual critique. Well, I’ve since toughened up and have realized critique is much more helpful than unwarranted praise if you’re trying to write better. His comment drove me to figure out how to vary scene openings.

As you know, I use a spreadsheet to self-edit my novels.

I have a column called entry type. The choices are:

  • Dialogue
  • Thought
  • Narrative
  • Action

If you have other categories, please let me know in the comments below.

Once I’ve filled out my spreadsheet, I create a pie chart to see if my novel is balanced.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.00.51 AM

 

Then I create a graph, to check if I’ve start the scenes in a variety of ways and didn’t get stuck in a pattern.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.11.27 PM

 

D is dialogue

A is action

T is thought

N is narrative.

The idea is to ensure I haven’t started too many scenes in a row in the same way. If I have, I go back and revise the scenes, looking for a different way to write the opening. I don’t want to bore a reader by getting into a pattern.

I critiqued DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher.

Please let me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions how to check for repetitive scene entries?

Thanks for reading…

Write Better Fiction: Scene Exit Hook

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover The Exit Hook. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

Everyone knows the cliche hook, line, and sinker. You can apply that to your scene but think of it as entry hook, scene middle, and exit hook. You’ll need all three of these elements in every scene to create a story your readers can’t put down.

The Exit Hook:

An exit hook is the thing that will keep your reader wanting to start the next scene.

You can ask yourself: Why would the reader keep reading once they reach the end of a scene?

Hook, LINE, SinkerTypes of Exit Hooks:

  1. Cliff Hanger – perhaps your protagonist’s life is at risk.
  2. Revelation – show the reader something that will change the course of the story.
  3. Set back for protagonist or antagonist – one of these characters should be very unhappy about the latest event.
  4. A secret revealed – you can either reveal a full secret or only part of a secret.
  5. A question left hanging – this will tease the reader, making them want the answer.
  6. An unexpected plot twist – this will keep the reader guessing.

Like scene entry hooks, varying the types listed above will make the novel more interesting for your reader.

You don’t want the reader to get to the end of a scene and be bored. You want them to resist going to bed, or making dinner, or going for a walk, and instead, keep reading.

Your challenge this week: Go through your manuscript and list the type of endings you have for each scene. Do you vary them? Have you used all the types? If you have other types, please list them in the comments below and help other readers learn from your experience.

I critiqued DESCENT and BLAZE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher.

Please let me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions how to check whether a scene middle is strong enough?

AGTSBNBAnd just for something different.  I’m happy announce that THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOK TO NON-BOOKSTORES is now available for pre-order on Kobo and Google Play The release date is May 28th, 2016.

Thanks for reading…