The Purple Pen made a comeback this week! Ok, not quite. It’s not the same purple pen, but it is A purple pen I stole from Planet Fitness. It’s my reward for actually going to the gym. Purple pens and tanning.
Thing is, I’ve only got the one purple pen, and I’m pretty pale.
Anyway, this week we focused on Viewpoint and Tense. It sounds pretty dull, I know, but it really wasn’t, and it is insanely important.
Brandon is back! And so are the giant posts! So we kick off lecture talking about Revising, Especially When You Don’t Want To.
The first note reads, “Experiment to find out what my ‘voice’ really is, AKA what genre am I really?”
What Brandon means here is that there are some genres that you will just naturally fit. For instance, he started writing Sci-Fi and more experimental things, but finally discovered that Epic Fantasy was what he was REALLY good at. It doesn’t mean you can’t write the other stuff, but it’s really helpful to know what you naturally gravitate to.
I don’t think for a minute that I am a natural Epic Fantasy writer. Especially since my draft probably won’t meet the 50k word mark. But, I’m just starting out. I still need to experiment to really discover what it is I should write.
Brandon goes on to mention that he absolutely hates revision. Hates it with the caps lock on. But, he admits that it is absolutely necessary. He says that he does a few solid revisions, which seems about true.
Viewpoint & Tense Overview and Its Importance
So, Brandon tells us that there are two main viewpoints:
Third Person Limited
There’s also two other viewpoints, but they are far more uncommon:
Third Person Omniscient
And then there are three tenses:
He goes on to mention that future is super freaky and hard to write. He recommends leaving that one be.
Choosing Between Third & First Person
- Fewer viewpoints
- 1 interesting voice
- can be unreliable
- a sense of lack of urgency
- cheat on info dumps
- perspective jumps
- cheat on voice
Then there’s a random side note that Horror is extremely character driven. Not sure what the context was there, but it seems true enough.
Also, another note, that Viewpoints can be blended, meaning there can be first and third person in one story. I’m hard pressed to find examples of that, but it sounds fun!
How Not to Break Viewpoint
So, what we mean by “breaking viewpoint” is when you’re in a scene and it’s through a specific character’s lens, and then you randomly shift into another character’s lens in that scene. I can think of a couple of examples from ‘Vessels’ where this happens. For example:
Val picked at the worn seam of her gloves, fighting back tears. She heard Ethan heave a sigh beside her.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“It’s not for me.”
Val stood suddenly, leaning over the edge to look down at the deck.
“It’s for you,” she said, wiping one stray tear from her cheek. She climbed the railing, to balance on the balls of her feet in a crouch.
“That you honestly think so poorly of yourself, when all I see is good.” Her dark brown eyes met his, and the sadness in them hurt him deeper than he expected. She held his gaze for a moment, and then pushed off the railing.
“Val!” Ethan shouted, reaching toward her, but he was too late. He watched in shock as the small girl plummeted toward the deck. She flipped once gracefully, pant legs flapping, and landed two walkways down.
The scene starts through Val’s lens, but by the end it’s definitely through Ethan’s. That’s something I’ll be fixing come revision time. And really, it’s not a hard fix, so don’t fret when this happens in your drafts.
So, how do you keep yourself from doing this in the first place? Try and keep your descriptions in viewpoint, use character specific jargon. Val would use totally different words to describe something than Ethan. Keep that in mind when you’re working on a scene. And, if you need to include thoughts, you can always put them in italics.
DISCLAIMER: Some people really cannot stand the whole ‘thoughts in italics’ thing. I’ve never thought much about it. My novel writing teacher was against it, but Sanderson does it, and it works well for him. But, if you’re going to put thoughts in italics, other words that aren’t thoughts cannot be put in italics for pretty much any reason. Be consistent. And be prepared, if you go down the italics road, that people may hate you for it. My jury is out on this one.
Then there’s a weird little note: Stay in the car —> Don’t be a camera offstage.
This was an example from Sanderson’s lecture. If your character is driving a car, and the car flies off the cliff, don’t suddenly describe the car rolling as if we’re outside of it. Describe it in relation to being INSIDE the car. Head smashing against the head rest, etc. It has way more impact on the reader that way, and really maintains viewpoint.
Concreteness, Immediacy & Precision in Prose
This was a bit of review for me. Patrick, that is Patrick Michael Finn, was a stickler on this one, and for good reasons. This segment talks about making your prose efficient, engaging, and if you’re really good, beautiful.
- Evokes a sense (sight, smell, touch, etc.,)
- Cutting out fluff
- Fewer words
- The right words
Then, circled just off to the left, in its own world, is the word Beauty. Brandon says that he doesn’t have much of this in his writing. I think he’s a little modest. But, it’s also not the same kind of beauty as a lot of literary fiction. Brandon says he follows Orwell in this matter, that he wants his writing to be as a window. Crisp, clear, almost as if you’re not reading at all. And he definitely accomplishes that.
Revising for Concreteness, Immediacy & Precision
The first note made me happy. Making things more concrete adds words. I need to add words, so I need more concreteness in my novel. Awesome. I can do that.
Also, you want to avoid abstractions. Abstractions are things like feelings. Vague things that we all know, but that don’t really evoke anything tangible. If you say someone is angry, that doesn’t give the reader anything to visualize or connect with, but if you show the character slamming their fist into a wall, that gives their anger life, and it give the reader a mental image and something to relate to.
Then Brandon brings up something pretty cool.
This is the Pyramid of Abstraction. Basically, the bottom is your foundation. You build a foundation by using concrete, immediate, and precise words. As the story progresses, if you’ve done a good job building your foundation, you can use abstractions. You use concrete words to EARN abstractions. I thought this was an interesting and concise explanation of the process. It’s really parallel to Sanderson’s Law, that the better your readers understand said magic, the more satisfying an ending solved with said magic can be.
That was some intense paraphrasing. Go back to previous posts, or google it to read the real Law.
Get rid of abstractions to make room for concrete imagery. This is true. I know it. But, I already have room. What do I do then?
Also, this is precision at work, try and find the one word that does everything. This allows every sentence to create a scene, build character, and move along the plot. And it’s really hard to do.
Then, there’s a tiny little freakout note:
Sanderson cuts 15% of his first draft… And he did for The Way of Kings! WHAT?! That is insane!
Then there’s a note about dialogue tags. Whoever said, ‘said is dead,’ was a big, fat liar. And their pants are subsequently on fire. Sanderson, and every other teacher I’ve had, says to avoid words like ‘replied’, ‘admitted’, ‘muttered’, etc. And I am really bad at this. I hate using ‘said’. It’s boring. And repetitive. But, they are right when they say that the other dialogue tags detract from the dialogue itself. If you write good dialogue, you don’t need the rest. The reader will know that the character muttered it, even if you don’t expressly tell them.
Another thing to go back and fix… a lot of them.
And lastly, as you’re editing, as yourself this:
“Do I need this sentence?”
Holy crap! Thanks for reading this far. I hope you find it to be of help. Looking back, I probably could have split this into individual posts. Sorry.
Chapter 17 is begging to be finished. I’ll leave you guys to chew over this monster of a post.