Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swat that Fly!

One of my authors recently called me Stacy "The Fly Swatter" Holmes, and I couldn't help but laugh.

It is true though, and I am sure all my authors will agree, because one thing I do my best to catch them on is 'the Fly.'

I'm sure you've heard of Telling versus Showing.  Telling is when the information is almost narrated from that of an impartial third party...or what I like to call a Fly on the wall. Showing involves using Deeper Point of View—staying within the main point of view character’s perceptions/descriptions. 
By describing things as if in the head of the main character—only things he/she can see, hear, touch, smell and know—keeps the reader engaged and empathetic to your character and living right with them in the moment. 
Here are examples of a few “buzz” words/phrases that signal the Fly narrative needs to be swatted in order to show a Deeper Point of View:

a)        Overuse of proper names—especially that of the main character. 

The overuse of proper names signals a third party Fly perspective—especially an overuse of the main POV character’s name, because most people don’t think of themselves in the third person.

These can easily be reduced by changing just a couple instances (no need to change all) and using descriptives or revising the sentence structure.  The same goes for the overuse of secondary character names--changing a few here and there to perhaps a nickname or descriptive from the specific POV character, as if being in their head versus just telling what a Fly sees, ie: his daughter, the cook, the annoying man, Miss Scaredy-Pants, Mr. High And Mighty etc, depending on the tone and mood of the scene.   Also, changing an instance to an action using appearance descriptives can be another way to avoid the repeated names and give the reader a visual of the character instead, ie: Her sleek fingers wove through the mass of blonde hair.

Here is an easy highlighting technique for a quick visual reference of the overusing of proper names:

i) Select all text in the chapter(s) that you wish to work with.

ii) On your toolbar, go to Edit—Find—Type the name in the field—click the box next to‘Highlight all items found in’—click Find All.

iii) You will now see all instances of that name selected. Now, click on the Highlight button on your toolbar and all should be highlighted that color.

iv) Save.

v) Repeat for the next character’s name, using a different highlight color for each. If you don’t have a highlight button already on your toolbar, simply review the Help section of your word program for assistance.
 b)        Use of a parent’s proper name by the child.  Unless it is set up that the child specifically refers to his/her parent by the full or proper name for a reason, then most children think of their parents as father, mother, ma, pa etc, and thus, when in the child’s POV, the use of parental proper names signals the Fly’s impartial perspective.

c)        Using ‘they’ or a collective such as ‘the women’ or ‘the siblings,’ and which includes the POV character.  This is often done when transitioning from one scene to another.

Example: They slowed their pace because the ground was uneven.  The wind blew around them and made the hike hard.

           These instances should be rewritten in the specific perception of the POV character where sensory and physical details can be added to show things from the personal experience of the moment, such as how the uneven ground specifically affects the main character or how she interprets the slow pace—is she frustrated by the hike or glad for it.  Even a simple notation of her pulling a wind-whipped strand of hair from her face would keep it in her specific perception rather than that of the impartial Fly telling the basic action. A possible revision could be something like:

           Cassandra huffed out a breath and slowed her pace once again for the older women to catch up.  The wind whipped her hair in her eyes, and she tugged the errant lock away from her face in order to see the narrow, uneven path ahead.

d)        Telling/Passive phrases are yet another Fly reference.  Whenever possible, take direct action and/or use a more active verb from the specific character’s POV.

Telling Fly POV:  Her eyes opened.

Active Character POV: She opened her eyes.

Telling Fly POV: He leaned forward and put a hand on her shoulder.

Active Character POV: His hand clamped on her shoulder, and she cringed against the pain.

Important note: it is not necessary to reword in large masses of description, sometimes a simple adjustment of the sentence to an active verb can make a HUGE difference.

So, how many Flies do you think you can swat from your manuscript? 

(the above is copyright © Stacy D. Holmes 2014)

1 comment:

Nicole D'Arienzo said...

Great informative blog and hey--that fly looks familiar! nudge, wink.