Z is for Zombies

ZWalkers, Biters, The Living Dead, The Undead. No matter what you call them zombies are HUGE in popular culture. From George A. Romero’s movies to TV Show The Walking Dead, zombies as the antagonist are everywhere. But in recent years we’ve seen a rise in zombies as the protagonist, in films such as Warm Bodies and comic book to TV show adaptation iZombie.

 

What is it about zombies that make such great protagonist, and how are they different from their ‘evil’ counterparts?

 

The key is their humanity. Audiences are drawn to whatever they can make a connection with. In George A. Romero’s movies and The Walking Dead we empathize with the human survivors of the zombie apocalypse, as we can image how we’d feel fighting for our lives, worrying about our loved ones and trying to survive in a zombie ravaged world.

 

We don’t connect with the zombies, because we can’t imagine what it would be like wondering aimlessly, hungering for brains.

 

In Warm Bodies, iZombie and other similar medias, we’re not relating to the supernatural, undead aspect, we’re relating to the everyday struggles of the characters –holding down a job, maintaining personal relationships, keeping secrets from those we love in order to protect them.

 

Again, it’s the humanity we connect with, not the zombie, but in some ways the stakes are higher because we know what these characters could become. We’re all familiar with the decaying, chomping undead, and we don’t want our beloved characters to succumb to their new natures and become monsters.

 

I think it’s that mix of humanity and real life aspects, combined with the lingering threat that the characters could lose all that in an instant, and become mindless fiends that makes movies and TV shows like Warm Bodies and iZombie so compelling.

 

What are some of your favourite ‘human’ zombie forms of entertainment?

Let us know in the comments below, or at our Facebook and Twitter.

“X” is for Xenolinguistics: Favorite Alien Languages

XIn many creation stories, language actually exists prior to the creation of the world. The gods often gift speech before life, and in the Book of Genesis, God uses his own speech to create light. Language is not only central to the human experience, many would argue it actually defines it. That’s why I’m so fascinated with so-called “alien” languages. What if we were lucky enough to actually make contact, how would we communicate? What would our language say about us and theirs about them? I’m not the only person to wonder these things, though. There’s a rich tradition in fiction of so-called “alien” or created languages. Maybe I’m stretching a bit, but I’m defining “alien” as any species other than our contemporary human one. This includes the Elves of Rivendell, and the various aliens of Star Trek. Here is a list of my favorite fictional languages:

Na’Vi from James Cameron’s Avatar

 

Say what you will about the shallow characterization and rampant infantilization of the natives in Jame’s Cameron’s Avatar movie. (Can you tell I’m not actually a fan?) The point is that, production-wise, Cameron poured an insane amount of money and time into developing an alternate universe for this movie. He not only scripted the Na’Vi language, he actually brought in a linguist to help him construct an entire alien lexicon. And it worked. There are Na’Vi enthusiasts right now who not only love to dress up and pretend to be blue psychic aliens, they have embraced the language as well. Supposedly similar to Earth romance languages, Na’Vi is rich and fluid.

Dothraki from Game of Thrones/ A Song of Ice and Fire

 

George R.R. Martin, in his A Song of Ice and Fire book series, created the nomadic horse-herding Dothraki culture. In the books, unfortunately, Martin didn’t really include many words of the Dothraki language, so there wasn’t much to go on when it came time to film the series. So for the HBO television series, experts were hired to turn those few words into a complete lexicon. Dothraki is terse and rough-sounding, often accompanying speech with gestures. Its roughness is a good reflection of the harsh desert from which these people were supposed to have come. (I’m also fond to the Valyrian language, but it isn’t spoken nearly as much.)

Klingon from Star Trek

 

Klingon is one of the most well-known fictional languages. It was created by a linguist to be the language of the warrior Klingon race on the television show Star Trek.  Several books have have been written about the language, and an organization known as the Klingon Language Institute has a quarterly journal dedicated to it. While Klingon does have its own alphabet, the language is usually converted into English. My first exposure to the Klingon language came at a young age, when I saw a Miss Klingon Beauty Pageant for the first time at a convention. While I didn’t understand the words to the song she was screeching, I was still hooked, and have been a Star Trek fan ever since.

Elvish: JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series

 

J.R.R. Tolkien was actually an Oxford linguist, long before he was ever a writer. Tolkien brought an incredibly deep pool of knowledge to language creation, as he had long been a scholar of early and middle English dialects. He began creating his Elvish languages before he started on any of his well-known works, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are actually two forms of Elvish commonly learned by fans: Quenya, or high Elvish, and Sindarin, both based loosely on Finnish and Welsh, two languages Tolkien himself studied. And these can be subdivided into different dialects. In addition to the time and effort he put into creating the Elvish languages, he also crafted language for Orcs, Ents, Hobbits, and more. The Lord of the Rings series is probably the most linguistically complicated crated language in the modern world.

 

W is for Wrestling: What I’ve learned about writing from watching WWE

WSince my teens, I’ve been a big fan of WWE Wrestling, and no not just because of the hot guys in spandex (though it helps)!

While I appreciate the athletic abilities of both the men and women that step into the ring, what I really love about wrestling – and what keeps me coming back for more each week – is the story telling.

I fully understand where the E in World Wrestling Entertainment comes from. When someone says “Don’t you know it’s fake?” I reply with “Does that stop you watching TV shows and movies?”

Most savvy wrestling fans know the matches’ outcomes are pre-determined and a result of something called ‘booking’, but as with any other TV show or movie, unless you go hunting spoilers online, the outcome isn’t as predictable as one might think. If the writing is good.

If the writing is good.

For me, the writing is the key to WWE being enjoyable or not, and thanks to watching wrestling for the past fifteen years, I’ve picked up a thing or two about writing from the world of sports entertainment.

Here’s just a few of the things watching wrestling has taught me about writing:

Clear Character Motivation

One of the things I hate most in wrestling is when two characters are paired together or start feuding for absolutely no reason.

It’s not so bad if there’s a tournament to determine a number one contender to a championship, but what really gets me invested in a storyline is when the characters have clear motivation for challenging or teaming with someone.

It can be as simple as wanting to prove they’re the best, or an already established history between the two.

This translates perfectly into writing. To make a reader care about a character and what they’re doing they need clear motivation for why they’re carrying out their actions.

For example, would The Harry Potter Series have been nearly as engaging if Harry weren’t fighting to avenge all those he loved who’d been killed by Voldermort, and to provide a better future for the wizarding world, including himself and those he cared about.

Harry was even willing to sacrifice his life, and when he did, it meant something, because his motivation had been well illustrated throughout the series.

The Good, The Bad and The In-between

Stories are often much more compelling when there’s a clear good guy and a clear bad guy. Then you know who to root for and who to cheer against. Good versus evil is a classic storytelling trope.

Having a clear protagonist and antagonist also makes it easier to work out the character’s motivation.

However, in some cases a little ambiguity can also add to the depth of the story.

This is perfectly exemplified in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, where sometimes the ‘good’ characters have to do something questionable, and sometimes the ‘bad’ characters show a softer, more relatable side.

Having these shades of grey is great, as it adds believability, because in the real world no one is wholly good or evil, but if you look deeper, even the grey characters clearly fall on one side of the morality line.

Your Audience Aren’t Idiots

My other biggest hate in wrestling is when something is mentioned with importance, only to be forgotten a few weeks later.

Nothing makes me eye roll and skip through a segment quicker than two people who were enemies the previous week suddenly team together for no apparent reason, or when a character is introduced/ foreshadowed only to be forgotten about the following week.

Instead of being entertained, I’m left asking “Do the writers think I’m stupid?” and that’s true of novel writing, too.

Readers aren’t stupid, and treating them as such by bypassing something you wrote about five chapters previously, just because it’s convenient for the story, will have them putting down your book.

As will introducing something/ someone at the last minute to swoop in and save the day, without any reasoning or build up.

Treat your readers with intelligence, without making things either too easy or too hard for them.

Don’t Be Afraid To Throw A Curve Ball Sometimes – But Also Know When To Throw That Curve Ball

Often times a resolution to a good story can be guessed at as the reader nears the end. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Certain things are expected in stories, and need to happen for a reader to leave with satisfaction.

For example, how angry would fans have been if Harry had died without defeating Voldemort (or at least done enough in terms of destroying Horcruxes etc., so that someone else could defeat Voldemort)?

But while every big moment shouldn’t be a twist, turn or surprise, sometimes throwing a curve ball at the reader makes them come back for more.

Like in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, when beloved Ned Stark was beheaded at the end of the book. Who saw that coming?

And for most readers, that’s one of the moments that hooked them to the series, as they weren’t expecting a beloved point of view character to be killed off so suddenly.

Although, it’s doubtful fans would have been so forgiving if Ned’s death had come at the end of the series, when there’s no more chances for justice or revenge!

Knowing when to throw a good twist into the story is an integral way to keep the readers hooked, and coming back for more!

Video Games: The Perfect Family Bonding Activity

VSome families go bike riding together, others play spots. My family is a family of gamers.

Hubby has always been into video games and is now a video games journalist for a living. I was an infrequent casual gamer when we first met, but over the thirteen years we’ve been together, my gaming tastes have expanded. It follows reason that our two sons, thirteen and six, would be into video games too.

Every time there’s a new Pokémon game released, we now have to buy four copies. For the few weeks after release the house is filled with chatter about who is at which gym, what Pokémon we want to trade with each other, and bragging about who has beaten who in online battles.

During other times in the year you can find Hubby and Oldest teaming up on DC Universe Online, or me and Hubby playing Elder Scrolls Online together (we even got married in game), or our two boys taking it in turns to complete levels on various platformers such as Super Mario Bros or Super Meat Boy.

When a new ‘toys-to-life’ game (such as Skylanders or Disney Infinity) is release, it’s a household event, with each of us staking a claim on certain characters, and then various family members playing co-op together.

Other times, a weekend afternoon is spent with us all making competitive mini-games on Minecraft –  such as a game in which the other player has to find a hidden wool block in the other players’ a sand castle, and can select items at random to help them with their search.

For us, video games offer many ways for us to bond. Sometimes I’m not as cool as I wish I was in my thirteen year-old’s eyes, but we can talk for hours about which Pokémon should get mega evolutions in the next game, and then I don’t seem so dorky to him. While playing LEGO is a bit beyond me, me and Youngest enjoy making a house and family together on The Sims 3. After a hard day working, there’s nothing me and Hubby enjoy more than teaming up to run a delve or defeat a world boss in ESO. Plus, games like Minecraft have learning/ educational aspects to them, and they help the kids with creativity, Maths and even reading and writing.

To a lot of other people, we might seem lame, but I wouldn’t swap my monthly trips to GAME to download the latest Legendary Pokémon, or the Mario Kart contests we have at home for anything!

upper middle grade, lower young adult, reading, books, categorizing reading levels

Upper Middle What Now?

UAny middle child will tell you how awkward it is to be in the middle. You aren’t the first or the baby, you get all of the hand-me-downs, and you seem to get lost in the mix a lot. The 12-14 year old reader group has become a sort of middle child in the children’s book world. Like Goldilocks, they are a bit too old for most middle grade novels (Harry Potter excluded because you are never too old for Harry Potter), but they aren’t quite old enough to be reading some of the steamier YA out there.In an interview with Amy Bearce, she explains first why she decided to change her debut novel, Fairy Keeper, from young adult to upp middle grade:

“There’s sometimes a fine line between upper middle grade and young adult. My editor and I both felt that the voice of the piece was just more MG, but the basic premise seemed more YA…so we merged them until both fit upper MG. While Sierra grows and changes, the focus is on the adventure itself. There was also a sweetness to the story, according to my publisher, that felt younger than what you’d expect with YA. This is especially seen in the romance area. Less heat, more sweet, you might say. J So we changed the age of the character and tweaked a few scenes so that her responses were more consistently appropriate for a 14 year old (granted, 14 year olds in this world have more responsibility than the same age person in ours.) Plus, I wanted something my girls could read and my oldest isn’t quite ready for YA yet.”

From an author/publisher standpoint, it’s a struggle to categorize the books too so that the 12-14 readers find them. Says author Shannon Hale:

shannon hale tweet

This is a good point. It’s not a huge stretch for a 12yr old to read about a fifteen yr old, which is what publishers see happening. What about when the MC is an 18yr old though? The difference in maturity and life priorities of a 12yr old versus an 18yr old vast, and many parents don’t want their kids learning too much from novels at such a crucial age. To which I say to the parents in the room, if you’re kids are learning about mature things from a book and not first hand, they are doing ok so let’s leave them alone. However it is a bit disparaging when none of the characters you read about are your actual age. How do we make categories that fit everyone’s age group and needs?

New Adult has surfaced, and while that brings a world of it’s own issues, it at least bridged the gap between teenagers and people in their twenties that didn’t want to read about 35yr old adults. Younger adults in the 12-14 age group don’t have any bridge to cross between MG and YA at all. One would argue, (by one, I mean me) that it also doesn’t make sense to have young adult and then an older ‘new’ adult category, that is just grammatically confusing in and of itself.

Here’s what I propose:

categorizing reading levels, young adult, middle grade, new adult

 

Who’s with me!?

*Note: Open to better naming conventions, let’s be honest these are mediocre at best*

T is for Travel: A Literary Tour of Britain

TWhether you’re a resident Brit, or just visiting on vacation, if you’re a book lover, there’s plenty to see and do in the UK.

Here are just a few places to include in your literary tour of Britain.

 

HPKing’s Cross Station

Every Harry Potter fan knows that King’s Cross Station is where Hogwarts students catch the Hogwarts Express from at the beginning of the school year. While the station is a real place, the magical Platform 9 ¾ is purely fictional.

However, as the Harry Potter series grew in popularity, King’s Cross Station saw an influx in tourists, and erected a cast-iron “Platform 9¾” plaque in 1999. With part of a luggage trolley installed below the sign [the near end of the trolley is visible, but the rest has disappeared into the wall], the site is a popular tourist attraction, and the location of the sign has had to be moved on three occasions.

In addition to the Platform 9¾ plaque, within King’s Cross Station is also a Harry Potter souvenir shop, which sells a wide range of merchandise including house t-shirts and scarves, replica wands, and even owls! (Don’t worry, they’re not real!)

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾.

 

cropShakespeare’s Birthplace

For fans of English poet, playwright, and actor, William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire is a must-visit location.

On Henley Street is a restored 16th-century half-timbered house, where it is believed that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years.

It is now a small museum open to the public and owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The site offers many attractions for literature lovers, including live readings performed by a troupe of actors (you can even request a scene from your favourite Shakespeare play), The Shakespeare’s Treasures Exhibition; which features a range of unique and priceless objects – including documents and portraits, and the Beyond Words Exhibition, which features an array of Shakespeare memorabilia, contemporary artwork, a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio and a timeline of Shakespeare’s life.

http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/visit-the-houses/shakespeares-birthplace.html

 

320px-Perrotts_Folly_CropLord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, may not know that many locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien’s childhood in Birmingham, where he first lived near Sarehole Mill, and later near Edgbaston Reservoir.

In fact, the water tower at the edge of Edgbaston Reservoir and the near-by Perrott’s Folly, are said to have inspired the towers Orthanc and Minas Morgul.

 

428346-111502-800The Chronicles of Narnia

In the 2005 movies adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, only the Pevensie Siblings’ journey to ‘Coombe Halt’ was filmed in the UK.

However, in 1988 a TV adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia was filmed at Hawkstone Park in Weston-under-Redcastle, Shropshire.

The park’s historic and stunning follies, featuring a series of tunnels, grottos and arches, amid the beautiful Shropshire landscape made the perfect backdrop for Narnia.

In addition, Hawkstone is commonly connected with Arthurian legends, and in Graham Phillips’ King Arthur: The True Story identifies it as the possible final resting place of King Arthur.

 

stonehenge-circle-pink-skyStonehenge

As one of Britain’s most well-known landmarks, it’s not surprising to learn that Stonehenge is commonly featured in popular culture.

It’s appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who, the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and in an episode of Spongebob Square Pants, Spongbob creates a large monument of stone sponges similar to Stonehenge in order to distract jellyfish.

In the literary world, it serves as the backdrop for the climax of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

It’s easy to see why the prehistoric monument – located in Wiltshire, England – has made such a mark in fiction. Just 42 miles from the mythological location of Glastonbury Tor (which has been linked to the legend of King Arthur), Stonehenge’s spiritual associations makes it the perfect magical muse for any writer!

I hope you enjoyed this Book Lover’s Guide to Britain. Of course, these are just a few of the wonderful literary landmarks around the British Isles, and readers are welcome to comment with their own must-visit sites for Bibliophiles.

 

 

S is for Shipping

SShipping, initially derived from the word relationship, is the desire by fans for two or more people, either real-life people or fictional characters, to be in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. It is considered a general term for fans’ emotional involvement with the ongoing development of a relationship in a work of fiction. Shipping often takes the form of creative works, including fanfiction and fan art, most often published on the internet. [source]

 

I was first exposed to shipping via the Harry Potter series. In the beginning, I didn’t know it was called shipping, I just thought Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione made cute couples and I hoped they’d be together when the series ended.

Despite some people’s feelings, I was pleased when in the Deathly Hallows epilogue it was shown the two couples were married with children.

For me, the OBHWF summed up everything special about the series. Love, friendship and family.

Ron and Ginny were already siblings. Ron, Hermione and Harry were best friends, and Ginny and Hermione were close. For them to be bonded by family was the perfect way to end the series, in my opinion.

There are also some fan theories that suggest each of the four represent a united Hogwarts: Harry who could have easily been sorted into Slytherin, Hermione who was almost placed in Ravenclaw, Ron who has the loyalty of a Hufflepuff, and Ginny the Gryffindor.

I felt that both Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione as couples complemented each other nicely, and balanced each other’s best and worst qualities. Harry, the Chosen One, needed someone special and Ginny was certainly that. She was feisty enough to not take any of his crap, and never feel like she was in his shadow. In a lot of ways Hermione and Ron were a case of opposites attract, but that’s just on the surface. If you look at the characters’ cores, justice and loyalty is important to both of them, and their strengths counter-balance the other’s flaws.

I loved to imagine Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione gathered in the Burrow with the rest of the Weasley family celebrating Christmas.

How can you not love this?

Harry-Ginny-and-Ron-Hermione-double-wedding-daniel-and-bonnie-30444829-645-479

What are some of your favourite ships; Harry Potter or otherwise?

Let us know in the comments below, or via Facebook and Twitter.

Research Creep

RReaders and writers talk about world-building in books all the time, and the best world-building usually has the extremely realistic aspects woven into the story. This is common knowledge, what’s not common knowledge is how to dilute drugs for proper dosage, or successfully get away with murder. Which means that authors get up to some pretty strange googling that in multiple cases has caused them to be flagged as flight risks! Here is just a taste of the weird stuff writers have to research in the name of novel writing!

  • Tannery chemicals that would cause a shock explosion
  • Caustic burns
  • Symptoms of chromium VI poisoning
  • How hot fire needs to be to burn bodies
  • How to relocate a dislocated shoulder
  • How to track someone’s location from their IP address
  • Shotgun wounds
  • An alternative and better element source for bombs for the terrorists to use. I found one. The best part about it, not making this up, when it blows up, it blows up PINK!
  • Nuclear bomb Yellowstone caldera
  • How terrorists communicate
  • Successful bank robberies
  • Amount of money in average bank branch
  • Money laundering in Vegas
  • Gunshot first aid
  • What lives in the deepest parts of the ocean
  • Cold weather survival gear
  • How to conduct a denial of service cyber attack
  • How to hack a credit card company and erase records
  • What homemade bombs look like
  • Taliban torture methods
  • How to maim people in various ways
  • The layout of the White House
  • What human flesh tastes like
  • How a cop would dispose of a body

 

whoa is quo, status quo

Quo I Am

QStatus Quo is Latin for ‘the state of which’ and is defined as the existing state of affairs. It’s a word we love to toss around when talking about social norms or making changes. I think quo isn’t actually a thing, or a what, but rather, a who. WE are the quo. With technology and connectivity at an all time high, we have much more power to decide what kinds of products we want, how we communicate and relate to brands, what is usual or atypical.


A great example of this is the death of the damsel. With the immense popularity of book and movie franchises with strong female leads such as Hunger Games and Divergent, women in combative and less frilly roles are a new norm, a sensation that has sprung hundreds of thousands of novels in the YA publishing sector into stronger female narratives.

It is also becoming more neutralized (and dramatized) that women seek more sexual novels and with it a lack of shyness that previously existed.

Young males are increasing joining the bookish community (yay) and we are seeing a surge in more neutral covers (again, yay!) and a rising trend in historical/dystopian fiction.

We are increasingly loving books that take an interesting look at status quo now vs. a different time period, and twist it a bit to see what happens, which is half the reason we fell in love with Princess of Tyrone, the first of the Fairytale Galaxy novels. It’s a few hundred pages of beautiful contradiction and new perspectives, such as pirate princesses and medieval-like time periods in space…wha!!! Yes.  

What status quo do you want to change in publishing?

P is for Perspective – Which is Right for Your Novel?

 PPoint Of View

One of the most important decisions facing a writer when they embark on the creation of a novel is choosing the point of view from which to tell the story. A different point of view can change the entire feel of a story, and a writer should take care to select the option they feel best suits what they are trying to do. Here are some thoughts on different POV options.

First Person

First person POV allows the reader to experience a story as close as possible. This POV puts the reader smack dab in the character’s head. Sometimes first person is set up like the character is talking directly to the reader, while others an “interview” setup is used. (For example, the main character is recounting the events of the novel to a reporter, or a cop, or some other person… in that end they are ostensibly speaking to that other character.

When a story demands the reader be up close and personal with the main character, first person is the way to go. Be wary of head hopping in first person. If the character narrating the story can’t see, hear, feel, or know something, it shouldn’t be described. For example, if a character is hiding in a dark closet while burglars ransack the house, all the description of what the burglars do should be conveyed by sound. Describe noises that suggest what they might be doing, or share the characters thoughts on what they think the burglars are doing. If the narrator describes the thieves picking through her dresser drawers or trying to work the dial on a combination safe, and she hasn’t opened the closet door to peek at them – it’s an error, as she can’t see them doing it without leaving the closet.

Writing in first person allows the reader to share every emotion, thought, and feeling of the main character while dosing everything liberally with the character’s opinions and attitude. Some stories demand this POV as without the ‘tone’ of the main character’s opinions, they’d come off completely different in feel. The below excerpt is from “The Far Side of Promise,” a short story that demanded I write it in first person.

Futility was something I had long gotten used to since arriving on Planetoid R1840M. Some nimrod in a fancy suit, impressive office, and ridiculously expensive chair decided to name it ‘Promise’―as in a ‘bright new future with Far Horizon Mining.’ The only thing a day here promised was another fourteen hours of ass busting work extracting Mithrinium ore from an obstinate lump of rock. The surface was mostly hard and brittle as glass, with some large swaths of softer dirt and the occasional patch like driving a seventy-ton collector into a lake of wet baby shit.

Yeah, this is paradise.

That’s what the M stood for, by the way. Mithrinium, the highly volatile metallic salt somehow vital to the process of faster than light travel. I’m no chemist; all I know is the crap is worth a fortune, and the last guy to light up a butt within twenty meters of the stuff is probably back to Earth by now―without a ship. Either way, my ass fell for their bullshit story of a better life. Sure, the money isn’t bad, but it’s all waiting Earthside. Not like there’s anything to spend it on out here in the ass end of nowhere, anyway.

In first person, changing the POV character and staying in first person can confuse the reader. For example, in a nonexistent novel, Chapter 1 is Jenny getting ready to go off on a date with Clark, and Chapter 2 is Clark being all nervous about the upcoming evening. If both chapters are written in first person, it can mess with the reader’s head. After chapter 1, they’re acclimated to thinking of “I” as Jenny and hearing things in her voice. When they hit chapter 2 and they hear “I pace around the house, unable to sit still,” it gets confusing as to who “I” is.

While it is possible to pull off rotating POVs with first person it’s a lot harder to keep the reader from getting lost. (One trick I’ve seen done is to have the main character use first person POV and for chapters where someone else is the POV character, use third limited. That way, if the reader is seeing “I do this” and so on, they know whose head they’re in.

Tension and Mystery: for first person, the reader should not be made aware of things the character isn’t. If they’re heading into a building where a bomb has been planted, the reader is going to be as shocked and surprised as the character when they find it. (Hopefully with enough time to run away, or the story’s going to be short.) Likewise, if the protagonist is investigating a murder, the reader is not going to know who the killer is until the end (and the character solves the mystery – or doesn’t).

Inner monologue: sometimes novels present a character’s inner thoughts as dialogue, letting the reader ‘hear’ the little voice in the character’s mind. This is set off by italics.

Wow, coming here was really stupid of me.

In first person, as the entire narrative is told from the POV of being inside the characters head, inner monologue is attributed to the protagonist by virtue of it being inner monologue. They are not going to hear the mind voice of another person (barring telepathy). There is no need to use dialogue attribution for inner monologue (tacking an “I thought” onto it) as by virtue of it being first person, inner monologue is known to be coming from the narrator character.

Pros

Brings the reader right into the character’s head.

High immersion.

Allows dialogue conventions into the narrator voice, as the entire story feels like the main character talking to the reader. Colloquialisms and dialect are usable outside dialogue, and grammar rules take a back seat to the ‘feel’ of the narrative.

Cons

The reader can’t be made aware of anything the character doesn’t experience or know.

A frequent tendency to overuse “I,” as in sentences: “I do this. I do that. I see this” and so on.

Everything is presented in the framework of the main character’s personality. If a reader doesn’t like the character’s tone, it can put them off the entire story.

Second Person

Second person is (thankfully) rare in fiction writing, as it can be quite awkward to read. In this POV, the narrative speaks to the reader. “You approach the end of the corridor. Rusty patches mottle the door in front of you where the grey paint has peeled away.”

Perhaps my eighties are showing, but this tense always makes me think of the “choose your own” adventure type novels. This POV is rare in fiction writing and tends to show up more in “self-help” books, how-to manuals, roleplaying game books, and writing of a similar nature.

Tension and mystery: With second person, the narrative is presenting information to the reader as the reader becomes aware of it, so, like first person, nothing the character/reader is unaware of gets presented. Tension originates from wondering what happens next.

Inner Monologue: Considering the protagonist of second person writing is the reader, there likely isn’t much need to even use inner monologue here.

Pros

If you can pull this off, you’ve joined a short list of novelists who can.

Cons

Awkward.

Prone to overusing ‘you’ in the way that first person can overuse ‘I.’

Third Person (Limited)

Limited third person is arguably my preferred POV as a writer. It combines the exclusivity of the POV character’s experience with a wider “camera angle” so to speak. While everything presented to the reader in limited third must remain within the grasp of the protagonist’s knowledge as in first, this POV does not read like the main character is telling their story.

It is a slight step back from first person, one I compare to standing next to the character as the story unfolds (rather than being the character), but still standing right in the scene with them. Here is an example of third limited from my upcoming vampire novel, Chiaroscuro: Forsaken of Heaven.

Devoted to his preparations, Father Antonio Molinari weathered the bumps and sways of a moving coach while attempting to decipher the rather rushed handwriting of Pope Pius IX. The task would’ve been daunting even in stationary surroundings and without the horrors of Vienna still fresh in his mind. Whenever he closed his eyes to sleep, he found himself surrounded by it again: the chill upon his back, the smell of death, and the sound of fear―a pounding heartbeat in his head. His work for the Order of Saint Michael brought him face to face with sights that defied the science of mankind to explain, and the soul to withstand.

When he could no longer tolerate staring at blurry smears masquerading as words, he wiped at his eyes and sighed. Crumbled bits of red and white wax flaked onto his black pants as he rearranged the pile of missives in his lap, a modest parcel of cloth in the facing seat his only traveling companion. Warm air streaming through the window carried the scent of meadow grass and pollen.

He grasped the red-padded wall when the wheels hit a rough patch. Two lanterns hanging outside the carriage swayed and thumped against the sides. His surroundings pitched and rocked, and the tall grass rushed by, dotted here and there by white sheep and goats. Two teenaged boys and a dog attempted to keep them grouped; the sheep seemed compliant, but the goats went wherever they pleased.

Once the road smoothed, he settled against the plush bench and spread open the letters. The topmost, he had already read four times. A man, Henri Baudin, claimed his daughter suffered the harrowing of Satan. His words were terse, earnest, and packed with desperation. The condition of the paper, worn and refolded, supported the story it had been passed through many hands.

Beneath it laid two replies from local clergy to an inquiry Father Molinari had sent in response to the man’s request. The first, penned by a Father Michaud, claimed the young woman seemed normal to him, and showed little sign of external influence. A deacon from an outlying chapel also wrote to say he believed the woman was only seeking attention. While no one claimed to have witnessed any arguments, the deacon believed she wished to delay or avoid an imminent wedding.

Somehow, the case had been elevated to a bishop who had seen fit to refer it to Molinari’s immediate superior, Cardinal Benedetto.

He’d barely set his bundle down in his room before the summons came.

“No rest for the wicked… or the righteous.” He rubbed fatigue from the bridge of his nose, offering a halfhearted smile at his belongings, as if the lump might answer.

With third limited, it’s possible to change POV among characters, but it should be done in an organized fashion. Ideally, the use of breaks or entire chapters to separate one character’s POV from another. Each section should have a specific character who “owns” the point of view, and the events and thoughts described therein limited to those of the POV character. When something slips in that shouldn’t, like a statement of intention or knowledge the POV character couldn’t possibly be aware of, that’s a “head hop.”

For example, in a chapter where William is the POV character, if he’s talking to a shady character named Carl, and something like this happens:

“Didn’t you tell us the mine would be opened in a week?” asked William.

Carl looked down, chuckling. He needed a few more hours to get the bodies out of there, and couldn’t let anyone – least of all the son of the owner – find them. “Maybe I did, but there’s been an issue with the struts in Shaft C. Inspector’s not lettin’ anyone down there yet. Go on home. I’ll call ya as soon as we get the go-ahead.”

Here, the narrative presents knowledge that is both Carl’s intention (to keep William from going into the mine under false pretenses) as well as knowledge William couldn’t have (there are dead bodies in the mine). In third limited, the above example is a “head hop.” Things should be limited to what William can see or know. However, in omniscient third, the above section would be fine.

Tension and mystery: In third limited, let’s say your protagonist is about to go into a building where the “forces of evil” have planted a bomb. Neither the character nor the reader knows the bomb is there until the character finds it. This creates a sensation of surprise and shock.

Another example of this could be a story about a detective and a killer. Neither the protagonist nor the reader has a clue who the killer is for sure, and every other character they interact with might potentially be the murderer. The reader finds out when the character finds out. Tension comes from not knowing and wondering who it is / trying to figure it out along with the protagonist.

It is possible to present more of a “thriller” than a mystery even in third limited, but it would require a POV shift to show the “bad guy’s” side of things. An alternate chapter where the reader sees out of the killer’s eyes, so the reader knows who the killer is but the protagonist still doesn’t, or the reader gets a POV out of the person planting the bomb before the protagonist shows up at the house.

Inner monologue: Like first person, in third limited, the inner monologue (indicated by italics) represents the current POV character’s mind voice. This inner monologue line appears like dialogue, but in italics, and it does not need dialogue attribution (tags or beats) as it is identified as belonging to the POV character by virtue of it being inner monologue.

For example: [ Coming here was a really stupid idea, he thought. ] is an error as inner monologue in third limited doesn’t need attribution. It’s already attributed to the POV character by virtue of being inner monologue.

Pros

Keeps the reader close to the action (though not quite as close as first person).

Useful for stories where multiple POV characters are used in a rotating basis. (Telling multiple stories that intertwine.)

It is a common POV readers are comfortable with.

Cons

Lends itself to filtering words. Saw, heard, felt, realized. Filtering (while not an error) lessens immersion and weakens the writing.

May tempt writers into head hopping when the narrative presents things the POV character couldn’t know or experience.

Third Person (Omniscient)

Omniscient third is another step back away from the character. If third limited equates to the reader standing in the scene near the character, omniscient is more like the reader is watching the story on a screen. They’ve been removed from the scene and are no longer limited to the thoughts and experiences of one character at a time.

Many beginning writers gravitate to omniscient narration for various reasons, presumably out of a desire to “show everything” to the reader. Paradoxically, omniscient is more difficult to write well than third limited. A lot of new writers mistake excessive head hopping for writing in omniscient third. There are times when writing done in third limited looks identical to writing done in third omniscient, the difference lies in the nature of the information presented to the reader. It’s a common mistake to set out to write in omniscient third, but produce what is essentially third limited with a ton of head hops. The primary difference lies in being objective versus subjective.

True omniscient third uses an objective perspective where the narrator has no emotional bias or perspective skew in favor of any of the characters. Third limited, by default, is subjective toward the POV character, tinting things with that characters opinions and bias. A poor implementation (where an attempt to write in omni produces head hoppy third person) creates a confusing tangle of rotating subjective perspectives.

The challenge when writing in omniscient (and why I will admit I am not a fan) is the distance it creates between the reader and the characters/action. With the extra layer of separation between characters and reader, creating that feeling of being immersed in the action becomes more difficult. When done well, it allows for complex multi-layered stories, but it’s easy to wind up with a book where the reader never quite gets past that feeling of “staring at words on a page” rather than being in the world.

I often grumble about filtering and how it lessens immersion. Omniscient narration is another type of removal from the action. In third limited, filtering makes the reader feel like they’re watching the story happen on a screen rather than being in there with the character. Omniscient narration also feels like the story is happening on the screen. Filtering inside omniscient narration is like having the television on in the other room and all the reader’s getting is the audio. (For more information on filtering check out: http://www.matthewcoxbooks.com/wordpress/2014/03/28/writing-on-filtering/ )

Tension and Mystery: with omniscient, the narration contains all sorts of information from a “top down” view that the character doesn’t know. Rather than take the reader along while the bomber plants the bomb, the narrative may simply use a device like “Bob walked into the house, unaware that Dave planted two pounds of C4 in the basement on a six minute timer.”

In omniscient writing, the tension comes from knowing things the protagonist doesn’t, and watching them careen toward the apparent disaster they’re blithely unaware of. Also, the narrative is free to add deeper and deeper bits of information that the character has no way to know. For example, the narrative might mention something that the previous owner of the house did fifty years ago before the protagonist was born, and a long-standing feud between them and some corporation. Another example: Consider a scene where characters miraculously survive, say, a train crash. The narrative may tell us that the empty lot their train car rolled through once contained a house destroyed in a tornado… and the only reason it remained an empty lot (and didn’t have another building there which would’ve killed the characters) was that the insurance company continued fighting the claim.

Inner monologue: in omniscient third, the reader is never “in anyone’s head” specifically, so inner monologue needs attribution like other dialogue, as it has no default POV.

Man, coming here was a damn stupid idea, thought Ronald.

Pros

Allows the author to show things to the reader that the protagonist does not know. Also allows showing things that no characters know.

Useful in stories where the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters need to be shown to the reader often within the same chapter, and scene breaks / POV shifts would be too numerous or clumsy otherwise.

Cons

May lend itself to long swaths of exposition that interrupt the flow of a scene as unnecessary details are presented.

Low immersion. The reader is not brought as close into the story as other POVs.

More difficult to pull off well than other POVs. Easy to mistake third limited with head hops for omniscient.

Tense

I once read something in third person present tense, and never quite managed to pierce that feeling that “I am reading a book” versus being part of the story. Third present sounded like I’d had the auditory captioning turned on for a TV show, a voice-over narrator describing what the character did. I suppose it didn’t help that the writer made consistent use of short, choppy sentences:

Bill sits at his desk. Bill turns on the computer. The screen lights up. Bill opens a program and starts typing. The phone rings. Bill picks up the phone.

Most of the book read like that, and it didn’t do much for me.

Other than that, the choice of past or present tense is a style decision. First person present (I walk to the window and look down at my parents unloading the car.) vs past (I walked to the window and looked down at my parents as they unloaded the car.) doesn’t have as much of an impact on the feel of the story as the decision between first or third person. The most important thing to do with tense is to ensure consistency. Be careful not to drift back and forth from one tense to another, especially if you are trying something new (present tense) that you aren’t used to writing in.

Tense can also be used for effect, such as a story wherein the “real time” events are narrated in present tense while frequent flashbacks are written in past tense. In this way, tense can provide a subtle clue to the reader to reinforce that the flashback parts are in the past.

Choose Wisely

When you’re planning out a story, take some time to consider what point of view will help the most. Is it important to keep the reader in the dark along with the character? (Choose first or third limited). Is it vital that the reader knows what everyone is thinking at all times? (Choose omniscient and put on a helmet). Are you writing a manual, guidebook, or doing something quirky? (Consider second but be wary).

Happy writing!

-Matt