by Julie Glover
“I need to write!” How often do I say that to myself? How often do you say that to yourself?
It can be a challenge to find the time, space, and motivation to write. Let’s tackle each of those and address getting what we need to write regularly.
Your Writing Space
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” – Virginia Woolf
I had that quote pinned up in my old office, right up until my husband moved his own desk in there, followed by my then-children taking up a third desk. Even then, I had the space to myself while they worked and went to school, though it was everyone’s hangout evenings, weekends, and holidays. Then my kids grew up and moved out, but my husband remained…and retired. So much for having weekdays to myself.
Fast forward a couple of years, and we moved. At first, my hubby had planned to share an office with me again, but through a series of events, the second bedroom has ended up being that “room of her own.” And I’m already getting more done. Not because my family had tried to make my life less productive—they were actually pretty good about letting me work. But having a quiet, dedicated space to myself is what I need to write regularly and productively.
Other authors need people around or background noise, perhaps writing in coffee shops or with the quiet murmurs of their local library. Some write reclined on sofas, and others need ergonomic desk furniture. Some want to be outside or with sunlight streaming through windows, and others want no windows so that they can block out the world.
Considerations for Your Writing Space
Whatever you need is fine, but I wish I’d known a few things about a writing space years ago:
- Test out variations and measure work productivity. Some places where I’ve written were delightful experiences, but I didn’t get much done. Other options, I thought I wouldn’t do well with, until I tried them.
- Spend some time and money creating the space you need. Invest in the right seating or monitor stand, or go ahead and pick up a recliner to add to your office if that’s where you brainstorm best. Just put some effort into creating a space conducive to writing.
- Tell those in your circle what helps you write. If you need quiet, ask for quiet times. If you need every inch of your desk smudged before you begin, warn them that the scent of sage is coming. Whatever it is, just ask for others’ respect and help as you put together a productive space.
- Be flexible, because it won’t be perfect. Like me, you may have challenges with space and people around you. Just do your best and learn to write within that space. Adjust what you can, but then embrace the rest.
Your Writing Time
If you want to be a writer—stop talking about it and sit down and write! – Jackie Collins
Easier said than done, Jackie. I typed “finding time to write” into the Google search engine and got back approximately 1,090,000,000 results. That’s over one billion hits! So obviously, finding writing time is a struggle for lots of folks.
For one thing, most authors don’t make a living solely writing books, so they often have work of another kind to complete. Then there are the daily tasks one must take care of, with oneself and significant others, children, etc. On top of that, there’s Life, which can throw fastballs, curveballs, and spitballs at you from time to time.
Not surprisingly, the number one slice of advice I hear about this topic is: Protect Your Writing Time.
But what does that look like? Well, like writing space, it looks different for different writers. Some can write on their phone standing in line at the grocery store while others need large blocks of time set aside to get deep into a scene. How big a fortress you need to protect your writing time is up to you and your personality.
WITS Wisdom on Writing Time
Here on WITS, though, there’s plenty of wisdom about finding time to write. Just a few of those posts are:
- 3 Steps to Make Time to Write by Kris Maze
- Tackling a Writer’s Greatest Challenge—Time Management by Heather Webb
- Time Management Secret: "YES Makes Less" by Jenny Hansen
- How to Use Your Time Personality to Increase Writing Productivity by Colleen Story
- 10 Ways to Keep Your Writing Time & Minimize Interruptions by Kris Maze
- Time Management for Writers Who Hate Time Management by Julie Glover (me!)
Your Writing Motivation
What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. – Samuel Johnson
Everyone who has an idea for a book does not write a book. Everyone who starts a book does not finish a book. Everyone who finishes a book does not edit that book to publication quality.
In summary, it’s hard to write a good book. You have to get motivated and stay motivated.
Personally, I’m great about starting. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and writing an opening scene delights me to no end. But a writing career is not made of good starts. I have to find ways to keep myself going on the book I’m on, even when I want to say, “Ugh, forget this project. I want to play with that other new, shiny idea!”
Once again, we vary in what motivates us to write. To begin with, some love writing for the process, and others better appreciate the finished product.
Extra Motivation Tips
But here are a few ideas of what might help you find and maintain your motivation to write:
- Inspiration from other authors. Writing quotes, like the ones I used here, can inspire you when you begin to flounder, as well as hearing others’ stories of success or struggle. Jenny Hansen has a wonderful series of Top 10 Success Tips from various inspiring creatives, and WITS has a whole category titled Inspiration with lots of posts to peruse and find what you need.
- Goals and Rewards. My critique partner uses spreadsheets to stay on track, while others use whiteboards, detailed planners, or lists to keep themselves motivated. They feel a sense of satisfaction checking off a task, and they may even have a system of personal rewards for doing so. If that’s your thang, go for it.
- Personal Refreshment. I’m a big fan of taking breaks and doing self-care to keep your mind sharp and your heart engaged. Plenty of writers are more motivated to write after taking a brisk walk, a long hot shower, or a dip in the pool. Make sure to fill your own personal well so that you can pour the words out later.
- Positive Self-Talk. Often, what we need to get past the bumps and humps of writing is to remind ourselves: “I can write this book. I want to write this book. I will write this book!” That often involves telling your inner critic to shut up and your inner cheerleader to speak up. For me, taking time to remind myself how much I love my story and characters gives me fresh motivation to go back and spend time with them.
I originally titled this post What Do You Need to Write? But after a bit of mulling, I added the word “Regularly.” Because that’s what will get books written, edited, and published.
You need space, time, and motivation to write consistently. What each of those entails for you depends on you. But I firmly believe that we won’t get the space, time, and motivation we need unless we consider each intentionally and pursue what helps us produce our best work.
What do you currently lack to be able to write regularly? Do you have any plans to achieve that goal?
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Julie Glover is an award-winning author of mysteries and young adult fiction. She also writes supernatural suspense under the pen name Jules Lynn.
Her most recent release is My Team's Fairy Godmother, the fourth of five YA paranormal short stories.
When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Photo credit: StartupStockPhotos and kaboompics from Pixabay
by Kathleen Baldwin
How well do you know your readers? If you’re not published, how well do you know your potential readers?
It always surprises me when I ask that question and get blank stares from the writers in my classes. This is a vitally important question. You may think you are writing for whoever will read your books, or readers who like such and such genre—but it is more than that. So much more!
Some writers boldly protest that they are not writing for anyone else—only to please themselves. Cool. If you don’t mind having an audience of one, that’s the way to go. Most of us hope for more than that after having invested six months of our lives writing the book. Not only that, but many of us need to make a living doing this writing thing. Hence, sales are kind of important.
I’m going to lay some equations on you. I love applying math to esoteric concepts. So, hang on to your calculators. Here goes…
Knowing Your Readers = Increased Sales
Knowing + Marketing to Your Readers = 10 x Increased Sales
And here’s a shocker. No, not really. Here’s a reality that authors and writers try to pretend is not true.
Readers are changing. Yep. That’s right, we’re not writing novels for your grandmama’s reader, assuming the dear lady was also an author. (She was in my case. Even my great-grandmother was a writer. Which is why I swore I was going to be a doctor. Look where that landed me. Ha! Right back on the ole writing homestead.)
Big news! Even the grandmas of the world have changed. Readers are motile evolving entities. And wow! They have made some massive changes in the last decade. So even if you think you know who your readers are—they may have changed!
Until 2019 readership was declining, especially among younger readers. From 2005 to 2019, America saw a 26% decrease in reading. Eeeeek! That upsetting data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fear not, my pen-worthy pals. I have great news—during Covid, reading increased 21% and the big demographic to improve was 15 - 44-year-olds. Hooray! (That cheery nugget is from Publisher’s Weekly) I could fling more stats at you, but I’m not going to because readership levels aren’t the important thing here. Finding YOUR readers, despite whatever changes come our way, is the key to writerly contentment.
There are a whopping 1.769 BILLION readers out there in the huge world-wide market. I’m willing to bet the farm that they aren’t all reading your books. I know they all aren’t reading mine. Yet, I’m still very happy with my cherished and devoted readers. It is unreasonable to expect that you will sell to every reader. So, I’ll rephrase my axiom: Finding YOUR readers is the path to contentment and success as a writer.
Let us indulge in more math…
Mystery/Suspense/Thriller readers constitute one of the bigger fiction genres. How many of those readers are there? An estimated 583.7 million. Whoa! Nice.
Let’s dig in. How many of those readers like cozy mystery? About 190 million. And of that subcategory, how many like books with clever cats padding through the crime scene? Close to 30 million. If you sold 30 million books, I think you’d be pretty happy, right? Now speculate on how many of those readers crave recipes served up with their mystery?
I am not saying you should write recipes, or cats, or anything in any of these categories.
I AM saying that if you write cozy mysteries with animals, you ought to find out if your readers love dogs in their novels or cats. Unless you only want to write about cats. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
There are ways to find out…
First, though, do you enjoy writing about metaphorical cats, or do you prefer allegorical dogs? Maybe you prefer penning cleverly cooked up crime.
Here’s the thing, whether you like writing about robots fighting zombie invasions on Mars or empathic witches flying rocket ships back in time to the Victorian era, the key is making a marriage between you and your readers.
Marry what you love to write with readers who love to read what you write.
Except it isn’t simple. Not simple at all. Authors face the same problem anyone does when trying to find a mate. How and where do you run into each other? Bookstores, Book fairs, online dating? Blind dates. How?
How can you get to know your reader?
Apart from judiciously asking questions of fans who email you (while being careful to respect their privacy), one of the easiest ways to evaluate your readership is on Goodreads. I know, I know, lots of authors shy away from Goodreads because the reviewers there are brutal. Except don't look at Goodreads like a popularity contest. Ergh! No, think of it as a free marketing tool. Huzzah! We love free stuff.
Goodreads is the perfect place to study the readers who follow you and have read your books. There are several methods for doing this.
Examine the followers on your author page. I’ll show you how to find them using my author page as an example. Your followers’ list is available here:
Click on one of your books and study the positive reviews. Investigate what the readers who love your stories are saying. Note any repeated terms. Find a common thread. You can learn what type of stories these same readers love by looking at the other books that those same readers have liked and reviewed. Watch for repeated books among your reviewers—you're searching for commonality.
If you are not yet published, study readers of books that closely resemble what you write. Assess their readers’ likes and dislikes by their reviews. Are there prevalent favored themes? Heavily admired character types? What other similarities can you find? Be sure to look at a large enough sample of readers so your data will be a reliable interest gauge. 25 to 50 readers should give you a fairly reliable idea of preferences.
If you find true commonality with some of these other authors, you will want to cross-pollinate with them. Perhaps you know this author and can ask her for a blurb, or offer to do a newsletter swap when your book comes out. Recommend her books on Goodreads and Bookbub, or post/blog about her books, and you may attract like-minded readers.
Another great way to learn what makes your reader tick is to examine your Amazon reviews. Here again, focus on positive reviewers, hunt for what YOUR readers like. Search for repeated terms. As mentioned previously, if you’re not yet published, study reviews of authors whose work is similar to yours. Study what those readers say they love, and you might want to look at what they dislike as well.
PLEASE NOTE: I caution you against looking at your book's negative reviews because most authors cannot handle the level of meanness and pettiness some readers dish out on Goodreads and Amazon. It can easily discourage you. Sometimes it can take hours, days, weeks, or even months to get over a particularly foul review. You need to develop a thick skin in this business, but at the same time, don’t walk in front of the firing squad and expect you won't get wounded.
You have to deal with enough unavoidable criticism without allowing yourself get punched by what I call the 3% bitter petty meanies.
Check it out; look up one of your favorite books. There will be 2-3% haters on almost every book. Even Harry Potter has 2% 1 Star reviews and 1% 2 stars = 3% haters. The popular Bridgerton series hit #3 on the Amazon bestseller lists during its recent streaming video fame, yet it had 2% 1 star and 2% 2 Stars ratings = 4% haters. Tom Sawyer has 5% haters, depending upon which version.
Go ahead, check your favorite book’s ratings. (Not your own) You'll see what I mean.
BookBub is another excellent place to learn about your readers. BookBub offers reviewers the option to select predetermined story aspects that have made them happy. For instance, I noted that while most of my reviewers were pleased with the romance, there were numerous terms relating to funniness, such as the ones I underlined below. Witty. Laughed-out-loud. There were so many humor-related comments that I loosened up when writing the next book in that series and allowed my humorous side free reign. Before this discovery, I’d tried to keep my cheekiness in check. I’d held back.
Here’s how knowing your reader plays out in concrete terms.
I will use my own small experiment as an example
- I discovered that my readers enjoy reading something that I very much enjoy writing.
- Consequently, I relaxed and did more of that in the next book.
- When it came time to market that book, I made a point of mentioning that content in promotional materials.
- I followed through with the promise to make them laugh and cry. And enjoyed every minute of writing it.
- The book launched and hit #1 and #2 in its categories and stayed high for several weeks. It wore a bestseller and hot new seller ribbon for the first month.
- Readership grew, and my newsletter gained many new followers.
Other ways you can learn about your reader:
- Survey your newsletter subscribers.
- Pay attention to your fan mail. Respond when fans write to you and ask questions.
- Examine your Instagram and Facebook page demographics.
- Interact with fans at events and online—ask questions about what they like and don’t like.
The upshot is this: IT PAYS TO KNOW YOUR READER. (Did I repeat that enough times?
Stay true to the promise of your brand. Knowing what your readers want allows you to make minor adjustments toward trends as long they are changes that are true to you as a writer and that you genuinely enjoy writing. Do that, and YOUR readers will gobble up your work.
I hope what you’ve garnered from this article is not to write what you think some unknown reader out there wants, but instead to find out what YOUR readers love that you already do and do more of that. This is a super positive thing. It means: be more you!
What is it your readers love about what you write? Do you keep them on the edge of their seat, biting their nails down to a nubbin? Do you challenge their thinking with philosophical metaphors? Are your characters so magical we can’t wait to see what they do next? Tell me. I want to know.
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Kathleen Baldwin is an award-winning author with more than 600,000 copies of her books in the hands of readers around the globe. Her books have been translated into several languages, and a Japanese publisher even made Lady Fiasco into a manga. Stranje House, her alternate history series for teens was licensed by Scholastic for school book fairs and optioned for film by Ian Bryce, producer of Spiderman, Transformers, Saving Private Ryan, and other blockbuster films.
Kathleen will be discussing more about finding your reader in her upcoming is workshop, The Future of Storytelling, at Margie Lawson Writer’s Academy
by Lisa Norman
The most-read New York Times article in 2021 was, "There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing."
According to the article, languishing is the state between depression and flourishing. While more people have been struggling with languishing since the pandemic, I've watched authors struggle with it for years.
I help authors set up social media platforms, websites, and indie-publish their books. In almost every case, there's a stage in the project where everything seems to stagnate. All the passion of a new project, all the creativity, fades into crickets.
Some authors seem to have more resilience than others, but there's a stage where they all ask me, "Are you sure this will work?"
I am, but only if the author can escape the pull of languishing.
A case study
One of my clients was building his web presence. I'd given him a lot of homework, since he'd said that he wanted to make a living off this website. He had four visits one month and then eight visits the next month.
We were working with a marketing director. She was excited: 100% growth! She'd been through this wringer enough to know that consistency would win, if only we could keep him motivated.
The client kept at his homework, and the next month saw 30 visits. It wasn't a straight line, and we had many discussions about whether this would really work. Currently, he's averaging around 20,000 visits each month. He now has the success and the volume where trying new things can move that needle dramatically.
Before he could succeed, he had to conquer that soul-sucking time when everything seemed to languish. He had to work hard, even when it looked like nothing was working.
I'm often sad when I hand an author their book for the first time, or turn over the keys to a shiny new website. I try to give them a pep talk, but I know the odds are that the initial statistics won't be what they hope for.
I sound like a cheerleader, but mostly I'm begging them not to give up. Not to quit. Not to stop caring.
Because many of them do.
Worse, they get sucked in by every hot new trend, chasing any promise of success, while ignoring the down-and-dirty hard work that is the core of marketing and writing. Eventually, some of them will decide that nothing works and just give up.
When authors are motivated and engaged, I love watching them move through those early phases and into success. Watching them spiral through languishing and into depression is heartbreaking.
How to move from languishing to flourishing
The NYT article recommends getting immersed in a project or other entertainment as a way to move forward. Ironically, the stories we create will help others escape from languishing by leading them to become emotionally invested in our characters, helping them to care about something, anything, in order to escape the doldrums.
But what happens when you are a creative individual who is stuck languishing in the time of COVID?
The goal here is to find things that delight you, things that will pull you further towards a sense of connection and creativity.
Find things that give you joy, and then bring those things into your life at least once a week, more often if you find your muse is refusing to cooperate.
Whatever the creative endeavor is that you are trying to build (website, social media, your latest WIP), try to bring that sense of joy and caring into your project with you. There is a well-known marketing principle: people are attracted to those who are having fun. This is why telemarketers and tech support folks are trained to have a mirror nearby and to smile while on the phone. The customer won't see the smile, but they'll hear it and feel it, and it will make a difference.
The following are suggestions. Take what connects with you; ignore anything that doesn't bring you delight.
Read motivational books, or fun books from your favorite authors. Get caught up in the story.
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, is one of my favorites for fighting that sense of not being fully connected with the world. She recommends taking yourself on Artist Dates — dates with your inner creative spirit.
Even in these crazy times, you can explore the world. You don't even need to leave home!
- HeyGo — travel the world without leaving home - this is fantastic because it also includes opportunities to interact with your guide and other tourists!
- VR Adventures — if you have an Oculus or other Virtual Reality headset, consider going on an adventure.
If you can get to a craft store, spending time looking through beads, yarns, or colored pens can be a gift to your muse.
But what if you can't get to a store?
A friend and I went to a Zoom yarn fair where a handmade-yarn artist exhibited her yarns. She interacted with the visitors and told the stories behind each color. It was the most fun I'd ever had yarn shopping.
- Search for "virtual yarn tours."
- Visit Craftsy.com to take a class.
- Watch YouTube videos that feature your favorite hobby.
An artist friend of mine spends hours poring over paint catalogs, picking paint, paper, and other supplies. Each delivery to her doorstep delights her. She'll spend days playing with her new toys, and I can hear the depression leave her voice.
- Go for a walk. Yes, outside. Just look at something different.
- Check out AuthorFitness.com for ideas.
Whether or not related to your story, play can reinvigorate a languishing muse.
- video games
- board games with the family
- even solitaire!
As a bonus, if you play online video games, you're likely to eventually be drawn into things like Discord and Twitch, platforms for meeting other gamers and getting to know them. Social media engagement while playing!
Engage your Senses
You have five senses, plus extras, depending on your approach to life. Stimulate each sense:
- Eat something yummy
- Smell flowers or the sap of a pine tree
- Listen to your favorite music, something classical, or something new
- Look at beautiful things
- Touch things with unusual textures — handmade sweaters, smooth statues, rocks and sand from a beach
Restore your writing passion
These escapes can feel like procrastination, and yes, some authors use them that way. But if you are aware of your mental state and you find yourself languishing, these prescriptions can be just the thing to help you re-engage. Here's how:
On a walk, you may see something that gives you an idea for a plot twist.
Eating, you may discover a recipe or a flavor that you can bring into a story or a blog post.
Music can create a powerful mood that helps you with a story. Bonus points if you create a soundtrack for your story and share it on social media or in your newsletter.
Exploring the world, you may find ideas for new stories or new blog posts.
Share your adventures on social media. Help your fans engage. My daughter frequently meets up with friends in VR chat and they explore imaginary worlds. Imagine offering that level of engagement to your fans!
When you are languishing in your writing career, the ideal escape will be into your writing, into your characters, into the virtual world that you are creating inside your head. The passion and vitality that you connect with as you work to bring yourself out of the slump will fuel your writing business while helping maintain your mental health.
As an advantage, the creations that you bring into existence may help rescue the non-creatives in our world from their own experience of languishing.
Are you languishing or flourishing in your writing life right now? What are some ways that you avoid languishing? We'd love to hear your story down in the comments!
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Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.
Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.
Interested in learning more from Lisa? See her teaching schedule below.
- January: Crazy Easy Awesome-Author Websites (a basic, hands-on website building class for authors)
- March: Crazy Easy Social Media for Authors
by Lori Brown
Hypothesis: an idea or theory that is not proven but that leads to further study or discussionmerriam-webster.com
My tenuous relationship with Deep POV went like this:
Q: What's Deep POV?
A: I can't tell you, but I know it when I see it.
This worked well enough—until it didn't. So I got busy trying to get to the bottom of it. Nail it down. Carve it in stone. Cement it immovably amid the legendary constancy of the English language.
I'll wait till you stop laughing.
You can sort of follow the progress of this endeavor by the history of the titles I tried out:
- A brief definition of Deep POV
- Deep POV: Cracking the Code
- Deep POV: Cracking the Code. Maybe
- Deep POV: Legend, or Myth? [wait, those are the same thing...]
- Deep POV: Is it really a thing?
as well as some of the discarded verbiage I left behind along the way (see strikeouts).
Deep POV is all about
eliminating reducing managing distance between the reader and the story, and immersing the reader in the story. I knew intuitively how to use Deep POV (see "I know it when I see it," above), but when one of my editing clients needed me to explain it, I realized I didn't have a clear enough understanding of it to define it universally, without resorting to customized examples every time. I wanted something that would travel well from one manuscript to another. Something I wouldn't have to re-create for each author or student I worked with.
What I found—and didn't find
The struggle is real: nearly every website I visited had a slightly—or sometimes not so slightly—different definition, and Deep POV has yet to be covered by the likes of The Chicago Manual of Style or merriam-webster.com.
So you can see my dilemma. Someone had to do it. (Oh, the chutzpah.) (In my defense, I had significant prodding from a writer and publisher whose idea this column was in the first place.)
So, clothed in nothing but sheer, naked hubris, I tackled this slippery eel of a question: What exactly is Deep POV?
This is a work in progress. It speaks to a specific situation—and maybe to others. But I began where my client needed help—sussing out what constitutes Deep POV and how it relates to third-person limited POV, with a specific focus on internal dialogue.
After reading a lot of online definitions of Deep POV, I came to a realization: I was looking at it wrong. I was thinking of Deep POV in terms of internal dialogue alone.
Math and logic have a baby and name it Literature
The fog began to clear a little after that. Let the record show, hand to God, that I got there using math. (Don't run away yet.)
I took what I was thinking and turned it into an equation. (And you thought that if you became a writer, you'd never need to use algebra again.) Here was my first hypothesis:
- third-person limited POV + Deep POV = Deep POV
- third-person limited POV + Deep POV – Deep POV = Deep POV – Deep POV
(Stay with me; we're just keeping both sides of the equation balanced.)
- ∴ third-person limited POV = 0
Highly illogical. Thank you, Dr. Spock. My hypothesis was disproven.
So I tried this hypothesis instead:
- third-person limited + inner dialogue = Deeper POV
And the lights came on. I'd been crediting a literary device (internal dialogue) as the sole alchemy that magically turned one point of view into the gold of another, and mentally equating the two—internal dialogue and Deep POV—as essentially one thing. But it was adding the literary device of internal dialogue to an existing point of view that took the reader deeper into experiencing the story.
So, I had gotten this far in organizing my thoughts, most of which are obvious, but bear with me; I was fighting my way out of the deep underbrush here. I needed visuals.
- Third-person limited* is a Point of View (POV).
- Internal dialogue** is a literary device.
- Using both in a story creates a deeper variant of third-person limited POV.
What I was actually looking at was the convergence of one point of view with a literary device that made it deeper, thicker, like cornstarch thickens broth and turns it into gravy.
So far, so good. BUT, for those of you holding your breath or yelling at your computer that I'm just wrong, wrong, WRONG, and I wouldn't blame you at this juncture, here it is:
My hypothesis was much too limited. I needed a new hypothesis—and a fresh perspective.
What if …
What if, instead of a specific destination you arrive at, a coordinate on a map you can GPS your way to, something you can plot on a graph, Deep POV is something fluid? Something that can move at will, penetrating its environment like a mist? And what if this mist drifts in and out of that environment, morphing through infinite degrees of intensity, from a thin veil to a heavy fog?
This is the new conclusion I came to: Deep POV is an enigma. Fluid and changeable, as hard to grasp as a fistful of fog, and just as hard to measure accurately…but you know it when you see it.
There are many varying degrees of Deep POV.
And you, the author, get to manage them.
Viewpoints and tenses and devices, oh my
I had been looking at only a narrow segment of Deep POV, one that utilizes internal dialogue, taking readers inside your characters' minds to live, as closely as possible, their experience. And it's a powerful device, the rules of which are better left for another day.
But it's not the only POV or literary device that can bring the reader closer, deeper into the story. Look at this short (and not exhaustive) list of things that can also do that:
- First person can bring the reader into a story and add or remove distance, depending on what the story needs at any given point.
- Present tense can establish an immediacy that brings the reader deeper into the character's experience.
- The narrator in third-person limited POV brings a level of closeness as the narrator paraphrases a character's thoughts.
- Visceral responses, subtext of varying kinds, body language can all enhance closeness for the reader.
All these things and more create an ambience, a mood, an attitude. I am no longer even sure that Deep POV is best described as a POV.
I am increasingly convinced that Deep POV is more a state of mind. Multiple devices can bring readers closer to what a character is thinking, feeling, experiencing, and thus bring the reader deeper into the story—at a level that you, the author, can manipulate with increasing skill as you use it. You can bring the reader only as far into the story as you want them to be, at any point in your story, as it serves your purpose.
Lewis and Clark did not find a rock-solid definition of Deep POV, and neither did I
We humans love our certainties. They give us absolutes we can cling to, boundaries that are well-defined, the perceived comfort of a solid foundation to stand on and know that it won't change or give way. They feel safe. But life so often isn't like that. The world—and our writing—opens up when we embrace mystery. While some rules—okay, lots of rules (I'm looking at you, Chicago Manual of Style)—are necessary to make writing readable and comprehensible, some things are open to broad interpretation. And we should be delighted to have that freedom, to develop and use our intuition and imagination, and to discover new ways of managing closeness in our work.
You will find that some things you try won't work. Others will delight you. And yes, there are guidelines for making Deep POV work correctly—but not enough room in this column to go there. The more you work with it, the sharper that skill will become. And your writing will be the better for it.
My final hypothesis?
When we embrace the mystery that is Deep POV, exploring its depths and testing its limits, we expand our horizons, deepen our writing's dimensions, and create for our readers an adventure worth getting lost in.
You can test this hypothesis every time you write.
The proof is up to you.
How have you incorporated/managed closeness in your writing? Please share in the comments below.
*third-person limited POV: a.k.a. close third POV
**internal dialogue: a.k.a. inner monologue, inner dialogue, inner thought, inner voice, internal discourse, unspoken discourse, internal monologue, and maybe more. Small wonder grammar sends people screaming out into the night.
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Lori has been a professional editor for over twenty years. She firmly believes that good writing can—and does—change the world, and that good editing and good writing are inseparable. She is a fierce defender of the Oxford comma and is adamant about preserving an author's voice and intent.
Lori's work and life run on intuition (and CMOS) and the conviction that artists are our most influential prophets. She conducts editing workshops for Lawson Writers Academy and is the owner and CEO of Grammarwitch LLC, where she edits books and offers book coaching.
Connect with Lori on her website: Grammarwitchllc.com
by Joseph Lallo, @jrlallo
There are few more liberating genres than science fiction. Unfettered by petty limitations like technology or the laws of physics, a sci-fi setting can be crafted to suit the whims of the storyteller and the needs of the story. But anyone who has consumed more than a few pieces of sci-fi literature can tell you that the limitless potential of a sci-fi setting can quickly spiral out of control if care isn’t taken to craft it with depth and consistency.
Let’s go through a quick crash course on how to build a sturdy foundation for your sci-fi story.
Hard Sci-fi vs Soft Sci-fi
A good place to start when crafting your setting is the simple question of how hard or soft you want your sci-fi to be.
For the uninitiated, Hard Sci-Fi refers to science fiction with firm roots in reality as we understand it now. There’s still plenty of fiction in a setting like this, but the science is as near to fact as the author can manage. The Martian, for example, is a rock-hard sci-fi story. Everything from the launch date of a Mars mission to the nitty-gritty of orbital mechanics is mapped out with mathematical detail to find the intersection of the realities of science and the requirements of drama.
Hard Sci-Fi comes with a lot of benefits.
First and foremost, the more realistic underpinnings of the setting will make for a world far more familiar to the readers. The technology is likely to look and feel like something that exists in the real world. Even when the technology is futuristic, the reader will generally be able to feel the evolutionary connection to things they work and play with every day. It also takes some of the world-building pressure off the author’s shoulders, as a big hunk of your story bible can be found in science textbooks.
However, if its concrete basis in fact is the greatest strength of hard sci-fi, it is also its greatest weakness. Hard sci-fi is a version of science fiction that you can get wrong. And because hard sci-fi fans tend to be science buffs, chances are very good you’ll hear about it if you forgot to carry a one on that power to mass calculation. This means you’ll be doing loads of homework to get things to align correctly, and bending reality to suit your narrative can become a bit of a puzzle, teasing the laws of physics into just the right configuration to get your characters where they need to go.
Hard sci-fi also is much more likely to feel dated.
Basing it on known and understood scientific principles favors setting it in a near future. This means that as science marches on, it could trample all over your speculative technology by surpassing it in a fraction of the time you’d predicted. Alternately, you could extrapolate your future tech on a theory that could be abandoned or disproved, retroactively making your hard sci-fi much softer than you’d intended.
That brings us to soft sci-fi. In short, this is sci-fi where you get to fill in the gaps between what we can do and what you want to do with physics-defying mechanisms of your own concoction. Here’s where you get things like warp drive, bionics, and assorted other forms of applied phlebotinum. Nothing is off the table, so long as you can assemble enough technobabble to convince your audience that it’s plausible within the setting.
The assets of a soft sci-fi setting are clear.
The entire setting can be a playground for your imagination. You never have to worry about a desired plot becoming impossible. Soft sci-fi is where you get space operas of magnificent scope and unbridled adventure. It gives the writer a full palette of colors to paint their masterpiece, rather than simply those offered by Newton and Einstein. It’s what many people think of when they think of science fiction.
There is a dark side to soft sci-fi, however.
Most often, it comes when a writer fails to realize that “new rules” does not mean “no rules.” A soft sci-fi writer should, ideally, be creating a universe with its own laws of physics. Sure, they allow for things like time travel or faster than light travel, but the mechanisms that allow these divergences from our reality must be consistent and believable. If exceeding the speed of light requires a Carpinelli Drive, don’t have someone crossing the galaxy in six minutes using a standard rocket unless you’ve got some really compelling technobabble to justify it.
Taking away all limitations or changing the rules at the drop of a hat will confuse and frustrate readers. In the worst case, this could completely defuse any attempts at creating tension or stakes. Why should we worry if the heroes will reach the imperiled planet in time to save the day if you’ve already established spaceships don’t have to follow their own rules?
Hard Sci-Fi or Soft Si-Fi?
So how should you handle this aspect of your story?
If you are planning hard sci-fi, do your research, and craft a plot that can be exciting and attainable within the parameters we all live in today. If you extend beyond current technology, make sure to leave the trail of breadcrumbs back to the scientific principles that would facilitate it.
If you’re doing soft sci-fi, pick a handful of limitations you’re hoping to break, define the means that those limits are broken, and stick to them. A soft sci-fi book is often just a hard sci-fi book for a different version of science. And always remember that hard and soft aren’t two positions on a switch, they’re two ends of a spectrum, and you’re free to slide anywhere in that spectrum you like, provided your readers know where you stand.
Regardless of the firmness of your science, you’re probably going to be spending a fair amount of time crafting a brand new culture. That culture may be a version of humanity sculpted by thousands of years of alternate history. Perhaps it’s an alien race with little resemblance at all to anything on earth.
Either way, you’ll need to define this strange new world and its inhabitants. When you do, keep in mind that a culture should be a whole culture, not just the convenient chunk of one that fits the shape of the story beat.
What do I mean by this?
Let’s say you craft an alien culture called the Plorps who are the villains of your tale. For the purposes of the book, they’ll be war-like, physically intimidating, and deathly allergic to ammonia. Great. What else? Do they have a religion? What sort of foods do they like? Does their world have music? Do they play games? What is Plorpian literature like?
Sci-fi is littered with single-purpose alien races, whole planets or empires defined entirely, exclusively, and coincidentally by the exact assortment of traits necessary to get your story across the finish line. But great sci-fi avoids making these races feel like cardboard cutouts by sprinkling in little elements that show a history and culture that extends beyond what we see on the page.
To be sure, no one is asking you to dump chapter-long lessons on the founding fathers of Plorpian culture or have a Plorpian birthday celebration interrupt a space battle. But defining these things for yourself, and seasoning your writings with artifacts of them, will break down the rigid walls of your story and give readers the feeling that it has untold stories around every corner. It will make your world feel more complete, and things that are complete, no matter how fantastic, also feel more real.
One of the key elements of a sci-fi setting, even if it isn’t always apparent, is the philosophy of that setting. We’re not talking about Plorpian solipsism that disregards any events not witnessed by the supreme chancellor. We’re talking about your philosophy, and the way it will shape the setting.
There are a thousand different flavors, but most boil down to cynicism versus optimism.
Whether you’re writing about a distant future, an alien world, or an alternate history, the root of what you’re doing is imaging a different world. And a key aspect of any world is how it got the way it is and why. What are the driving forces of the world?
Optimistic sci-fi often posits a world where the greatest challenges of existence have been overcome.
Food is no longer scarce. We’ve solved pollution. Energy is abundant. Poverty is a thing of the past. The science, in your fiction, was the key that unlocked the shackles of its society. Such stories can be soaring and uplifting, depicting a world that is or could soon be a utopia. It could be aspirational, inspirational and, if you’re not careful, dull as dishwater.
An optimistic setting must always keep just enough darkness and malevolence to provide dramatic tension. Similarly, it must take care not to thump the readers in the head with the overwhelming ‘correctness’ and ‘superiority’ of the people in the setting. Things should be good, happy, comfortable, but still interesting and challenging, lest we roll right past the border of utopia and end up in a dystopia.
Cynical philosophies thrive on dystopias.
Corporate futures where everything from public utilities to the armed forces have fast food logos and profit motives. Post-apocalyptic nightmares where humanity has regressed to savagery to survive. Worlds so ravaged by the darker aspects of societies and psyches that a glimmer of hope and joy can be a rare and fleeting thing.
A cynical world lends itself quite well to grim, gritty stories. Villains are easy to find, and heroes can be just as cutthroat. Such stories often feel more ‘realistic’ and ‘mature’ than their more upbeat counterparts. But stories that take this route can wear on the reader. It becomes easy to rob the story of tension not because the threat isn’t real, but because the hope isn’t real. Readers could lose empathy for heroes with too much blood on their hands, or become worlds that seem to lack the chance for redemption.
Just as with hard and soft sci-fi, one need not choose either optimism or cynicism to the exclusion of the other. Most often a healthy balance makes for the best story. When choosing to focus more closely on the extremes, just remember that an optimistic world must have enough flaws to be in need of saving, and a cynical world must have enough virtues to be worth saving.
Science Fiction is a thrilling genre, perfect for an author eager to craft a world from whole cloth. Stories can be told in sci-fi that no other genre could facilitate. But for a story to have impact, it needs substance. For characters to move the reader, they must feel like they belong.
You’re free to make the rules, define the culture, and set the tone. But be sure to craft each of them with purpose. You’re setting the stage for your actors to perform upon.
Have you written a sci-fi? Was it hard or soft? If you could create a sci-fi world with only one new piece of technology, what would your new technology be (and why)? Please share your stories with us down in the comments!
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Joseph Lallo was slow to consider himself an author, even after writing several novels. Educated at NJIT, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering, the world of Information Technology is where most of his bills were paid until Sept of 2014 when he finally became a full-time author. He has written dozens of novels, and novellas, including the international bestseller The Book of Deacon and the critically acclaimed Free-Wrench series.
In addition to writing, he helps run the Six Figure Authors podcast with Lindsay Buroker and Andrea Pearson. Past ventures have included the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing podcast and BrainLazy.com, and back burner projects include Weird Nothing with Adam J. Hall. He made his home in Bayonne, NJ, where he lived all of his life until the success of his books allowed him to buy a home in Colonia, NJ.