Thursday 16 April 2020

Stage of revision 11: Point of view


Getting the point of view wrong or inconsistent is one of the biggest mistakes that new and inexperienced writers of prose fiction make. It’s also reasonably easy to get right if you understand it. Often if you can correct the mistakes you’ve made with point of view your text will improve dramatically. So, it is a good one to get right.

What we mean by point of view 

But what does it “point of view” actually mean? We’re not talking about opinions here. We’re really talking about who the story belongs to. You need to ask yourself “Whose story is this?” Answer that and you have found your point of view.
Try to remember that as you write. If you keep changing the point of view it can irritate and alienate your reader. It can be particularly annoying in short stories. It is counterproductive in another way in all forms of fiction. It prevents your reader from becoming close to your character. In longer pieces, such as novels, you may have to change point of view because the story is not always with the main character. Then the author will often be just as close to another character. On the whole, the more successful prose fiction writers do not change point of view mid-chapter. This aids the reader to find continuity and indeed to buy into the story. So, your second question is “Have I consistently shown this point of view?” Edit just asking that question. It’s an important edit.

Narrative techniques

Closely linked with point of view is what we call “narrative technique” and it is often the narrative technique you use that helps you to establish your point of view. Below are a few examples of narrative techniques. 
First person
The first person narrative is often referred to as unreliable. In some ways it is. You are only getting the narrator’s side of the story and arguably here the point of view does become an opinion. Also, the reader then has to stay with that character all of the time. But the reader is certainly seeing things as the narrator sees them. The first person narrative does actually give a very reliable picture of the character’s view of the world. Particularly striking examples of this are in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Lee Harper’s To Kill a Mockingbird and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Read or reread one of these books. Here is a short excerpt from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time:
                        Mother died two years ago.
I came home from school one day and no one answered the door, so I went and found the secret key that we keep under a flowerpot behind the kitchen door. I let myself into the house and carried on making the Airfix Sherman Tank model I was building.
An hour and a half later Father came home from work. He runs a business and he does heating maintenance and boiler repair with a man called Rhodri who is his employee, He knocked on the door of my room and opened it and asked whether I had seen mother. (28)
Note that Christopher is giving us a lot of details we might, as good creative writers, consider irrelevant to the story. They are important, though, because they show us much about Christopher’s personality and about how he sees the world.  They give us his point of view and do almost start to give us his opinion here. So, by getting point of view right, Haddon also gets voice and character right. Or you may prefer to think that by getting the voice and the character right he gets the point of view correct.
There is, however, one really big limitation with a first person narrative: the narrator has already had the growth and the reader cannot enjoy that growth with the protagonist.
A first person narrative is often used when writing for young adults. However, it is a false narrative as the author is pretending to be someone just a little bit older or a little bit wiser than the adolescent who is reading. They’re usually – though not always – considerably older than their readers.
Third person close
This also allows for a very close point of view. It is as if the writer is sitting on the character’s shoulder and can hear and see everything they can hear and see. They even know what the character is thinking. This works very well and does allow the reader to experience the growth with the character.  
V.S. Pritchett uses this in the short story A Family Man in the Penguin Book of Modern short stories. Here we have the viewpoint of Berenice, William’s mistress, who is visited by William’s wife.
But now – when she opened the door – no William, and the yawn, its hopes and its irony, died on her mouth. A very large woman, taller than herself, filled the doorway from top to bottom, an enormous blob of pink jersey and green skirt, the jersey low and loose at the neck, a face and a body inflated to the point of speechlessness. She even seemed to be asleep with her large blue eyes open. (46) 
Notice how in this passage the impression we are given of the visitor is really Berenice’s. It is Berenice who sees the dominating pink jersey and that is it loose and low. She decides that the woman seems to be asleep and that she has large blue eyes. We are following Berenice’s story. The reader buys into what is going to happen to Berenice.           

Third person distant neutral
This is also a common point of view. It is often found in older texts. A neutral narrator tells us the story, in effect showing it to us almost as a film. It is a little different from a film in that we occasionally see into the minds of the characters. However, we have none of the opinions nor personality of the writer in these texts. The narrator only tells us what we need to know in order to understand the story.
This type of narrative may skip from person to person, but it does so in a balanced way and it keeps the same distance from all of the characters. A good example of this type of narrative is found in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

The evening visitors – the men with collars turned up and soft hats rammed down    - nodded familiarly to Mrs Verloc, and with a muttered greeting, lifted up the flap at the end of the counter in order to pass into the back parlour, which gave access to a passage and to a steep flight of stairs. The door of the shop was the only means of entrance to the house in which Mr Verloc carried on his business of a seller of shady wares, exercised his vocation of a protector of society, and cultivated domestic virtues. (14)
Thus we see a scene played out before us. It is Mr Verloc who sees his vocation as protector of society and cultivator of domestic virtues. He knows he is selling shady wares. The narrator simply tells us this without any judgement. Later in the novel we have the points of view of Mrs Verloc and other characters. Even in older texts, this switching of point of view only comes in separate sections or chapters. In longer works, the writer sometimes needs to do this in order to explain what is happening to characters other than the protagonist. In the short story the writer tends to stay with one point of view.
It is currently rather unfashionable. The modern reader and publisher seem to prefer a first person, a close third person or the narrator – whether first or third person – as an extra character.
Fictionalised narrator
This doesn’t have to be first person but often is. Imagine, for instance, the rather eccentric woman next door, the landlord of your favourite pub, or an interesting minor character in a book you like telling the story. An extreme first person example is in Adam Rapp’s 33 Snowfish.
Then he points to my other pocket and goes, “What’s wrong with your hand?”
I go, “I cut it.”
But he’s like, “I mean the one in your pocket.”
I go, “Nothin’.”
“You steal somehtin’ from my yard?”
“Ain’t shit to steal.”
“You sure?”
I’m like, “You deaf?”
And then the nigger pulls my other hand out of my pocket and he looks at it.”
We may well be shocked at the word “nigger” but this is part of the way this character talks. It is part of his voice and his point of view.

Some common mistakes

Study the three examples below:
I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he danced. Back and neck straight. Gaze fixed. Arms rigid by his sides. His feet never missed a beat and always came down in exactly the right place. My own feet started tapping to the music.
Then Patrick looked at the others. He winked at me. He showed them who was boss. He was so proud of me. He was thirsty now. He wanted a drink. But I kept on pushing him.

The point of view has shifted from the narrator to Patrick. How can s/ he know what Patrick intended or whether he was thirsty?

Better might be:  
I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he danced. Back and neck straight. Gaze fixed. Arms rigid by his sides. His feet never missed a beat and always came down in exactly the right place. My own feet started tapping to the music. 
I worried as he looked at the others but then he winked at me. I wanted to make him proud of me. He was sweating and he must have been thirsty. I know I was. But I kept on pushing him.

George pushed pressed the buzzer on the entrance to the sales office. If this is supposed to be housing for everybody, why are they trying to keep people out? he thought.
Mandy Prior stopped painting her nails, patted her hair and called out in her best secretary voice: “Good morning. How can I help you?”
“George Morgan, Artist in Residence, Peppwood Council,” replied George.
Mandy pressed the buzzer. “Yes, Mr Sullivan is expecting you,” she said. George found himself in a type of exhibition area. His eyes were drawn to some huge photos of modern flats and town houses.  “Big Plans for Gorsall,” he read.
“Welcome, welcome,” said the short, middle-aged man with greying hair and a very red nose.

The point of view skips between George, Mandy and an unknown person. The reader may get confused. 

Better might be:
George pushed pressed the buzzer on the entrance to the sales office. If this is supposed to be housing for everybody, why are they trying to keep people out? he thought.
“Good morning. How can I help you?” chimed a voice that suggested dyed hair and painted nails.
“George Morgan, Artist in Residence, Peppwood Council,” replied George.
“Yes, Mr Sullivan is expecting you,” said the same made-up voice. A buzzer sounded and the door swung open.
George found himself in a type of exhibition area. His eyes were drawn to some huge photos of modern flats and town houses.  “Big Plans for Gorsall,” he read.
“Welcome, welcome,” said a voice. 
George turned to find that the speaker was a short, middle-aged man with greying hair and a very red nose.

The boy had a lump in his throat. 
It had been a grey old day and the first drops of rain were starting to fall. He turned on the windscreen wipers.   
As the little blue car turned on to the motorway, it was raining heavily. Before it got into the heavier traffic there were flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. Tom turned on the radio to try and drain out the noise. He pushed his right foot down to the floor, bringing Binky up to her top speed. The music matched his mood. Rousing rock. He was going to fight this and he was going to win.
The car was now in the middle lane. The rain was now pouring like a waterfall over the windscreens of all the cars. Everybody’s wipers were going full speed. It was that sort of weather where you can’t see at all. The cars and lorries were chucking up spray and were being buffeted from side winds. No one seemed to be able to drive in a straight line. .

We move closer to the main character and back again. It’s like watching a film that has been made by someone who has little control over a camcorder. The zooming in and out can leave you feeling nauseous. Whilst this can be quite effective if executed elegantly – Philip Pullman uses this a lot, for example, particularly towards the end of The Amber Spyglass – it is not really appropriate or effective in so short an extract.

Better might be:
The lump was in his throat again.
The first drops of the rain they’d been promising all day fell on the windscreen.
He turned on the wipers.   
By the time he got to the motorway, it was raining heavily. As he filtered into the traffic there were flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. He turned on the radio to try and drain out the noise. He pushed his right foot down to the floor, bringing Binky up to her top speed. The music matched his mood. Rousing rock. He was going to fight this and he was going to win.
He steered Binky into the middle lane. The rain was now pouring over the windscreen like a waterfall. The wipers were going full speed, but he still couldn’t see all that well. As he overtook the slower cars and lorries he also had to put up with the spray and the buffeting from the side wind as he drove out of their shelter.

Try this

1.      Rewrite a fairy story, a myth or legend, one of Shakespeare’s stories or something from the Bible from the point of view of a minor character or the “bad” character.
2.      “Patch test” a piece of your own writing. Write a couple of paragraphs using one of the narrative techniques described above. Then try it with two others. Which works best? 
3.      Take two paragraphs from a piece of fiction you have enjoyed and decide which narrative technique the writer has used. Now choose another narrative technique and rewrite that passage using that. Was the author right? Why do you think they used their chosen narrative technique?  

Working with this in the future

1.      Before you start a piece of work, make conscious decisions about whose story you are telling and which narrative technique you wish to use. Try to keep this in mind as you write.
2.       Once your work is finished you should read it though checking just point of view. This should be just one of several edits.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Friday 3 April 2020

Emma Lee

I would like to welcome to my blog today Emma Lee. Emma was featured on CafeLit on 15 September 2010 with “Father Ghost” and “Weblines” on 5 August 2019. She also had a short story “Snowena” in Bridgehouse Publishing’s Gentle Footprints.

Over to Emma: 

I write short stories and reviews alongside poetry. I used to write music reviews for fanzines when I was a teenager and when I started sending out poem and story submissions, I mentioned my music reviewing so I didn’t sound like a complete beginner. One magazine editor asked if I’d thought about reviewing books. I hadn’t, but if this was a way to get my name in print and reviewing books couldn’t be more difficult than reviewing music, I’d do it. My reviewing career runs in parallel to my writing career.

My mother taught me to read before I started school, so I was an early, avid reader. I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer if you don’t read. I used to build houses from toy bricks and create stories for people I imagined might live there. Once I could write, I started writing these stories down. Then stories became poems.

However, I didn’t have the confidence to show anyone what I was writing so I wrote in the gaps between other things: sneaking off to an empty classroom during breaktimes or pretending to do homework or arriving early and writing before friends showed up. Consequently, I don’t have a particular routine. If a poem or short story needs to be written, it gets written. I do a lot of drafting in my head before any words get near a page or screen. The discipline from reviewing means I don’t differentiate between reading from a page or screen and it makes no difference to me whether I write a first draft on a laptop, phone or notebook.

I do have a desk at home. But a lot of my writing gets done in the car because I’m early for something and have to wait or in a café before an event or waiting for friends. (My friends aren’t late, I’m in the habit of being early for everything and meeting in a café means I top up my caffeine levels and write). If I publish another book, I think my car and the Phoenix café bar in Leicester deserve credits.

Even though I started getting published as a teenager, I didn’t really think of myself as a writer until I’d got a few publishing credits under my belt and decided to look for local writers’ groups to join.

My fourth book of poetry, The Significance of a Dress has just been published by Arachne Press. This collection’s origins go back to 2015 when I was co-editor of Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015), an anthology of poems published to raise funds for charities working with refugees. I began writing poems exploring why people flee their home countries, set out on dangerous, life-threatening journeys and settle in camps with little support as they wait the outcomes of their asylum applications. There are three poems with “dress” in the title. The title poem, which is based on an interview with a woman who ran a wedding dress hire shop in a refugee camp. “How a Dress Lost its Sparkle” inspired by Arabella Dorman’s art installation in Leicester Cathedral. “Bridal Dresses in Beirut” inspired by a novel protest against Article 522 where wedding dresses were hung up from wires in the city.

During 2015-2017 I did a lot of promotional events for Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge including a pop-up poem library at Leicester Railway station where poems or extracts from poems were handed out to commuters and Journeys in Translation where we encouraged people to translate poems from the anthology into other languages. In 2018, Arachne put a call-out for submissions to an anthology. I’d had a poem sequence, flash fiction and individual poems accepted by them previously so thought I stood a good chance. However, Arachne said on this occasion they didn’t want to include my poems in an anthology but wanted a single author collection, so The Significance of a Dress came about. It’s available direct from Arachne.

There were events planned. Fortunately, a launch event took place at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich, London early in March. However, I was given less than 24 hours’ notice that the venue was withdrawing from the Leicester launch so had to quickly find an alternative which meant some who had planned to attend the original launch couldn’t make the alternative. States of Independence where I was due to do a reading was also cancelled. There are plans in the pipeline to do more readings in Leicester and London, but dates and venues are to be confirmed. There some videos on Arachne Press’s website of me reading from of the poems from the book which have been shared with Tara Skurtu’s wonderful #InternationalPoetryCircle initiative and I read my flash fiction “The City’s Heartbeat” to share with Hannah Storm’s #FlashFamily initiative; both aim to share videos of writers reading their work to combat feelings of isolation.

The Arachne Press link is: and includes a trailer featuring the title poem.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

News 1 April 2020


An extraordinary era  

I hope you are all keeping well and safe. We are most certainly living in an extraordinary time and I and many of my fellow writers are challenged to come up with fiction that is more astounding than what is happening right now.  Even The Archers’ recent drama with explosion at Grey Gables seems tame compared with what real life is throwing at us.  At times I think I’m living in the middle of a Stephen King novel.     
My routine isn’t too much different from normal, though. I write in the mornings, complete admin in the afternoons, and edit and promote in the evenings. Of course, I’m not going out except for essentials. A trip for a routine visit to my local health centre seemed like a treat – even though the café was of course shut.   
However, there are some amazing things happening on-line. I had a glorious back stage tour of the Lowry (Salford Quays) last week.  I visited a couple of my own Creative Cafés. Check them out: the Theatre Café , and the Barter Books Café. Many theatres are streaming performances.   
I can’t go to the gym so I’m using fitness videos and taking little walks around the garden. Our garden is small but I put some new plants in before the lock-down and they’re beginning to thrive. I really appreciate our little garden now. 
I’m meeting up with several people via Zoom. This is mainly successful though the software did let me down yesterday.  I think a lot of people are using Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts and Skype. I wonder whether when this is all over we’ll have learnt to live differently. I note that although there is still traffic on the main road near us the air is considerably sweeter.  
I’m also doing some undergrad marking for the University of Salford.  This has been a little delayed because of the virus.                      

News about my writing

I’m still carrying on much as before: The Round Robin, the fifth book in the Schellberg Cycle, Not Just Fluffy Bunnies, and I’m still working on The Business of Writing.   
I’ve also written a couple of short stories relating to Covid 19. We writers should record, examine and mitigate this crisis. I’m working with a group of other writers on this.      

The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added new this month:  
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
This is a classic Bildungsroman for young adults. It has a fantasy setting. Unlike 21st century YA novels there is not really a love interest. However the main issues are deep enough to make it YA.

Flambards by K M Peyton
This is another classic I read to help me with Not Just Fluffy Bunnies. This is again YA and this time there is a love interest.  In fact possibly the whole series is crossover adult / young adult.  I remember the TV series.  The music was glorious.  I’d love to watch that again.   

Don’t Stop Thinking About the Future by Siobhan Curham
Stevie and Hafiz both have problems: Hafiz is an asylum seeker who has had to leave his family behind. Stevie’s mum suffers from depression and cannot be a proper mother to Stevie.  Stevie and Hafiz become friends and support each other.  I’ve labelled this teen as the friendship remains quite platonic. A very good read indeed. It came close to being my recommend read this month.

Gloves Off  by Louise Reid
This is an unusual YA novel, written in verse.  Louise is one of my SCBWI contacts and I’ve read quite a bit of her work in our critique group. There is a lot of emotional intensity in this text.

Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending a non-fiction book: Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. Find details here.  Its subtitle is “How creativity works.” It offers an interesting discussion about creativity.
Two things in particular stood out for me:
·         We benefit from immigration. Where 1% of the population of a society is made up of immigrants, that society secures 15% more patents for new inventions than a society devoid of immigrants. Is this because the type of person who opts to migrate is more imaginative? Or that the stress of migration makes people more creative?
·         Weak but extensive networks lead to more creativity.  Weak networks are defined as groups of people who interact, and though they may be positive about each other, they’re not all that intimate.  It’s the broadness of the network that counts. This rather coincides with my notion that you don’t have to just be good at your art but you also have to network to become known and therefore paid for your work.  
There are many other fascinating ideas in the book and it is extremely easy to read. It is detailed and it invites you to change the way you think but it’s not at all dry or dull.    


Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.
This month I’m giving away The Prophecy, the first part of my Peace Child trilogy. This is also the novel I wrote as part of my PhD, though it has changed considerably since then. I’ve just completed a fourth part and it is queued for publication. Yes I know. A trilogy normally only has three parts. I suppose I should now call it a series for I already have book five planned as well. Book four has some references to the political dramas of how we live now. Book five has a kidnap planned though I now wonder whether I could have the affected characters unable to return because of the outbreak of a deadly virus. Maybe?  
Certainly the economic situation at the moment is making me realise how the Zenoton may have created their society. And that is one of the bits of Covid 19 writing I’ll be doing shortly. 
You can download The Prophecy and lots of other free materials here.
Please, please, please review it if you read it.     
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99, with most on Kindle being about £2.99 and the average price for paperback being £7.00. We have to allow our writers to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy. Also at the moment I’m quite happy for you to share these links with other people and any of the items you’ve downloaded before - just until the end of the lock-down.   


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust and also for other writers of historical fiction.
This month I’ve reviewed two books:
This is a fictionalised account of an actual survivor who has approved the content. It’s a reasonable read and offers some interesting detail for scholars.
Ambulance Girls  gives us some insight into to what it was like working as an ambulance driver during the London blitz.  The story is rather dramatic but this would keep the average reader engaged. The book has a useful bibliography at the end.

I’ve also added a post about the theatres closing in Germany and comparing that with what’s happening here. Read it here:    

School visits

I’ve suspended these until further notice. I’m now starting work on a series of on-line materials.  

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

CaféLit Stories Find these here

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

The Young Person’s Library I am gradually moving the children’s book catalogue over to this site.  Access it here.

Fair Submissions I am gradually moving the Opportunities List to this site.  Find it here.   

New ones are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I go through it and take out all of the out of date ones. At that point I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing. 

Image by Image by ianvanderlinde from Pixabay