The Art and Science of Editing

Gotta love those hard working editors out there. Eric J. Baker really nails the qualities that make a good editor shine in this great post. Enjoy!

Eric the Gray

Writers. Your best friend is your editor.

The members of your writing group and your beta readers can be great assets, nudging you toward the type of material you were meant to create and, sometimes, painfully, letting you know it’s time to move on from a piece that isn’t working.

Mike Babcock

But whether we writers want to admit it, we are competitors. Pretend you are a hockey player for a moment, and imagine your fellow writers as team members. You all want to win the game together, but that doesn’t mean they are okay riding the bench while you get all the ice time. What player ever fantasized that someone else scores the big overtime goal?

When our fellow writers read their pages in a critique group, or when we are asked to beta read a story, a big part of us wants to provide support, encouragement, and guidance. Meanwhile, a…

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2014 ~ Top Books

I do love to give a shout out to fellow bloggers and I’m thrilled that Disappearing in Plain Sight made the top 12 reads of the year on Between the Lines! Many thanks to all the wonderful book bloggers and reviewers out there who send little shivers of joy up and down a writer’s spine.

Multiple Point-of-View Characters

 Christmas Lights - Bruce Witzel Photo

It has been said by more than one, that my books are unique because I develop multiple point-of-view characters. One reviewer said he had never read a book like this before. Another said that it was difficult to determine which character was the main character. My style has been called brilliant, deep and somewhat confusing – depending on who is doing the saying!

To be honest, I don’t find it unusual. The style came so naturally to me, I can only conclude that I’ve read many such books in my life. One day, I’m going to go on a search and pull some out! But seriously, I had to have gotten the idea from my own reading history. There isn’t much new under the sun, as the saying goes.

Some style analysts write that the type of book and the audience it’s written for determines how far one goes with multiple points-of-view. Character-driven fiction tends to make use of this device because the multiple relationships among characters form a vital part of the narrative.

The type of books I wanted to write demanded I put the reader in the head of more than one character. I’ve shied away from solving this problem by going all omniscient. The voice from above, the narrator who knows the whole story from the get go – how it starts, how it ends, how each person in the story feels at every juncture. Though this approach adds a lot of scope, immediacy is lost and distance between the reader and the character widens.

I want my readers to feel the story from inside the heads of the characters. In Disappearing in Plain Sight, I wanted readers to look through Lisa-Marie’s eyes and see how she experienced being a bullied, high-school girl who suddenly finds herself transplanted to a different life. I wanted readers to know how trauma counsellor, Izzy, felt about her husband’s death and about her work and her growing relationship with Liam. And heck, why shouldn’t they also see it from Liam’s perspective and Justin’s.

For me, these multiple points-of-view enrich the story and make it come alive. I think this is why people say, after reading either of the Crater Lake books, the characters felt like friends, family, people I wanted to meet again and again. Or things like – I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had finished reading the novel. These reactions are based on being inside the characters’ experience and living it through their eyes.

But here’s the rub, as the Bard would say – it’s a tricky style to master. Readers need to be able to discern, easily and definitively, whose head they are in at any given moment. This means the writing must give crystal-clear direction. It comes down to character voice, too. Each one must be wholly unique – when a reader is in Izzy’s head, experiencing her thoughts, the things she says and the actions she takes have to distinguish her completely from the reader’s experience of being inside Lisa-Marie’s head.

A writer has to be intimately acquainted with his or her characters to pull this off. And like so many parts of writing, the devil is in the details. Not only does a character have a unique voice but how that voice presents itself differs when in interaction with different character or situations. To say nothing of how that character’s voice is sometimes not even fully known to the one doing the speaking.

So, what can we do to get this close to our characters? Like any relationship, we need to spend time with these people and learn all we can about them. Write and write and write until we understand what makes a particular character tick. What makes them laugh? What makes them cry? What brings a sarcastic comment popping into their heads? What triggers them? What are their hearts’ desires?

When we know our characters this well their unique voices cannot fail to be clear and then something very special will happen. These characters who we think we know so well will surprise us by doing something altogether unexpected. And believe me – that is a moment of pure joy for a writer.

This will do doubt be my last blog of 2014 and I want to send out a big Happy Holiday greeting and well wishes to all my blog followers for the likes and the thought-provoking comments I’ve received over the last year. 2015 promises to a productive year for me with two novels due to come out. I look forward to many more chances to interact with readers and fellow writers through the wonderful world of WordPress.

Winter scene at the lake - francis guenette photo

The Johari Window for Writers

Quebec City - Bruce Witzel photo

I recently shared a model of self-disclosure called the Johari Window on my Saying What Matters blog. In my post today, I want to discuss the use of this model as a tool for character development and transformation in novel writing.

Johari Window

If you study the model for a moment you will notice that it represents four distinct quadrants of knowledge. The analogy of windows is used to stress the fact that, for each individual, the window is opened or closed to a certain degree and this window configuration is always changing. Let’s relate these four quadrants to character development:

  1. What everyone knows about the character including the reader. If a character reveals a bit more about self, then this window opens wider.
  2. What a character knows about self and doesn’t reveal to anyone else – this can significantly drive a plot forward and be a wonderful means of creating dramatic tension. For the reader who is inside the point-of-view of a particular character, having this knowledge when other characters don’t can create immediacy and intimacy with a character.
  3. What another knows about a character but the character doesn’t know – when one character reveals a blind-spot to another all kinds of sparks can fly. We know how this feels in real life, so it is easy to imagine how our characters will react.
  4. What no one knows about a character – this becomes an area ripe for insights, epiphany moments and revelations, not only for the character in question but for other characters and the reader.

In the course of any novel worth reading, characters are emotionally transformed in a way that is significant to the plot by dramatic action in the story. No action – no transformation – no story. Action drives a character’s discoveries in these various quadrants and as the window configurations change, transformation occurs.

The Johari Window could become a valuable model for developing your character’s unique point-of-view and deciding the actions that need to take place to push your plotlines along.

Let’s take Lisa-Marie, one of the significant characters from the Crater Lake Series, and use this model to study her transformation.

When Lisa-Marie is first introduced, everyone knows she is Bethany’s niece who has come to stay at Crater Lake for the summer. She is sixteen, she’s witty and she has a bit of an attitude. But Lisa-Marie definitely has her secrets and though the reader is in her point-of-view often, these are not revealed all at once. Through the literary device of her diary, Lisa-Marie works at not only revealing things for the reader, but opening wider her own window of self-knowledge. Justin, the young man that Lisa-Marie has set her sights on, sees things in her that she hasn’t yet discovered about herself. When he reveals some of these blind-spots to her, dramatic tension ramps up. But ultimately, these revelations contribute to Lisa-Marie’s self-knowledge and along with the discoveries she has already made about herself she is transformed.

New Denver 2 - Bruce Witzel photo

Suggestions for using The Johari Window

Take one of your important characters and list in point form the types of knowledge that would go in each quadrant. Estimate the degree to which each window is open or closed. Do this exercise for that character at the beginning of the novel and at the end.

  • Has transformation occurred?
  • What action (taken by a character, created by character interactions, coming from outside the character) will move these windows?

Please, let me know what you think of the Johari Window as a tool for character development. I’m all ears!

Sisters Forever – Inhabiting Overlapping Worlds

  Emma & Brit at the pool - Guenette photo

Whenever I spend time with my granddaughters I come up with the best ideas for blog posts. The mere observation of their collective antics is grist for the mill.

Let me share a vignette with you.

Scene – kitchen table.

Emma is creating a list of kids she will invite to her upcoming sixth birthday party. Three-year-old Brit, is sitting across from Emma, leaning as far over the list as her little body will allow. I am on the other side of Emma providing spelling assistance.

Grandma to Emma (mentally counting down the list that will soon be at capacity) What about Brit?

Emma (looks up at me and then over to Brit, frowns and looks down as she carefully counts the number of guests on the list so far. She looks back at Brit, head tilted to the side with a thoughtful expression on her face.)

Brit (face goes from a big grin and a nod when I mentioned her name to a dark frown as Emma studies her. She pounds her little fists on the table) Emma, come on. I your sister.

(I wish I had this snippet on tape. You’ll have to imagine the absolute derision a three-year-old can work into the words – come on – and the total outrage at the very suggestion that she would be denied her rightful place that came through in  – I your sister.)

Emma (narrows her eyes for a moment, then shrugs and adds Brit’s name to the list.)

This vignette captures an essential aspect of my granddaughters’ lives. For Brit – I your sister – is an absolute given. No negotiation. She has lived with that reality from the moment of her birth. For Emma, the situation is more complicated. Though she really doesn’t remember the times before Brit, she did have almost three years when Brit wasn’t part of her life. Though the two girls occupy overlapping worlds, it seems Brit’s overlaps into Emma’s more.

Emma & Brit eat popcorn - Guenette photo

This overlapping of worlds is, for me, a fascinating process to observe. I never had a sister and though my world definitely overlapped in spots with the worlds of my three brothers, I lived in my own space as the only girl. Responsibilities and privileges differed widely in those days. I didn’t see this phenomenon with my own children either – a boy and a girl, four years apart, my son and daughter occupied quite different worlds.

Not so for Brit and Emma. Brit can walk into Emma’s room and have a great time playing with toys designated for her sister and the opposite is also true. It might be nostalgia on Emma’s part but she can still have fun. Emma can open one of Brit’s drawers and squeeze into a favourite shirt or skirt that has been passed down. Brit would go crazy with sheer delight to be riffling through Emma’s dresser and wearing her clothes.

Emma & Brit go to school - Guenette photo

Brit goes to the same preschool Emma went to, she takes gymnastics at the same gym, she has the same swim instructors at the same pool. In every way, Emma has broken the ground for her.

Brit at the Gym - Guenette photo

Emma works her way through her home reading and then Brit gets the book and copies exactly what Emma did. She runs her little finger from words to word and repeats the story. She is a sponge for every move her sister makes. Her advantage is huge and though she must share everything with this older sister, she takes it as a given because she’s never known anything else.

Emma & Brit make tacos - Guenette photo

I look forward to so many more chances to observe and track how this sisterly dynamic works itself out over the years. Right now my money’s on Brit for sheer bull doggedness when it comes to expanding the boundaries of her reach into Emma’s world. The child was born to be a protester. Perhaps it has to do with a low center of gravity but when she doesn’t want to move, it takes a fair amount of finesse or sheer, overpowering strength to get her moving. And she has a tendency to chant. Take my word for it – Pumpkin Patch, here we coming – heard over and over in the car ride to said pumpkin patch is something that had us at first laughing hysterically before we all got a weird shiver up our collective spines when she didn’t stop.

Emma & Brit pumpkin patch - Guenette photo

On the other hand, consider this. I was standing in the kitchen with Emma when Brit walked by. Emma reached out and pulled Brit’s hair. I stared at Emma and said, “Why did you do that?”

As I comforted Brit who was holding her head and getting ready to cry, Emma looked at me with a frown and a shrug. “I don’t know. My head said don’t but my hand said do it.”

I made some kind of comment along the line of, “Well, smarten up and start listening to your head instead of your hand.” But it makes me think – what brews inside Emma’s little body when it comes to giving up part of her world to the miniature, professional, protestor who just happens to be her sister?

Emma & Brit ride bikes - Guenette photo

I predict some interesting times ahead for one and all. Do you have overlapping world examples with your siblings or have your observed this phenomenon in your own children or grandchildren? I’d love to hear your stories.

Moving On–For Now

Guenette photo (2)

Maelstrom – a powerful whirlpool in a sea or river; a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil.

As hoped – the first draft of Maelstrom is done. In the hopes that it would stop me from tinkering and obsessing, the draft has flown the coop – gone to my editor for a read through and comments. Whew! It weighed in at 195,000 words. My drafts are written in Word, double-spaced in Times New Roman at 12pt. with standard margins. That amounted to 599 pages. Thank goodness I didn’t cross the line to 600.

The work of the last two weeks was the most intense writing experience I’ve ever gone through and it truly resembled the above definition of the word, maelstrom. Twelve to fourteen hour days living, breathing the world of the characters – all their ups and downs in my head twenty-four seven. Not easy as this book is much more of a suspense novel than the Crater Lake series. I knew what was coming and I was biting my nails.

I reached the two chapters that would form the climax and got stuck. Technical issues had to be worked out. Meanwhile, I skipped ahead and wrote the final two chapters and got that little chill when I typed the words – THE END. Bit of cheating but we do what we have to. Then I came back to the climax. Not sure that I’ve totally nailed those technical issues but we are talking first draft.

So – what comes next? I have been a poor blog friend the last month and hope to rectify that in the coming days. I’m looking forward to finding out what everyone else has been up to while I’ve been in self-imposed exile within the town of Haddon in the pages of Maelstrom. I’ve also got at least five books lined up on my Kindle that I am anxious to read and review. I’m looking forward to that I’m-all-caught-up feeling that I can see glimmering down the road a ways.

I’ll leave all of you writers with this great little quote Smile

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