Monday, June 06, 2011

Point of View - You Tricky, Tricky Witch of Craft

In the shadow of a calling I found myself . . .
Grateful to have wonderfully caring, funny, insightfully supportive and (slightly twisted) friends

Musical Moment
~ “I Quit” Bros

A dash of lazy, a little bit of hazy and a whole heap of crazy.

It’s been a crazy few weeks for me which is why I haven’t written anything lately. I was out of town visiting family and then I was visiting with friends and I attended the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve reviewed the work of my critique partners, edited my own book and, umm, had a bit of a melt down.

We’ll just talk about the melt down because it had to do with the children’s book I’m writing and my critique partners. I am at a place with my book where I can no longer see the problems and holes that need fixing so a few months ago I joined with three other writers to become online critique partners. We all live in the same state and are a part of a core group of writers who meet monthly, but the four of us found it difficult to always meet the group on the appointed Saturdays and since we wanted and needed to be apart of a community of writers who would look after us when we strayed into the boring, cliched or confused in our writings we decided to form our own virtual group.

We are a group of two men and two women. One of us is writing poetry (and I hope picture books too), one is writing nonfiction naturalist stories (I am learning so much cool stuff about birds), and two of us are writing middle-grade fiction: a historical boy-focused adventure and for myself, an anthropomorphic fantasy. The collaborative efforts have been wonderful. I am reading/critiquing stories I probably would not have gravitated to in the book store, but I am being taught the lessons of art and genres. I am being shown and trusted with talent and learning my craft. I am learning (period) and that is what reading and writing is about for me. I am stepping outside of my normal “auto-buy” genres and taking literary adventures to places I never dreamed would carry me away.

I do this with music. I take chances on musical styles and artists I’ve never heard of and it has been a joy for me (okay, there was one CD I bought that I absolutely hated, but luckily it was only $2.99 so no harm no foul). I decided to branch out and do it with books too and working with my partners has shown me that I can get be a better writer by stepping off the precipice of standards and wading into my literary dark side. This goes for adult novels as well as children’s book.

A bit of truth about myself: In all the years I’ve been an avid reader (30+ years) I have had NO INTEREST ~none~ in reading science fiction, but I have challenged myself to find one of these books to read. I will. Really. <suggestions are welcome>

Okay, back to the meltdown . . . It is through my critique my partners that I am learning and facing my own blind spots. I have learned that I can write dialogue well. I enjoy writing dialogue. I find it fun to delve into different characters minds and say what they would say if they really existed. I’m also pretty good with description. Not too sparing and not too excessive (although the husband thinks I’m a little too flowery, but I choose to ignore him on this because he primarily reads nonfiction and, well, I’m just going to ignore him on this point). What I have discovered is that I have a problem with point of view (POV). A REAL problem with it. A problem so big my mind froze last week. I panicked, then I headed to Facebook announcing to my friends:

“I want to cry. I'm having problems with my story and I want to "have written" instead of being "in the process of" writing now. Oh well. I'll continue plow ahead.”

Here’s the issue: My story is about frogs, but humans show up and I left the POV of the frogs and started writing in the POV of the humans and the way I’ve created my narrator, the narrator does not have a birds-eye view of the humans (or would that be frogs-eye, whatever). I moved forward in my story (sections my partners have not read) and realized I kept changing POV and not in a smooth transitory way. I needed to fix it and I couldn’t figure out how.

Know what happened? My friends came to my rescue without even knowing what my story is about. My bestest friend told me, “One day at a time, babe. Enjoy the travel as well as the trip.” Me, still in panic mode said, “Okay, but this trip is filled with ravenous mosquitos and they apparently are calling ahead letting the others know where I'm going.” I have the mosquito bites to prove it too.

My other family of friends said things like, “you can do it” and told me to “walk away for a bit.” Michael Matteo, one of my oldest friends, who’s a screenwriter, playwright and author (and is listed on imdb.com - how cool is that) said, “The process can be frustrating, however, it's great when you have that aha moment and you can move past a block.” Okay, I freaked out when I read the word “block” but I let it go, because it wasn’t writer’s block just a little annoying freak out block.

Another friend suggested I try “writing the chapter from another POV; that might free something up, as you may find out something your character needs to know to progress that another character knows. Don't have to write the whole chapter, just think it through and jot down notes as things occur to you.” (Thanks Audrey!!!)

The last suggestion is what broke me through the wall. I am back on track but I could not have done it by myself. Friends are a writer’s bedrock.

You might be asking if I contacted my critique partners during this stumble. The answer is no, I did not. I will tell them what happened because of their keen eyes and suggestions, but I did not include them in my meltdown because I didn’t want any of them to become self-conscious when they critique me and do anything differently or (heaven forbid) trigger a like reaction in them. (We writers are fragile creatures when we face the page.) These three new friends have helped me see my writing and my blind spots in a clearer freer way. They have become my new layer of bedrock making me into a better, stronger writer.

Hooray for friends and even the (hopefully infrequent) freak outs.

Writers, writers everywhere, tell me, tell me all your fears.


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