Point of view & narrators

Switching From One to More than One Point-of-View in Your Story?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a writer, Philippa East, who did our online course in Self-Editing Your Novel (We'll have 300 graduates, by the time the current course has finished. Could you be our 301st?) Hi Emma - I'm wondering if you have any blogs or can recommend any articles on revising a novel to change it from single POV to a dual POV structure? I understand the basics of writing in multiple POVs, but I'm looking for any help with actually tackling this kind of serious rewrite. Currently I sort of know what I have... Read more →


Guest Post by Jenn Ashworth: Making the Rules: Physics and Fell

One of the questions I suggest asking your novel is "Who is telling this story?" And the next is, "Where are they standing, relative to the events they're telling?". So I was excited to discover that Jenn Ashworth was building her new novel, Fell, on one of the most interesting - and fruitful - answers to that question that I've yet come across. I was lucky enough, a while back, to have a tiny role in her working-out of the considerable writerly challenges it posed, and when I read the book a few weeks ago I just loved it (its... Read more →


Filtering: HD for your writing

"Filtering", as a technical issue in writing, probably wins the prize for Most Useful Concept With Most Unhelpful Name (although, for that prize, "Free Indirect Style" is a very close runner-up). But John Gardner called it that in one of Creative Writing's founding texts, The Art of Fiction, and Janet Burroway sets Filtering all out very clearly in her classic Writing Fiction, so we're stuck with the label. The basic idea is that writers very often use phrases which get between the reader and a straightforward representation and evocation of what's happening. Gardner describes it as: ... the needless filtering... Read more →


The Fiction Editor's Pharmacopoeia; diagnosing symptoms & treating the disease

The Society for Editors and Proof-readers is and does exactly what it says on the tin (and if you're thinking of self-publishing, it would be a very good place to start looking for proper professional help.) So I was delighted to be asked to speak to their Editing Fiction conference, exploring and explaining the decisions that we writers make, so that in tackling writing where the decisions aren't producing a good result, writers and editors can have a common language. As I was discussing in my post about giving feedback, it's one thing to recognise a problematic symptom: over-writing, say,... Read more →


"Amaris has to tell Baz stuff but the scene is wooden"

This question popped up recently on a forum: "I've just reached a point in my WIP where two characters get together after a while apart and one has to tell the other what's been happening. It's important stuff. I haven't found it easy, but I never find it easy to write the 'telly' stuff - particularly the links between the telling and the rest of the scene that is happening around them. Anybody have any words of wisdom?" There were some good responses, and I found mine developing into a blog post, so here we are. So if Amaris has... Read more →


Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo? A few tips.

So, it's National Novel Writing Month again, or it will be on Sunday: to its friends, November is NaNoWriMo. The idea is that you have a month - and nearly the shortest month of the year - in which to write a complete novel. True, their target is 50,000 words, which is too short for most industry definitions of a novel for adults: the real point is that it you're planning to create a complete story - a beginning, a middle and an end. Not a notebook full of bits of scenes, not an endless tweak of the first 15,000... Read more →


Does worrying about technique and "the rules" restrict a writer's creativity?

I've blogged before about why what are called "rules" about writing are really tools, and why all the things you're told you "shouldn't" do in writing are sometimes exactly what you should do. I've exploded (comparatively speaking) with fury about why the "cut everything with was in it" idea is actively damaging as well as wrong-headed, and I've talked about how much it helps to approach different drafts in a different spirit. But the question at the top of this post is a perfectly fair question - and one which a blog-reader asked me the other day: It is these... Read more →


All the posts I mentioned at the RNA Annual Conference 2015

I had a lovely day on Sunday at the Romantic Novelists' Association Annual Conference. The RNA are a glorious group of professional authors who have been at the forefront of fiction for fifty years. They have a remarkable history and a vast appetite for writing, talking, drinking, wearing great shoes and professional development, and supporting new talent on the New Writers Scheme. I was asked to give a workshop on The Writer's Voices, and, as is the way of such things, I ended up mentioning various blog posts, as places where there was more detail than I could go into... Read more →


The Itch of Writing Bookshelf 6: I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith

Click here for the full (or, rather, rapidly filling) Itch of Writing Bookshelf, and if you're looking for books to help with your writing directly, then click through to Books for Writers. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, by Dodie Smith Cassandra Mortmain is seventeen, and has decided to keep a journal to practice her speedwriting, in the hope of being able to get a job. She, her older sister Rose and schoolboy brother Thomas live in a tumbledown castle in Suffolk, which their writer father moved into in happier times, after the succès d'estime of his Finnegan's-Wake-like novel. Then he succumbed... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "How much should I reveal of my antagonist's intentions?"

Q: Dear Ms Cowless - I am struggling to make what should be a simple decision, and I'm stuck because I can't make it. Basically, I have my Antagonist sitting down having a catch-up meet with his top guy to discuss the direction of their plans. The Antagonist is using the skills and abilities of his top man to exact his revenge. The reader will be carried through the story and will see the good guys caught on the back foot, i.e. they obviously have no idea about the impending act, but the reader will if I choose to have... Read more →


Psychic Distance: how terrific writers actually use it

You won't read This Itch of Writing for long without coming across my conviction that Psychic Distance - a.k.a. Narrative Distance - is the most useful way there is of working with point-of-view, voice, the insides of character's heads, the reader's feeling for those characters, the relationship of characters and narrative ... about 75% of your job in writing a novel or life writing piece, in other words. Pyschic Distance week on the current Self-Editing Course has, as ever, lit a galaxy of lightbulbs in the participants, but I've realised we could do with some more examples of how it... Read more →


Writing Emotion: is less more, and how do you make it real?

Back when I posted about how showing and telling should co-operate, not compete, a commenter said this: I struggle with showing my main character's emotion, over-complicating things in my attempt to avoid signals and abstract nouns. I'd love to pull off a reserved first person narrator, one you feel for, while she's trying to hide her pain even from herself, but so far not succeeded. I know what she means. In theory we all know that Less is More (except when it isn't) but how can you be sure the reader doesn't just understand, but really feels what's going on... Read more →


Showing and Telling: cooperation not competition

First, can we get get a few things straight? Writing is not an exact science. It's not even an exact art. So it's next-to-impossible to say, "Doing X is Telling, doing Y is Showing", because "Telling" and "Showing" are convenient but wildly over-simple labels for effects on the reader which are achieved by a complex of means. Sorry. I prefer to call Telling "Informing" and sometimes "Explaining", and Showing "Evoking". Those are also over-simple, of course, but still, I think they help. Any text worth reading has writing which Tells, as well as writing which Shows. So you can ignore... Read more →


Where's the real story? Not where you expected?

I hope I'm a kind and supportive teacher, I certainly don't tolerate seminar bullies, and I can honestly say that the only time I've been aware of tears in a workshop I was running was nothing to do with anyone's hurt feelings, and everything to do with writing fiction. Since the business of fiction is largely about imaginatively inhabiting consciousnesses and experiences which are not one's own, I had set the group an exercise of writing a scene from the point of view and voice of their main character, though not necessarily an event from the story. First I got... Read more →


Getting from one scene to the next

Dear Emma, I saw in your twitter feed that you're looking for blog ideas. How about scene changes, especially getting the prose right while establishing time and place. My writing gets quite clumsy at this point as I try to avoid 'It was Saturday and we were sitting in the kitchen.' It's taken a while to get to this, but it's such a good question - which is only to be expected from Sophie Beal, whose blogpost Dark Matter, Dark Glass and Anne Tyler was Highly Commended in the Postiversary Competition. (If you're not sure how you'd define a scene... Read more →


Dogs and cats aren't just for Christmas: they make great viewpoint characters

A writer friend posted this: Can anyone think of adult books (i.e. not War Horse) where you briefly get an animal's POV? I would love to use my sweet little dog (who has a place in the story) to be the reader's first experience of a crucial, awful place, before anyone else's. I want to get his keen senses in there - to show the place through a creature who is in one way acutely perceptive - but I wonder what level of language I can get away with. For example, could I describe a smell as metallic, or is... Read more →


Do what you like, and teach your reader to like it too

Of all the narrative forms, theatre is one of the most demanding, both structurally and in terms of how little leeway you have to make mistakes. And musicals add in another layer of complexity, so I pounced on How Musicals Work by writer and director Julian Woolford, not least because I'm fascinated by where and how you'd put the songs in. The book discusses that at length, and all sorts of other ideas about structure and character (there's an overlap with John Yorke's Into the Woods, which I also love) which map across onto fiction and creative non-fiction. But one... Read more →


Understanding point-of-view: circles of consciousness

Point of view is one of the most important tools in your toolkit, and the basic concept isn't so hard to get your brain round (click here if you want a quick revision course). But in "No, it's nothing," said Sally airily, and John wondered if she were lying. He stared out of the window, and Sally closed the kitchen drawer with a snap. She poured herself more coffee and sat down, offering up a little prayer that John wouldn't ask why the bank was writing to her separately. is Sally closed the kitchen drawer with a snap in John's... Read more →


Ten Ways to Move Point-of-View (and don't let the self-appointed experts tell you otherwise)

If you've been hanging around the Itch for any length of time, you'll know that I think the creeping Creative Writing orthodoxy that you can't change point of view except between chapters is nonsense. (Click here for my full series of posts on PoV if you're not so sure what we're on about when we talk about point of view.) It's a "rule" which has only been invented in the last twenty years or so, peddled by would-be writers who don't know good writing when they see it, and, I suspect, writing teachers who don't know how to teach it:... Read more →


How To Train Your Person (First or Third) to do everything the story needs

I've blogged before about how much more energy your storytelling will have if you coax out as much variety as possible in the way you tell the story - and how flat it will be if you don't. Time, pace (not at all the same thing), characterisation, sentences, voice, settings, events ... all need thinking about. And, yes, you're right: this is This Itch of Writing, so of course I'm going to say Psychic Distance is one of the most crucial kinds of variety of all. But many aspiring writers who grasp the idea of Psychic Distance still struggle to... Read more →