Welcome back to the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, where we celebrate the release of this unique writing reference anthology and share some of the wonderful content featured. In each segment of this Saturday series, you’ll meet one of the contributing authors, and share in a section of the Q & A from the book. This week’s contributing author is Nancy Oswald, who shares a delightful accounting of her own publishing journey in the book, “From Slush Pile to Slushy”, and the Q & A topic is setting the tone for your story.
If you missed any of the previous segments, you can catch them here:
Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session
Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session
Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session
Segment 4:Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session.
Segment 5:Mario Acevedo & Action, Pacing, and Dialog
And for today’s post:
Meet Nancy Oswald
Nancy Oswald loves researching and writing historical fiction books for young readers. She has, however, written in a variety of genres including personal interest pieces, children’s plays, poetry, educational research, biography, and nonfiction articles. Oswald spent her growing up years in Denver but has lived as an adult in rural Colorado and the outback of British Columbia where she taught in a one and a two-room school. She taught for 20 years in rural Colorado and is now retired. Nancy’s books have won the Spur Award, CIPA Evvy Award, Willa Literary Award, Will Rogers Award, Colorado Author’s League Writing Award, and have had multiple finalist recognitions. Nancy currently lives with her husband and their dogs, cats, cows, chickens, and one nearly human donkey who makes mischief at home and on the pages of the Ruby and Maude Adventures.
And now for the Q & A
Tone: Voice, Person, Tense & POV
Which POV do you prefer: First, second, third limited or third omniscient? Why?
Mario Acevedo: Most of my stories are first POV because I tend to write using the structure of a mystery, meaning the protagonist has to sleuth out the truth at the same pace as the reader.
Paul Kane: I tend to write a lot of my fiction in the third person, simply because you can move between places or characters and tell a more well-rounded story that way. You might be with one character in one chapter, then across town with a completely different character in the next. It allows for a certain amount of flexibility. But I also do like first person POV for certain stories. It works well for psychological tales, for example, or if you’re telling a story through letters or diary extracts. I’ve just written a story that way, actually, but it was because I wanted it to be solely through the eyes of my main character who’s being help captive. It creates a more claustrophobic feel. I also write about my PI Jackie Trent – from the novelette The Scarred – in the first person, because it fits in with that tradition of the noir-ish detective investigating a crime. As with a lot of this advice, which way you choose depends on the kind of story you’re telling and what you want to gain from it.
Chris Barili: I enjoy both first- and third-person. First person is more intimate and allows the reader access to more of the character’s inner self, but third person is safer, easier to write, and more accepted. My story “Outcast” has both.
Bobby Nash: Third omniscient. I like to bounce between characters and scenes, have different POVs in different chapters. It works for me.
Robbie Cheadle: My two current work-in-progress novels are written in a mixture of the third limited and first, depending on the style of the chapter. Both novels make use of journals, letters, and other methods of correspondence and these parts lend themselves to first. The rest of the story is told in third limited because it is my preferred point of view. It’s similar to first, but more interesting.
Jeff Bowles: When I was first learning to write and tell stories, I’d often experiment and try all sorts of things, including creative POV choices. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not. Now that I’ve been doing this a while, I tend to stick with a pretty standard third-person past perspective, mostly because all that trickery can be an impediment for readers. The project I’m working on currently has three first-person narrators, so I guess I’m still playing around with form here and there. If it serves the story, I’ll do it. To be perfectly truthful, however, my favorite POV type will always be first person. I like the idea that a character can narrate a story in their own voice, with all those idiosyncrasies I love to toss in. I like it when characters speak to me. It may be the single most enjoyable thing about writing fiction.
Nancy Oswald: Have used both first and third- and first-person present tense for one of my books. Third is my preference for the age group I write for. As a reader I prefer third, also. I think “I” books can sometimes have a tendency to go overboard and sound too much like me, me, me….
Kevin Killiany: First is often my first choice, but I’m equally comfortable with close or limited third. First is good for getting inside the person’s head to explore motivation and perception. First is almost always an unreliable narrator, and their misinterpretations, omissions, and projections can reveal volumes. Limited third can be almost as revealing as first—sometimes more so because it provides opportunity to reveal a character as others see them. Omniscient is too far removed for my liking—it’s a landscape when a portrait would better serve. I have never been comfortable writing in the second person, the only practical application I can imagine for it would be a “choose your own adventure” puzzle story that presents the reader with choices.
Have you ever done a rewrite of a story using a different POV? Did it improve your story? Why or why not?
Paul Kane: Once or twice, but usually I’ve worked all that out before I even start writing as mentioned in the previous answer. What I have done quite a few times is write something in the past tense which needs to be in the present, to give it more immediacy. The killings in The Gemini Factor – which are being seen by Jack as they happen – had to be told in the present tense for instance. He’s being ‘shown’ the murders, so it made sense for them to be depicted that way, slipping from past to present tense to give that effect.
Chris Barili: Yes, and fortunately my very good editor caught all the areas I screwed it up.
Bobby Nash: Sometimes I will go back and try a different POV. Sometimes, a different POV helps.
Nancy Oswald: Yes, I started one book in third and it wasn’t working. As soon as I switched to first person, it clicked. (First example above is the one where I switched.) This is all it took for the book to become more immediate for me.
How do you determine what POV to use?
Paul Kane: Whether it’s first person or third, it’s usually the person who’s central to that story or chapter whose POV we’re in. So, you work out who that is before starting… No point telling a chapter from the point of view of a waiter in a restaurant who might be leaving the scene before everything kicks off, or you’ll miss the action.
Chris Barili: I take an initial stab at a certain POV based on how close I think the reader should be to the main character and change it if it doesn’t sound right.
Bobby Nash: As with so much of what I do, it’s a gut feeling.
Robbie Cheadle:A Ghost and His Gold was written from the point of view of three of the main characters: Michelle, a modern young woman; Pieter, the spirit of a Boer; and Robert, the spirit of a British soldier. Each of these three characters told sections of the story from their points of view. Each section was presented as a chapter or series of chapters. I have learned not to ‘head hop’ and to keep different points of view together in this manner.
Do you prefer to use single or multiple POVs in a story? Why?
Paul Kane: Again, it depends on what you want to show. In The Family Lie, the most recent PL Kane thriller, I was only really going to tell the story through the eyes of Mitch Prescott, but my editor suggested I tell a parallel tale of what was happening to his sister, Bella, at the same time. Then you could dovetail the two together for the finale… And she was absolutely right. Not only did it stop the story from getting dull, it allowed me to write from a male and female POV, alternating between them as I went. I found the whole thing really satisfying and from the feedback I’ve got readers really enjoyed reading about what Bella was going through; a few even preferred her to Mitch, so I might make her the focus of a story of her own at some point down the line.
Chris Barili: Depends on the story. More complex books with more complicated plots and large worlds usually require multiple POV characters.
Bobby Nash: Multiple all the way. I want to follow more than one character. Multiple POVs allow me to do that and get insight into more than one character.
Robbie Cheadle: I prefer to use more than one point of view as I think it makes the story more varied and interesting. I like each main character to have their own chapters which progress parts of the story.
Nancy Oswald: For my age group, always single. As an adult reader, it has to be done well, or you risk losing the reader with too much switching or poor transitions.
Kevin Killiany: It depends on the needs of the story. Certainly if there are major subplots each would require its own POV.
When employing multiple POVs does each character get equal page time?
Paul Kane: Bella and Mitch more or less did in The Family Lie, though perhaps Mitch got slightly more as he was closer to the mystery than she was. But again, it depends. You might want to just drop in on a character to shake things up, if you’ve been with another one for a while and things are getting stale. Every now and again in Her Last Secret I’d have a chapter from the wife Julie’s perspective, or the policeman Mathew Newcomb, although for the majority of that novel we’re in the head of Jake: the bereaved father. It was just to make sure things weren’t getting too same-y, but also give us a taster of what some of the other characters were going through during the course of the tale.
Chris Barili: Nope. Only as much as they need to tell their story.
Bobby Nash: I play it by ear. I mean, obviously, the main character is the main character so that character can’t be sidelined too long. I just play it by ear to best serve the story.
Robbie Cheadle: The different characters don’t necessarily get the same page time. It depends on how the story goes, how long each character lives, and whether that character becomes a ghost.
Kevin Killiany: No. Each character gets the time and space they need to tell their story—so far that has never resulted in every story being the same size.
Do you switch POVs within a chapter or do you wait for the chapter break? How do you indicate to readers that a POV switch has occurred?
Paul Kane: I tend to do it chapter by chapter, unless I’m trying to make a point. In Her Husband’s Grave I have a chapter that’s mainly told from psychologist Robyn Adams’ perspective where she’s interviewing someone and isn’t quite sure whether they’re good or bad. Then, right at the very end, we switch to that person’s POV and are left with absolutely no doubt about their intentions. I did this on purpose to give the reader a bit more information than Robyn has, which creates suspense and tension. But, mostly, I do it chapter by chapter because there’s no confusion that way.
Chris Barili: If I switch at a point other than a chapter break, I show that break with asterisks.
Bobby Nash: I use a chapter break.
Robbie Cheadle: Initially, I used section breaks within a chapter for different points of view. Now I use chapters for different points of view and section breaks for changes in setting or time.
Kevin Killiany:The Dirt and Stars novels are epistolary; each chapter is an entry from a different character’s personal account—they almost always see the same events differently or focus on different details. Mara has been instructed to keep a journal of her time on Earth; Beth keeps a diary; Jael is making a meticulous record of her efforts to break the Space Service color barrier; Fatima, who has a social communication disorder, records personal interactions to review with her therapist; Lije, confident he will accomplish much in business or politics, is keeping cross-referenced notes to facilitate writing his memoirs; and Thom, a denizen of Brahe Station who will be introduced in volume 4, is another diarist. When I shift POV in a short story, I simply insert a blank line and make sure the first sentence after tells the reader exactly where we are. (Some publishers insert centered asterisks or plus signs in the blank line.
Do you prefer to write in past or present tense? Why?
Mario Acevedo: I prefer to write in the past tense since that is more familiar to the reader.
Chris Barili: Past. Present tense is difficult to maintain for longer works, and hard to read no matter what.
Bobby Nash: Past tense. Every publisher I’ve worked for has requested it so it’s just what I’ve always done.
Robbie Cheadle: I like to write in present tense, but usually write in past tense because readers favour it. Some readers won’t read books written in present tense.
Kevin Killiany: Past. That’s how we tell stories—have told them since stories were first recorded. Present tense story telling is a recent affectation that makes structural sense only in second person stories, wherein the character is speaking directly to the reader or to a second, unvoiced character.
That’s all for this week. Be sure to drop in next Saturday, when we’ll have an introduction for contributing author Chris Barili, who contributed an essay on character development, “Character Blueprint”, & a Q & A on setting & world building.
“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!”
—Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon
You can delve into the wisdom of all ten contributing authors in Ask the Authors 2022. It’s the writing reference no author should be without. Get your copy at your favorite book distributor at our special send-off price, for the duration of the blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e
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That’s right. The writing reference you’ve all been waiting for has arrived. Ten talented authors and industry experts have gathered together with me to share their writing tips and advice in essay and Q&A, creating a writing reference anthology like no other.
Where can you find publishing industry experts willing to share their secrets?
Ask the Authors 2022is the ultimate writer’s reference, with tips and advice on craft, publishing and marketing. Eleven experienced and successful authors share what works for them and offer their keys to success in traditional publishing, hybrid, and indie. You’ll learn industry wisdom from Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kevin Killiany, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Bobby Nash, Paul Kane, Nancy Oswald, Chris Barili, Jeff Bowles, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, Mario Acevedo and Kaye Lynne Booth.
This book offers up-to-date and tried-and-true ways to improve your craft, explores current publishing and book marketing worlds. Take a peek inside and find out what works for you.
Praise for Ask the Authors 2022
“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!” —Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon
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Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.
There’s an entire school of thought behind the use of standard third-person perspective in narrative fiction. Often enough, beginning writers are encouraged to see it as their go-to, which isn’t horrible advice. Let’s do a quick POV lesson, in case your memory is hazy.
First-person: I walked to the lake.
Second-person: You walked to the lake.
Third-Person: He walked to the lake.
Conventional wisdom says most readers stomach lucky number three best. I think that might be a load of hogwash, but let’s assume it’s 100% correct. What would be the benefit of writing fiction—or creative nonfiction, for that matter—from a quote, unquote “nontraditional” perspective? Your own edification, right? And maybe something else.
Third-person is the norm because it provides helpful breathing room between us and our readers. It’s easy to tell a story this way, natural. We’re used to it, having read it a million times before. By the same token, I have noticed it’s become increasingly more common for storytellers to dabble in other modes. First or second-person, past or present tense, limited omniscience or full-blown mind-of-God territory. First-person present tense, by the way, is notoriously apt to cause chaos.
“I write on the blog post for a bit, and then I check my email. It occurs to me I’ve never met a sultan of Saudi Arabia, so it’s possible these diet pills are phony. Oh well. I chuck them in the trash and head outside to clear my mind. It smells like a forest fire out here. Hey, what gives?”
This is stream of consciousness stuff, easy to write but difficult and unwieldy to beat into proper shape. All the verbiage points to me, me, me, now, now, now. It can get same-same after a while, difficult to chew through. Not always, but often enough.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your new forest fire/phony diet pill story is perfectly well written, thank you very much. You did the job, tale told effectively, end of discussion. In that case, one crucial question comes to mind. Is your narrator any fun to read?
What do you mean, what do I mean? What’s a fun narrator supposed to sound like? Well, I guess they can be any of the following: idiosyncratic, faulty, confident, psychotic, mentally sound, likable, unlikable, funny, unfunny, jaded, naïve, a super focal lens, an individual with something to say, a personality worth delving into.
Maybe you’ve never considered it this way, but in my humble estimation, narration of this kind is a blank check. Most things worth achieving sound unlikely at first. Think of it like speed dating. You known instantly upon sitting across from someone whether or not you’d enjoy their company. Is your speed-dater worth engaging in conversation? Are they fun to listen to?
Gut check time. How well do you write dialogue? I only ask because I’ve realized throughout the years not everyone is as keen on it as I am. Sharp and amusing with zero fat left to trim, that’s my favorite kind. But what’s yours? Informative but not dull? Wacky and a bit irredeemable? More importantly, do you think you could extend a few lines of it to encompass an entire story? I’m willing to bet you can.
The simple truth is most writers create bland characters by default. Not you, of course. Perish the thought. Mentors and teachers might encourage us to pre-fill character sheets or go to public places and write down snatches of conversation we hear. I’m not saying that’s bad advice, but I can confidently tell you it’s more efficient and effective to let characters tell us who they are rather than to impose our sizable wills upon them. Don’t bloat yourself up with too much preparation. On the fly, hit the page and let your creations speak to you. A little honest individuality is enough to distinguish your work from the work of others, and that’s a good thing.
Rule makers have tried to enter this arena, but I don’t think they’ve done a great job setting any concrete prescriptive measures. Is addressing your reader directly breaking the fourth wall? No, not really. If you think about it, first-person narration divorced from context is unnatural anyway. It was much more common in centuries past for authors to speak to their readers through narration. As we discussed earlier, stability is easy to achieve by providing a little breathing room. This is a blank check, remember? Anything and everything is achievable, provided you’ve got the skills to stick the landing. That’s the thing about experts. If they tell you something can be done, they’re most certainly right. If they tell you it can’t, they’re most certainly wrong.
Style remains essential in this domain. My final advice is this: If you’re currently working on something you’ve written in first-person, try playing with your style a little, write it like you’d write some nice extended dialogue, just as far as you’re comfortable, nothing too crazy—unless you like crazy. You might just surprise yourself. Scratch that. Your narrator might surprise you.
Don’t be stiff or formal. Get into the nitty gritty and pour a serious helping of personality gravy on those otherwise boring and bland mashed ‘taters.
On that note…
See you next time, everyone. Have an awesome May, will you?
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!