Month: October 2014
One of the things that hit me when I first went back to school for my M.F.A. was the true lack of knowledge I had about point-of-view when writing a story. I remember well our first professor, Michael Lennon, the very talented author who wrote Norman Mailer’s biography. We were standing in the cafeteria, me, nervously mingling with the other new students, he, engaging in conversation with another professor.
All of a sudden he turned to me and said, “Do you know what point-of-view in story is?” His white bushy eyebrows were furrowed into a question mark. I, in my usual deer-in-the-headlights fashion, stood open-mouthed, my gaping hole filled with a half-eaten slice of pizza, and blurted, “Huh?” He whirled back the other professor and said, “See? They, (meaning me,) don’t even know the basics.” The disgust in his voice washed over me like a crested wave. I shuffled away, head down, a long piece of mozzarella still clinging to the side of my mouth.
Fast forward to now. My third work has been recently published. During these past few years, I’ve had to dissect point-of-view and structure to the point of ad-nauseum. But you know what? Professor Lennon was right. I didn’t know squat. I’d start writing a story with one point-of-view and then change the point-of-view without even realizing it.
Here’s an example.
Emily’s watched her mother move to the kitchen window. Maureen hated days like this, days when gray covered the sky like an unopened umbrella.
The story starts out with Emily’s point-of-view, but snaps into Maureen’s point-of-view. How do you know that? As the point-of-view character, Emily cannot know that Maureen hated the day unless her mother had used dialog telling her such. Everything thought must come from Emily’s point-of-view for the reader to understand the story. When the author changes point-of-view, they must use distinct triggers, so that the reader will understand the point-of-view has changed. The better use of the second sentence to keep it in Emily’s point-of-view should have been:
Emily’s watched her mother move to the kitchen window. She knew her mother hated days like this, days when gray covered the sky like an unopened umbrella.
See, even being blonde, I finally got it!
Okay, I’ll admit I’m not knowledgeable about the process editors and agents go through in choosing what books they decide are winners and losers. But a slightly seasoned writer should understand that we don’t have the expertise to know what we don’t know! So….with that, I’ve been scouting several blogs to gain insight into editors and agents. One in particular I really enjoy is Janet Reid’s “Literary Shark” at http://queryshark.blogspot.com. She is shameless in her honesty, but a hoot! For writer’s like me, who are willing to take a good kick in the pants if my writing isn’t up to par, sending a query letter to Janet Reid and getting a reply is like hitting a gold mind. If she like’s your work, she likes it. If not, you are relegated to the “slush pile” quicker than a muscle twitch. So what has this to do with anything? Well, I’m working on a pitch that I hope to throw in front of her sometime soon. If I can keep her from puking….I win! If I can’t, then I get a good critique that I hope to turn into a teachable moment….I win again! The point is, learn from what the pros tell you. They know good work when they see it. They also know what won’t sell. Get a thick skin now, so you won’t be disappointed later. Don’t take critiques personally. The thoughts of a polished professional will make your writing better one way or the other!
Sometimes as writers, we expect that everyone will like everything we write. We have such a strong desire to be published that we are angered when the plain white post card with a stamped, “We can’t use your work at this time. Thank you.” drops into our mailbox, (email or post), and announces that yes, you are a crappy writer and this rejection note proves it.
Then we might pout, or call a fellow writer to try and suck some sympathy from them. We just know that there is a cad on the other end of that rejection letter, some jerk who probably didn’t even read the wonderful piece of prose we wrote!
But what I’ve found, already, in my short career is that as a writer, we must listen, absord and understand what the rejection letter really means. It’s not a personal attack. It is a rejection of the work. Maybe it was not aptly suited for the place to which it was sent. Maybe it was not written in a format that best displays the work. Maybe it’s been done. Maybe the poor publisher is so overwhelmed that they just can’t read one more work!
I had such was a rejection just a couple of weeks ago. At first, my disappointment was palpable. I say that, because I was alone and I swear I could feel the blood thumping through my veins as I read it. I was hurt, as a rejection of any writer’s work cuts to the bone, (even though we won’t admit it). Then I read the rejection again. I was the lucky writer who had an editor tell me what they didn’t like about my story. They gave me helpful insights of what was expected for their publication. They were brutally honest! But they gave me something more. They gave me a second chance to write it!
Guess what? I did. I rewote the article. I received a reply that it was accepted! So, I guess the moral to this story is, save all the rejection postcards as you’ll need them to remind you that as a writer, you will be disappointed. Not everyone will like everything you write, but write anyway, or maybe it’s better said, rewrite anyway!