Sunday, March 11, 2007

Things to Watch in Revisions: Cliches, Point of View

By Mel Jacob
Chats offer a variety of discussion topics and advice, some good, some bad. Two recent discussions raised some useful points. Metaphors and similes can liven up our writing provided they aren't too cute or don't descend into groaners, i.e., too many puns. It's all too easy to write in clichés and not even realize it. Always read your material and eliminate these pesky sayings or consider other ways to say them. Dialogue may be an exception, but don't have all your characters speak this way. One character who overuses clichés is enough.

So, when you discover these phrases, what do you do about them? One writer advises changing one word. With an apt new word, you can create something new and original. Consider as an example: slow as molasses in January. Maybe try: slow as a turgid creek in August. Not great, but you get the idea. Play with words and meanings until you find the best word to suit your material, setting, your character, and the point of view in use.

Another chat with Linda Vernon dealt with point of view in commercial novels. She based much of her discussion on Sherri Szeman's _Mastering Point of View_ (1884910521, Story Press, 2001). Those interested in her excellent presentation should contact An important point to remember: we can have a character aware of actions (smiles, even blushes), but not their appearance unless they are contrasting it with another character's or something in the scene. Vernon also cautioned against confusing the character's perspective with point of view. An example: Opening one red-rimmed orb, (character name) (action). A character can't see his eyes as red-rimmed. Only another character could observe that.

Another aspect of point of view relates to focus: up close and through the POV character's eyes or cinematic, which usually refers more to an omniscient narrator or observer. Ken Follet used this to open _Pillars of the Earth_ before going into a more intimate point of view.

Vernon observed how word choice influences the reader's view of characters. Most villains are described in negative terms using words like: hulking, menacing, devious, isolated, strident, etc. Heroes are described as: honest, loyal, diligent, kind, etc. The words used to describe the character carries the author's view of them, their actions, dialogue, and emotions. Such words can either tell or show depending on whether they represent the POV character's reaction or emotions.

Point of view gives many writers problems so understanding it becomes essential. Vernon has promised to discuss other aspects of point of view in future chats.

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