How does perspective affect mood in a novel?

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The word perspective has several synonyms including perception, angle, outlook, and viewpoint. Granted, each of them carries a slightly different nuance, but how often do we consider the importance of that when deciding which point of view to use in our stories?

After we decide on the main characters, there is always the question about first, second or third person point of view, and the appropriate tense. Sometimes the decisions are made very offhandedly, as if it doesn’t really matter as long as we choose one and stick with it.

What I’ve been noticing, however, is how the mood of a novel seems to depend on the personality represented by the point of view. Not only does each character have a distinctive personality, but so also does every narrator, and it is reflected in how the story is told.

This idea suggests we should know our characters well before beginning to write – not something that comes easy for me. I tend to develop my characters as I write, knowing them intimately only when I finally reach the conclusion. That might explain why I sometimes end up switching point of view and tense during my revisions. If I did more detailed character studies before I began I wouldn’t have quite so many changes to make later. (I tell myself that constantly, but when a character begs to have his story told I can’t wait to dive in. Does that mean I’m undisciplined? Oh, please don’t tell me that! I have enough problems.)

One of the reasons my first novel has been permanently shelved is because the protagonist is unsympathetic. She’s always discouraged or depressed, and no matter how I rework the chapters, they’re still going to reflect her personality. I’m pretty sure I need to replace her with a stronger, more upbeat character or rewrite the entire story from a different point of view, not something I want to tackle… at least, not yet. I have another cheeky character taunting me with her story.

 What determines how you choose the POV and tense for your stories? How would it affect the tone of your writing if you switched perspective?

 

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Finding the Way

In the far corner of the back lawn a sagging cedar arch begins the short trail to our marsh. Everything changes when I step through the archway. The sky disappears behind a confusion of overhead branches. Shadows linger on trunks and stumps, while slices of sunlight punctuate a path of fir needles and moss.

Sometimes my husband clears the path of winter’s branches, dead twigs and the squirrels’ collection of tiny cones, but otherwise the land here is left untouched. I love this walk. It’s less than three hundred yards long, but it meanders, and without losing my way, I can get lost in peace-filled moments miles from the waiting world.

This is called a pond on the site map – it use to be a beaverpond – but at summer’s end wild grasses have all but obliterated any view of the water. I sit on a rustic bench, my back pressed against the rough bark of a massive cedar, and I listen to hidden mallards, and hopping sparrows. If I am quiet I may see a heron, but usually the dog’s enthusiasm causes it to go flapping across to sit high in a tree at the far end, out of range of my binoculars.

Some days this is the perfect place to contemplate snarls in my manuscripts, scene dead ends and similar frustrations. Other days it provides quietude.

On rare occasions I am eerily reminded of the bears I’ve seen moseying around the edges of the marsh, and I decide it’s time to make a beeline back up the trail into the relative safety of my back yard.

With the return to fall routines I’m mulling over the direction I should take with the current manuscript.  I seem to have lost my way. How are you doing with yours? Are you beginning anything new, or close to finishing something?

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On What Rock Do You Build?

Today’s mail brought a glossy brochure advertising the opening of a new CornerStone Church in our area. I like the name.

A cornerstone isn’t a complicated thing to understand. The dictionary defines it as a keystone, foundation, or basis – an important quality or feature on which a particular thing depends.

It makes me think of Matthew 7:24-27* where we are admonished to live securely grounded on the rock that can withstand storms rather than on sand that will wash away. It’s a smart policy whether we’re talking about our faith, our lives or our homes, and I think it can also be applied to our writing.

Writing by “the seat of our pants” is a sans-plotting method that many of us have used. It works, too, but I sometimes wonder why, because it’s a little like building a story on sand. There’s no firm foundation, nothing substantial set in place to anchor it or keep it from falling apart as we labour on, tossing our words at it.

I’ve mentioned my not-quite-pantsing, not-quite-plotting, somewhere-in-the-middle planning method before, in a guest post on Joylene Butler’s blog (you have to scroll down a few entries to the October 14th post if you want to check it out), and I’m not advocating any particular method here. I’m just wondering how other writers guarantee a strong storyline in their novels.

Does your writing have a cornerstone? How does it work for you?

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* “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
[Matthew 7:24-27, NIV]

I’m Not Here, I’m There

Today you’ll find me guest blogging at Joylene Butler’s blog. Joylene invited me to share with her readers my idea for a method of story design that is a compromise between plotting and “pantsing”. If you have a minute please pop over there and check it out.

(Joylene Nowell Butler is the author of the 2008 crime thriller, Dead Witness.)

Is it Outlining or Plotting?

Sometimes I get hung up on semantics. “Plotting versus pantsing” is a popular topic of discussion among writers.  Writing by the seat of my pants got me through my first two novels, and with a germ of an idea in mind it’s how I write most of my articles. During revisions of my second novel I had an idea for a third one and quickly wrote my way through its first chapter. Then I decided to give outlining a try.

It’s not working. Not only is it not working, it’s dampening my enthusiasm for the story.

Here’s where semantics come into play. My outline is attempting to touch on all the basic plot points that will take the story from beginning to end. So am I outlining or plotting? I don’t really know.

Whatever it’s called, I’ve drifted back to my earlier revisions and left the new idea to gather dust in the closet. That’s not a bad thing, of course. Novel #2 really needed a major overhaul so I’m glad to be able to focus on it without the distraction of #3. But there’s a still-earlier sort-of memoir that’s beckoning for attention now, too. I’m beginning to see signs of avoidance here and suspect it’s all because of this dratted outline-plotting thing.

Relating it to painting offers a slightly different perspective. With a scene in mind I begin by laying out a basic composition, but I don’t choose all the colours before I put brush to canvas. If I did, it would seem too much like a paint-by-number effort. I know the end result would lack the emotional element I desire and, knowing that, I would put the brush back down.

How would you define outlining versus plotting? In your writing have you found a balance between flying blind and working with a view in mind?

Where Does the Mind Go?

My brain does its “musings and mental meanderings” at the most unexpected times. Yesterday we were driving north from Vancouver en route to visit family in the Okanagan. Mesmerized by a monotonous landscape of brown rolling hills splashed with old snow my eyes slid into “unseeing” mode. I wasn’t asleep and yet somehow I passed through the town of Kamloops without even noticing. Good thing I wasn’t the one behind the wheel! I have to admit, though, there have been times when I’ve driven from point A to point B without being aware of the journey. It’s a scary phenomenon.

 

This time I was remembering a murderer who escaped into the hills near Merritt and was later found by a hunter and his dogs. My novel-plotting mind went off on a “what if” tangent that took me somewhere other than where the highway was leading.

 

Daydreaming is too bland a term for the disconnection. I wonder if there is a medical term to describe what happens when the brain no longer registers what the eyes are seeing. Talk about losing one’s mind!

Partying in the Bedroom

By 2:00 a.m. last night (technically, I guess it was this morning) I was ready to evict everyone. Some time prior to midnight characters from my novels had decided to gather at the foot of my bed and challenge my right to go to sleep.

 

Normally such nightly encounters are welcome. The twilight zone between yawning and oblivion is often my mind’s most productive time. As the day’s memories slip away they are replaced with solutions to story telling dilemmas that eluded me during an earlier writing session. Conversations with my characters are not unusual. It is in those not-quite-asleep-yet moments that just the right words jump into my unfettered brain.

 

What was distressing about last night’s group was that they weren’t the characters from only my current w.i.p. (work in progress), but also from the previous book. Granted, some of them appear in both, but their stories are not connected and last night’s dialogues won’t fit into either plot. It was a useless waste of my mental energy. I would rather have been sleeping, but the unruly guests wouldn’t go home.

 

We were out for dinner during the evening. Maybe I drank too much coffee?