I listen to the podcast of National Public Radio’s Only A Game. The other day I heard a story about the collecting of stories for The Best Sportswriting of 2008. This set me to wondering, given that, whether we writers mean to or not, we use sexual symbols in our prose (see my previous post – I Think About Baseball When I Write), do sportswriters think about sex when they write about baseball?
Crawford Killian has an interesting post about “Sexual symbolism in fiction“. Mr. Killian taught writing (if memory serves, though it might have been English Composition) at Capilano College for forty years and has written several novels. What brought the subject up was he had commented on the passing of Michael Crichton and how Crichton had been blatant in his use of sexual symbols. A commenter said, basically, “hogwash.” The post was his response.
I recommend the complete post. I liked his summary:
[Y]ou’re always going to write about sex, whether you intend to or not. Sex is a symbol for the basic human society, what Vonnegut called the “Republic of Two.” And the symbols you use—Room 101, a wizard’s walking-stick, a rose, a 9mm Glock—will tell your readers a lot about your story…and maybe about you as well.
It’s all enough to make Jane Austen blush, or perhaps she knew.
One tenet for writers (besides write, write, write) is read, read, read.
Read Lousy Stuff and the Great
I don’t recall where I read it, but a published author said (paraphrasing), “Don’t just read the great stuff, read lousy stuff too.”
Online Slush – YouWriteOn.com
A couple years ago, I put the first ten thousand words of my story (working title: Timber Beast) on YouWriteOn.com, a website in which wannabe-published authors upload the beginnings of their stories in order to be noticed. (For a good overview and critique of YouWriteOn.com go here.) In such online slush piles,you’ll find loads of manure, compost, chaff, and the very occasional gem. Try it. If you want to learn how write better, read other folks’ work and then explain what works and what doesn’t work for you (figuring out why helps you to pinpoint problems in your manuscript).
YouWriteOn Review Criteria
The idea of YWO is to review someone else’s nascent novel and get a credit to have another member review yours. The site posts the reviews online for the community to read and comment on. YouWriteOn.com has reviewers rate the story, 1 (poor) to 5 (best) on eight criteria:
- Pace and Structure,
- Use of Language,
- Narrative voice,
- Settings, and
- Themes and Ideas
Each month, the five stories scoring the highest ratings receive professional reviews from editors in the stable associated with the site.
In the Top Ten Mistakes Newbie Novelists “Head Hopping” is #2
My critiques would often cite the author’s use of the ‘head-hop.’ I would be ensconced with a character, knowing his thoughts and feelings, and boing…I would find myself in another character’s head. Narrative voice affects the reader’s perception. Head hopping is #2 on the top ten list of mistakes made by newbie novelists.
Peter Selgin says, “Of all the problems plaguing amateur works, none is more common or fatal than mishandling of viewpoint. Typically, the problem results not from a chosen viewpoint being violated, but because no viewpoint has been firmly established to start with, so there is nothing to violate.” He reduces it down to a simple equation, “NO POINT OF VIEW = NO STORY.” – The Writer, August 2007.
Telepathy, Interpretation, and POV shifts
The edittorrent editors discuss multiple POV in Telepathy, interpretation, and POV shifts.
I suspect that some form of multiple (but controlled) POV will be “the” POV of the 21st century, as omniscent was the dominant POV of the 19th C and single POV of the 20th C.
This doesn’t mean bouncing around from one head to another in a scene.
Sometimes as I read a passage, I feel ejected, like suddenly I’m not in Tom’s mind, I’m in Joan’s mind, or dangling helplessly in between. When I go back and read to figure out why, it’s often actually a deep POV issue, where the writer has Tom interpreting something from the way Joan speaks or behaves… but because there’s no “Tom thought” in there, it sounds like JOAN.
Edittorrent’s post on how to handle narrative voice to keep from swatting POV as if it were a Ping-Pong match is worth reading.
When the POV rules don’t apply
I’m not here to argue that there aren’t scads of examples of head hopping in the classics. I know there are and I like them. Dickens and Shakespeare rolled around in heads like peas bouncing in and out of coffee cans.
Of course, once you are published, making the New York Times bestseller list with your fast-paced thrillers like James Rollins is, the rules get relaxed and don’t bind so much.