Writing in close third person

I wrote a 100,000-word novel Return to Desiree Bay in (what I hope is) close third person, all of it from my main character’s point of view.

So, what the reader gets is Skye Summerhayes’ perception of the world and the people in it.

The reader also, hopefully, gets to experience Skye’s inner-world and understands why she reacts to certain situations the way she does. My goal was to make Skye as real as I could through the ‘close third person’ point of view so she communicates her grief, frustration, anger, misplaced resentment, happiness and joy in ways that inspire an emotional response from the reader.

Here’s a short excerpt from the prologue of Return to Desiree Bay.

After living in Sydney for three years, Skye has returned home to Desiree Bay at the request of her estranged sister. She’s pulled into the car park opposite the beach to contemplate her next move regarding her dysfunctional family:

It was unseasonably warm for the middle of June and people were out to enjoy the day. Backpackers, couples, groups of teenagers and families were having fun on the beach.

Skye’s bottom lip trembled. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips together to force back stinging tears. Fun equals pleasure equals joy.

She had none of that in her life.

You have to open your eyes Skye, her annoying inner voice chided her. Stop being a blubbery baby.

She reluctantly looked at her watch, two-fifty-five pm, sighed and whispered to the universe, ‘Why am I here?’’

There are at least two ways to write third person.

There is ‘third person omniscient’ which is generally the voice of a narrator who is outside the story and can see and know anything that happen to anyone in the story. Potentially, the narrator can see everyone’s thoughts.

Then there is my preference, ‘close third person’.

In her course on conflict run through Writing NSW , author Cate Kennedy explained the difference between plain old omniscient third person and close third person. She said that, whereas, in omniscient third person the reader ‘gleans’ what the character is thinking, in close third person ‘we get to go further inside the head of the character’.

Cate said it is ‘where we can hear the internal voice of the character’.

As many bloggers who have written on this very topic point out, the trouble with any type of third person point of view is that it can distance the reader from the character. There is an art to getting it right without over- or under-doing it.

In my latest ms, three of my characters are presented in first person point of view but the character of Millicent is close third person.

I did this because Millicent instigates the reunion of the four friends in the story. She holds the key to the mystery around an ‘inciting incident’ which took place more than 20 years ago. I wanted her to be more aloof than my other three characters so the reader doesn’t get to hear her every thought.

I would love to introduce you to Millicent in the next blog. Hopefully by then I will have written more of the story!

The challenges of first-person narrative in a novel

I’ve never written in first person but for my latest work in progress (WIP) I’ve branched out, with three of my four main characters written from this intimate perspective.

First person isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I have to delve deep into the minds of three characters to create complexities I’m not sure I can pull off.

Each character has to have her own unique personality/voice. Each has to view the world she inhabits and the ones she observes from a different perspective.

In her fiction-writing workshop, The Story Doctor, author Kate Forsythe describes first-person narrative thus: ‘this voice is expressed in every single word – the authorial voice is mute.’

I have to inhabit my characters, slip into their skin and be them. I have to shut up for once and let them be themselves.

I chose first-person narrative to bring more immediacy and action to my writing.

Already, it’s a challenge to keep the characters real and not tip them over into parody or a ‘type’ that appears contrived and self-conscious. At the same time, the language I use to empower them has to be engaging and uncomplicated yet rich enough in analogies and description to keep the reader hooked.

I felt I could nail the character the reader meets at the start of the novel, Rochelle, using first person rather than my usual go-to – a third-person narrative.

Here’s a snippet of Rochelle, a 50-something self-help new-age influencer living the life and sleeping with a man who is almost as young as her son:

‘I stop briefly to admire my profile in its reflected light and, at a glance, I like what I see. 

Not bad for a 50-something woman who could definitely pass for… I frown and screw up my mouth. Dunno. Maybe late-40s? But what does that look like?

Am I ‘well preserved’, much like a jar of peaches that has been vacuum sealed and sterilised on a low boil before being cooled and stored? 

What about ‘good for my age’? What the hell does that mean? Does anyone say a 20-year-old woman looks ‘good for her age’?

I wonder what others see when they look at me. When someone meets me for the first time. I’m always amazed when someone my age asks the question, ‘How old do you think I am?’ to a person younger than themselves. 

Why would you do that to yourself? Or to them? It’s like opening a Pandora’s box of ugly truths or stammered compliments that are clearly lies.’

Mmm. Too much like me? Therein lies the problem. (No, there is no young lover in my life. I’m talking about her personality traits, not her lifestyle.🤣)

For my next blog, I will cover third-person narrative and introduce the one character of the four written using this technique.

Speak soon… in third person.

Get organised with a 3 act chapter by chapter outline

I’m not as organised as I would like to be when it comes to my writing.

Of course, procrastination and a lack of self worth play roles in my snail-like pace as I constantly find distractions to keep me from pursuing my latest ms.

But another issue around getting my act together is knowing at least a little bit about how my characters’ stories are going to pan out. I need to get to the nub of the story arc for all of them.

I’m doing what I’ve never done before in my latest ms. Its working title is Millicent is Dying but that’s not giving anything away because I’ve changed my mind hundreds of times about the role of the character Milly in the story. And she’s no longer dying!

This time around, I’m writing the points of view of four different characters. What’s more, it’s in the first person, except for Millicent. Added to this, the narrative isn’t linear.

My other books (surprisingly, there’s a few in the drawer, mostly romances) are all in the third person, and mostly from the main character’s point of view. They also follow one path that leads to a lovely ‘the end’ for all.

I started Millicent with the inciting incident as the opening chapter about three years ago, put it in the too-hard basket and went on to start another novel (now on-hold).

In 2020/21, during COVID-19, I returned to Millicent and wrote some more chapters. Prior to this, I’d described my characters in Scrivener but when I returned to them I decided to change all of their personality traits and their circumstances.

I dropped Millicent again to do a couple of writing courses (a good distraction) and enter flash-fiction writing competitions (no luck so far and I keep botching the prompts!). Catch my drift?

Prolonged procrastination equals maximum frustration

On the weekend I wrote an outline on a white board to go with my mud map, which will need a re-jig.

I can’t just fly by the seat of my pants with this one. I need to have guidelines.

I’m not sure how other authors deal with this. I know that some are totally tied into plot so they must have incredibly organised minds and a huge commitment to getting the work done.

No more excuses from me. I’ve got to get this baby off the ground.

A journey to the heart of Nepal

My friend and critique partner, author Sandra Groom has published her debut novel, The Goddess of Kathmandu.

The story is set for the most part in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and charts Australian Lara Gordon’s journey of self discovery.

Lara travels to Nepal for a three-month sojourn after her work and romantic life falls apart in Sydney. In Kathmandu, she stays with a Nepalese family and enrols in a Nepali language course where she meets a group of fascinating people all seeking answers to questions about their own lives.

But this story is not just about Lara. It also examines the life of a young Nepali girl who is destined to become the Kumari, a young female goddess viewed as the embodiment of the devine female energy.

Sandra didn’t pull the concept for her novel out of thin air. She’s visited Kathmandu on numerous occasions, and continues to learn Nepali, the native language of Nepal.

Sandra writes with empathy and compassion about the Nepalese and evocatively of the incredibly beautiful yet dangerous Himalayan mountains.

If you’ve never been to Nepal and dream about going there (and it is a dream during the lockdowns imposed since the advent of COVID-19) or you’ve been there, done that! and hope to return one day, this book is a lovely introduction or refresher.

The Goddess of Kathmandu is available from online bookstores as an eBook (for example, Booktopia, Dymocks, Amazon) and I think Sandra has some hard copies available for those who prefer reading a real book! Here’s the link: https://sandragroomauthorcom.wordpress.com/2020/12/02/the-goddess-of-kathmandu/

Congratulations Sandra! XXX

What’s trending now in publishing

I recently attended a Zoom presentation where members of the Penguin Random House Australia team talked about the changing face of publishing and gave some insider tips on publishing trends.

I scrupulously took notes. And now I can’t find them!

But I promised I would get this post out to my readership of four, maybe three (eternally grateful – you know who you are). Drawing like crazy on my fragmented alcohol-addled recall skills, here’s an overview of what’s about to be hot or is already scorching.

What’s hot for little kids
Forget the reading and writing. It’s all about arithmetic when it comes to the new trend in children’s books.

Since COVID-19, there’s been a push for educators in Australia to focus more on STEM subjects. These are the science, maths and computing subjects that can sometimes be skimmed over in children’s early years of schooling.

Children’s authors who can weave maths and science into a story in an entertaining and engaging fashion are in demand. Author, presenter and political commentator Jamila Rizvi has written a picture book I’m a Hero Too set in a COVID-19 world that revolves around a character whose mum is a scientist working to find a medicine to help stop the pandemic. Rizvi already has a huge public profile and was recently named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence by Australian Financial Review.

Trends in adult non-fiction
Memoirs are hot. If you have an exciting story to tell, then my advice is write it. BUT it is more likely to grab the attention of a publisher if it contains trauma. The more traumatic the experience, the better. Let’s look at two memoirs, not written by famous people, that have shot up the bestseller lists in the last two years. American author Tara Westover’s Educated and Australian Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull, remain hugely popular.

These women’s compelling stories have trauma by the truckload. But they also contain hope. And in these dark times of pandemics, recessions, climate change, deforestation of the planet and global chaos, that’s what everyone is looking for.

H-O-P-E
Turia Pitt, who has several memoirs behind her that deal with her traumatic experience of suffering burns to 65 per cent of her body, has a new book titled Happy – and other aspirations. Pitt has interviewed lots of famous people on the topic of happiness.

The ‘self help’ genre is flourishing big time during COVID-19 with books with titles like Untamed, stop pleasing start living by one of Oprah’s favourites Glennon Doyle and Think Like a Monk by ‘social media supertstar’ Jay Shetty.

Adult fiction favours historical but don’t go too far back
Historical fiction that focuses on the more recent past (we’re talking 19th century to early to mid 20th century) is trending. Natasha Lester, whose books are set, usually in Europe and specifically Paris in the early to mid 1900s, was mentioned in glowing terms in the Zoom presentation even though her books are published by Hachette Australia.

If I had my notes, I would be able to tell you about a recent PRH aquisition. All I can remember is that the novel is set in Sydney in the late 1800s/early 1900s? Let me dig up those notes… if only I could find them.

But back to Lester. In June, Hachette Australia announced a world rights deal for two books for the Perth based author. These are To Lillie, From Paris and The Riviera House.

Australian crime thrillers are hot to trot, especially where the setting takes on a life of its own. Think Jane Harper’a The Dry and Chris Hammer’s Scrublands.

Recent movements such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter have also spurred a flurry of relevant publications and for books to be brought back from the archives to find a new readership. Likewise with the pandemic, which has generated apocalyptic fiction that is pretty bloody scary.

Publishing trends from wizards to vampires to erotica, etc.

I’m sure trends in publishing have been around since the invention of the printing press. But my attention on what’s hot and what’s not in the publishing world started when JK Rowling hit paydirt with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997.

Wizards and witches became all the rage for more than a decade, from Rowling’s first Harry Potter book to the last in the seven book series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows published in 2007.

The final movie of the series (and there were eight) was released in 2011 so Rowling’s domination of the market for such a long period was phenomenal. She is the second highest paid author in the world, behind James Patterson. Forbes published Rowling’s earnings at $60 million in 2020 (as of 6 April).

The shift from wizards to vampires
Like Harry Potter, the Twilight series attracted a wide readership from YA to adults when it hit the shelves with a bang in 2005.

Vampires and werewolves were suddenly de rigueur as readers fell for the love triangle with a definite twist trope.

Author Stephenie Meyer had a crazy few years pushing out a book a year from 2005 to 2008. The first book in the four book series, Twilight (2005), was followed New Moon (2006) , Eclipse (2007) and Breaking Dawn (2008).

The novels were adapted for film, of course, with the clever producers copying the Harry Potter lead of breaking the final book into two to get much better value for money and keep the fans hanging on, just that little bit longer. Breaking Dawn Part 1 was released in cinemas in 2011 and Part 2 in 2012.

Erotica hits the spot
The next big thing was definitely not aimed at the YA or children’s markets. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James ‘thrust’ erotica into the limelight in 2011. The genre boomed. Stilettos and feathers, chains and handcuffs, whips and masks (not the COVID-19 type) graced the covers of novels aimed directly at the female market.

It might have been nothing more adventurous than vanilla sex but James’ trilogy gave women permission to read erotica without feeling there was something wrong with them because they wanted to spice up their sex lives.

Game of Thrones goes bonkers
What happened next? From 2011, George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones propelled fantasy to the fore, catapulted into the stratosphere by a smash hit TV adaptation that, like the nine-book series, seemed to go on forever. Again, older kids and adults helped generate massive book sales. And by that time, TV adaptations, gaming and social media were stoking the fire.

So, what’s trending now? You can read all about it in my next post, which I hope to publish in the next two weeks.

 

The power of flash fiction

A compilation of flash fiction from several highly regarded authors was recently published in The New Yorker so it must be on trend!

Two names I recognised were Haruki Murakami and Joyce Carol Oates.

I’d always thought of flash fiction as very really extremely short stories but the pieces in The New Yorker appear longer than 500 words.

This led me to search for a definition of the term. It turns out that flash fiction can vary wildly in length, from a few words up to 1500 words.

In comparison, a short story is ‘several’ pages long and a lot more words. The next step is the novelette* followed by the novella. (*I’d never heard of it either. It’s a 7500-17,000 word story whereas a novella is 10,000-40,000 words)

A good way to learn the art of flash fiction is to read it and write it.

Doh!

Here’s how: The Australian Writers’ Centre runs Furious Fiction, a monthly flash fiction competition. The word count is up to 500 words and entrants must also include specific criteria that changes each month. This might be words, the placement of nominated words (at the start or end of the story), an event or a reference to an image.

The competition is launched at COB on the first Friday of the month and closes at midnight on the Sunday. I’ve entered about five times since COVID-19 and haven’t even made the short- or highly-commended lists! (the judges have yet to appreciate my talent 😉

The competition, which has a $500 prize for the winner, attracts more than 1000 entries from around the world. I love reading the winners’ stories. They are soooo impressive.

I don’t get down about not making the cut (not for long!). I see the competition as a writing lesson and an opportunity to flex my creative muscle. It’s practise.

There are hundreds of flash fiction writing courses available online. But there’s a lot to be said for reading the works of accomplished authors.

If you’re looking for a regular masterclass on how to write flash fiction, grab a copy of Good Weekend magazine in the Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne. Flick to the back of the mag for Kitchen Sink Drama by Paul Connolly.

Every week, Connolly delivers anywhere from 100-150 words crafted into a small story that captures the essence of our small lives. The Melbourne based freelance journalist and author often writes about absurd and inconsequential events, creating quirky vignettes of what we might consider to be insignificant moments in time.

Connolly’s tight sharp prose filled with a gentle humour and empathy evokes an emotional response in the reader. He touches a nerve that defines humanity and weaves it into a mini masterpiece.

It’s exciting news that Connolly’s stories, accompanied by the illustrations of Jim Pavlidis, will be available in one big book just before Christmas. I, for one, will pre-order several copies. One for me, and a couple for friends.

But in the meantime, you can enjoy Connolly’s wonderful flash fiction online.

Why I still use a hard cover diary

You may ask, why use a hard cover diary when you can store important dates and meetings in your smartphone?

Call me a luddite but I adore my diary.

I enjoy the connection to the tangible object. I love opening my diary and writing down my appointments on each page rather than typing them into the calendar on my phone.

I also tend to jot down bits and bobs I might want to recall later on at some point, like inspirational quotes or phone numbers and addresses, podcast titles and recommended books.

Likewise with goals and achievements. I can tell you exactly how many Pilates classes I’ve completed this year because they’re noted in my diary. The same with swims and walks. It’s fun to gloat over how achieved I am. 🙂

I prefer to have all that information in one place, rather than stored in different folders in my phone such as Notes, Calendar and Reminders.

If I want to remember something I did two months ago, I can flick back through my diary. For example, on Thursday, March 26, the outdoor pool where I sometimes teach swimming closed its doors to the public because of COVID-19. That’s a fact. I wrote it in my diary. The day after, a play my friend and I were going to see at the theatre was cancelled. The pandemic had begun its ruthless march of destruction in earnest by late March, 2020.

What makes a good diary?

This year, I bought the best ever diary. I used to prefer a page-a-day diary but I’m a convert to the miGOALS 2020 Hard Cover Diary.

The bonuses of this diary make up for the quarter-page-a-day format.

It’s more than a diary. It’s a motivational tool that contains a weekly focus, goals, a quote per week, ‘how I want to feel this week’, and a weekly section for ‘habits’ and ‘weekly wins’.

The diary also contains a monthly planner and goals (which I haven’t used as much as I should).

There are ‘Mi Core Values’ and ‘purpose’ sections, along with a ‘toolkit for success’. If you want to dive deep (I waded in), there’s also pages to record where you see yourself in three years and vision board pages.

A good diary feels sturdy and has a firm spine and hard cover. It has to have good quality paper and an attached ribbon bookmark to keep the right page.

On a nostalgic note, a hard cover diary is a reminder of how time flies (if that’s the way you view time).

My diary had a pristine pale pink cover and hundreds of pages waiting to be filled when I bought it in January. Now it’s September – the pink is faded and marked and the pages are filling fast. Small daily achievements and more mundane activities have been written down, struck out (that’s COVID-19 for you – what a party pooper) and highlighted.

MiGOALS was designed in Melbourne. How cool is that?

How to build resilience

Resilience is a word that’s tossed around like confetti.

It’s often used to describe individuals and communities who suffer great injustices and personal tragedies but survive to grow spiritually and mentally stronger from the experience.

Within themselves they find a reserve of fortitudinous strength that leaves others (us lesser mortals) in awe.

It’s a powerful word. Resilience. I love it. When I think of resilience, I see solid Doric columns soaring to the sky, sort of like The Parthenon. Built in 460BC, it still stands today. Dunno where I’m going with this but stay with me…

My point is this, resilience is a desirable and admirable trait that you’re not aware of until you have to use it.

In his book, Daily Writing Resilience – 365 Meditations & Inspirations For Writers, Bryan E. Robinson, PhD aligns resilience with perseverance and willpower. The message is never give up or, to quote Dory, from Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming.’

This DIY manual for writers and anyone who needs a motivating pep talk delivers on its promise. What you get is a page of practical wisdom for every day of the year. Each page begins with an uplifting quote from a famous author, then a reflection from Robinson, followed by his tidy summary of the topic under the heading ‘Today’s Takeaway’.

For example, August 24 is titled ‘Make rejection work for you’.

The quote is from hugely successful crime writer Janet Evanovich – it’s encouraging to learn that Evanovich, creator of feisty bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, received rejection letters for ten years!

Robinson expands the topic and finishes with ‘Today’s Takeaway’: ‘Use rejection to toughen you up by joining ranks with yourself instead of beating yourself up and joining in with those who reject your work.’

Robinson, an author and psychotherapist, has tapped into the zeitgeist of our troubled times. He weaves meditation, breath work, yoga, stress management , gratitude and more into the mix. One of the authors who praises the book writes, ‘… (it is) not only wise but also marvelously practical’.

Daily Writing Resilience is an inspirational read for every day, whether you get to write or not. Recommended.

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Finding a critique partner

I’m starting this post with a story that shows how important it is to find critique partners who are on the same journey and know how to offer balanced feedback.

Several years ago, I made a big mistake. I showed a friend the first 10,000 words of one of my novels.

It was a first draft and far from perfect. I knew that.

I expected my friend to provide constructive criticism. Instead, I got a shellacking.

We were in a cafe, having a pretty nice time as I recall it, when she blurted out that she hated my protagonist. She went on to slam every word I had painstakingly placed on the page.

Basically, she told me my first 10,000 words were crap.

It was brutal. I sat there as a numbness invaded my body.

It took me a long time to regain self belief and confidence in my writing.

The moral of this story is – don’t show your friends your work in progress.

After this humiliating experience, I set out to find like-minded critique partners.

I ended up with more than one.

I had already formed firm friendships with Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) members who have always been there for me when I’m stuck.

I also joined Writing NSW and found a critique group that accepted me with open arms. The group members write across a variety of genres and bring a wealth of knowledge to our monthly feedback sessions.

And I now have a critique partner I met at a weekend writing workshop run by a well-known Australian author. After the workshop ended, I contacted this person (I’d sussed her out and thought she and I were ‘on the same page’). We’ve shared our work for the last 12 months.

My writing has improved because of these invaluable connections, which keep me engaged with the writing process.

It may take a while to find the right person to read your work but perseverance is the key. I finally managed to get the balance right.

I know what you’re thinking: do I still talk to my friend? Yes. But I never discuss my writing with her. It’s better that way.