I could use some advice on whether what I'm doing is fundamentally flawed.

Bramandin

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What I typically have been doing: I would tell the story from a third person who decides in the moment who they focus on and doesn't always reveal the thoughts and feelings of characters in the scene.

For an example: There is a scene with a cadet, people with authority over her, the Conflict Guardian, and a vampire psychotherapist. The emotions/thoughts I mention are:

* the cadet bearing the complaints about her stoically then later her face twists with rage and she attacks the vampire,
* the vampire resists the urge to snarl and cuss at the commander (I could cut this or give her an angry wing-twitch),
* the others simply look on in concern while the vampire is being attacked, the commander's expression reveals his anger
* Jahangir felt a twinge of doubt, but it was interrupted by Sarah snorting with suppressed laughter. He turned towards the vampire in confusion. “What’s so funny?”

I could put Jahangir as the POV character as an observer to what's happening, but I think having him emotionally reacting when he's simply in the room would be distracting. I've been told that not revealing a character's thoughts is wrong, but the people who told me that are too conceited to deal with criticism and I think that they don't deserve to act like writing gods. I don't always want to reveal what a character is thinking in the moment, especially if they're going to voice those thoughts aloud later.

There is also the point where Jahangir is left behind while the vampire goes on ahead. When he gets there, I specifically mention that he has the ability to slow his perceptions so he can take in the details of the chaotic scene. However, the end of the scene shifts to a character that was in that new setting and stays with his POV for a while, which I do reveal his emotions because the scene is mostly about them.

~~~

Is my approach fundamentally flawed? Should I be going about it differently?
 

Overread

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The key with understanding when to describe the emotions and mental thoughts of a character and when not too, in my view, is when that information is important to the reader.

In the scene you describe you outline a conflict. Do we, the reader, need to know the reasons for that conflict at a personal level? Is it simply a scene playing out where we might never know the full details, but the impact of the scene upon the last character you mention, is important for the rest of the story.
Are those characters going to reappear later; is the event significant?



Another aspect is depth. When characters appear for very little time in the story it can sometimes be a challenge to get the reader invested in those characters and their struggles. Indeed someone suddenly lashing out and attacking could be derided or looked down upon by the reader. Without any history, context, past or thoughts from the character we can only go by their actions in that very moment.
The greater risk is that your characters can then also start to feel hollow. A bit like in a film where there's "goons" for the bad guy, which conveniently appear to then die to the hand of the hero. There's no history to them, no past or present, there's no fallout from their death save that they are dead.

In contrast I recall reading the Reality Dysfunction series of books and in one (I think the last) there's a character who appears for a brief moment. The entire purpose of this character is to randomly die. They exist in the story for a matter of a moment. Yet the brief moment is full of that characters background, thoughts, ideals, hopes and more. By presenting that the character became a person not just a character or a plot device. They became someone you were interested in; so the sudden death hits just that little bit more. It also helps to highlight the act of the killer, making them seem much more than they are. They didn't just kill a nameless goon. They killed someone with a past, present and, formerly, future.



So that's another angle to consider; keeping your characters real even if their entire purpose is just to be an actor on the stage for a scene.
There is a risk with this of course, do it too often and your reader can lose focus on who they are supposed to pay attention too; esp if the story has a lot of characters that you follow already. So not every character has to be built up. It's about finding a balance.
 

Oochillyo

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hey Bramandin how are you :)

I feel quite sick, tired and upset so I think my energy to read all of the response about this will take time so I may re fresh this later.

I was just thinking if you dont want to build the view of what everyone is thinking, perspectives ect what if its like a flash back scene and even if its important as most flashbacks tend to be you can re add info, context, what people are thinking and their views later on as you let the reader uncover more of what the scene is about and what people are thinking ect through going back to it a few times at different points in your story.

I'm not sure if this needs more explanation and I was tempted to write more info about what I mean but I am just drained and not sure if I even get what is the best solution.

I also wonder though this may not work and I may bias plus it could be a major hassle, the thing I though of first was give the story/book choice, like those books where the reader chooses the path mainly through key decisions think of The Tale Tale games, this may be really annoying and I've been working on my book with the core of paths and choices for like 3 years and not got very far but I have a lot of other reasons that my story is going at snail pace ha but I think that could be a way to fix it or just add it to this important scene and maybe a few others so you dont have to structure your whole book like this, in this scene maybe you split the path from choices a little earlier on or give the reader the choice here, how does The Vampire feel about it, angry or mild ect ect, is the conflict gonna be resolved calmly or is a fight about to start, this seems simple choices but you can add a lot of depth and unique options and outcomes to it and hopefully make whatever happens impact the reader feel fresh and rewarding :)

Regards - Declan Sargent
 

Bramandin

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The key with understanding when to describe the emotions and mental thoughts of a character and when not too, in my view, is when that information is important to the reader.

In the scene you describe you outline a conflict. Do we, the reader, need to know the reasons for that conflict at a personal level? Is it simply a scene playing out where we might never know the full details, but the impact of the scene upon the last character you mention, is important for the rest of the story.
Are those characters going to reappear later; is the event significant?

What characters are worth the time is something that I'm still struggling with. What I've been doing is letting my lack of control turn it into a kudzu, but I think I want to go with it while just adding a bit more editing. Right now the story is supposed to be about a girl finally getting to work with her mentor, but her mentor is a chaos goblin who keeps getting distracted by the problems she's causing in other people's lives. This did just put the final piece about how I should try putting that mentored girl as the pov at the beginning of the story.

It is a good point about whether or not the reasons and emotions matter. The cadet in this story is a broken paladin, but what we need to know is probably only how it reflects on Jahangir... and that's if his emotional journey even makes it into the story or if it gets cut down to an example of why Sarah is a chaos goblin. I think that Sarah is hard to work with as a relatable main character instead of a well-intentioned antagonist because she has something that might be a type of alexithymia.

I think that if the cadet's scene does make it in, the reader might take their queues about how to feel about her from the other characters. Some are openly showing disgust at her attacking Sarah, but Jahangir and Sarah don't.

Another aspect is depth. When characters appear for very little time in the story it can sometimes be a challenge to get the reader invested in those characters and their struggles. Indeed someone suddenly lashing out and attacking could be derided or looked down upon by the reader. Without any history, context, past or thoughts from the character we can only go by their actions in that very moment.
The greater risk is that your characters can then also start to feel hollow. A bit like in a film where there's "goons" for the bad guy, which conveniently appear to then die to the hand of the hero. There's no history to them, no past or present, there's no fallout from their death save that they are dead.

In contrast I recall reading the Reality Dysfunction series of books and in one (I think the last) there's a character who appears for a brief moment. The entire purpose of this character is to randomly die. They exist in the story for a matter of a moment. Yet the brief moment is full of that characters background, thoughts, ideals, hopes and more. By presenting that the character became a person not just a character or a plot device. They became someone you were interested in; so the sudden death hits just that little bit more. It also helps to highlight the act of the killer, making them seem much more than they are. They didn't just kill a nameless goon. They killed someone with a past, present and, formerly, future.



So that's another angle to consider; keeping your characters real even if their entire purpose is just to be an actor on the stage for a scene.
There is a risk with this of course, do it too often and your reader can lose focus on who they are supposed to pay attention too; esp if the story has a lot of characters that you follow already. So not every character has to be built up. It's about finding a balance.

That is a good point about finding balance. I think that other group that's obsessed with close-third POV might just be latching onto something as gospel instead of realizing that there's more than one way to approach it. That's not to say that they were wrong in that case because I might have been too invested with "show don't tell" at the time.

While not everyone that Sarah hurts can be highlighted, even if it's just limited to people that the other characters know, I need to choose if that particular character matters enough to make her a person or just a casualty with a name.
 

Bramandin

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hey Bramandin how are you :)

I feel quite sick, tired and upset so I think my energy to read all of the response about this will take time so I may re fresh this later.

I was just thinking if you dont want to build the view of what everyone is thinking, perspectives ect what if its like a flash back scene and even if its important as most flashbacks tend to be you can re add info, context, what people are thinking and their views later on as you let the reader uncover more of what the scene is about and what people are thinking ect through going back to it a few times at different points in your story.

I'm not sure if this needs more explanation and I was tempted to write more info about what I mean but I am just drained and not sure if I even get what is the best solution.

I also wonder though this may not work and I may bias plus it could be a major hassle, the thing I though of first was give the story/book choice, like those books where the reader chooses the path mainly through key decisions think of The Tale Tale games, this may be really annoying and I've been working on my book with the core of paths and choices for like 3 years and not got very far but I have a lot of other reasons that my story is going at snail pace ha but I think that could be a way to fix it or just add it to this important scene and maybe a few others so you dont have to structure your whole book like this, in this scene maybe you split the path from choices a little earlier on or give the reader the choice here, how does The Vampire feel about it, angry or mild ect ect, is the conflict gonna be resolved calmly or is a fight about to start, this seems simple choices but you can add a lot of depth and unique options and outcomes to it and hopefully make whatever happens impact the reader feel fresh and rewarding :)

Regards - Declan Sargent

Working with flashbacks is a good idea. Even if a character doesn't know the thoughts and motivations of another in a moment, they could insert later information and understanding into their memory.

I tried to look up "The Tale Tale games" but my google-fu is weak. Are you talking about:

Choose Your Own Adventure, or Secret Path Books is a series of children's gamebooks where each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character's actions and the plot's outcome. Wikipedia

I don't think my mind is really suited for creating decision-trees and I don't want to create a story like that. I already put in a in-universe retcon and I realize that I shouldn't have allowed as much time-travel as I did.
 

The Judge

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I have to confess to being somewhat confused by this:
What I typically have been doing: I would tell the story from a third person who decides in the moment who they focus on and doesn't always reveal the thoughts and feelings of characters in the scene.
If you're telling a scene from the POV of someone in the scene, as opposed to using an omniscient POV, then the only thoughts and feelings you should tell us about are those of the POV character -- unless s/he is telepathic, the thoughts of the others will be wholly hidden and their feelings only deducible from what they do and say, and if you're showing those things (ie what the others do and say) we should be able to pick up emotions etc ourselves without having the POV character as an intermediary interpreting everything for us. (If the characters are in fact telepathic, then clearly it's a different proposition, and must depend on the rules you've established about the telepathy in order to avoid unspoken mind-chatter driving people crazy.)

Regarding the example you give with the bullet points -- are you actually giving all that information in the scene in that way? If so, it seems to me to be head-hopping -- you're not focussing on one POV, but drifting into the others.

I'm also surprised by the "decides... who they focus on" -- granted that no one will see the whole story of any particular scene, but this is almost as if you're saying every POV character deliberately concentrates only on certain particulars, instead of trying to take in the whole event, which is odd to say the least.

I could put Jahangir as the POV character as an observer to what's happening, but I think having him emotionally reacting when he's simply in the room would be distracting.
Why should that be distracting? Something is happening and he's entitled to be upset/excited/whatever about it, which will add depth to his character as well as showing us what is going on. As long as you don't spend paragraphs with him angsting about the situation, it will surely be fine.

Is my approach fundamentally flawed? Should I be going about it differently?
If it's of any help, how I approach things in cases where I've used multiple POVs over the course of a work is to see whose POV gives the best story for that scene. Usually, for me, it's the main character, since I want my readers to be with him/her and understand what is going on through his/her mind, but on the odd occasions when I want to conceal the MC's thoughts because of later important reveals, I'll go with a secondary character who has the best view and can give the most.

It's certainly not required for every POV character to emote and relate his/her thoughts etc in every scene. However, failing to give us this depth -- particularly for the main characters -- will likely make your writing seem very distant and cold. It's always adviseable to use POV to reveal the interiority of the characters, rather than simply writing scenes via a kind of CCTV, whereby everything is shown, but nothing is felt. (This piece in Critiques by Betok_Haney and the comments it received may explain rather better what I mean on this score Baptism (615 words))
 

Bramandin

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I have to confess to being somewhat confused by this:

If you're telling a scene from the POV of someone in the scene, as opposed to using an omniscient POV, then the only thoughts and feelings you should tell us about are those of the POV character -- unless s/he is telepathic, the thoughts of the others will be wholly hidden and their feelings only deducible from what they do and say, and if you're showing those things (ie what the others do and say) we should be able to pick up emotions etc ourselves without having the POV character as an intermediary interpreting everything for us. (If the characters are in fact telepathic, then clearly it's a different proposition, and must depend on the rules you've established about the telepathy in order to avoid unspoken mind-chatter driving people crazy.)

Regarding the example you give with the bullet points -- are you actually giving all that information in the scene in that way? If so, it seems to me to be head-hopping -- you're not focussing on one POV, but drifting into the others.

I'm also surprised by the "decides... who they focus on" -- granted that no one will see the whole story of any particular scene, but this is almost as if you're saying every POV character deliberately concentrates only on certain particulars, instead of trying to take in the whole event, which is odd to say the least.


Why should that be distracting? Something is happening and he's entitled to be upset/excited/whatever about it, which will add depth to his character as well as showing us what is going on. As long as you don't spend paragraphs with him angsting about the situation, it will surely be fine.


If it's of any help, how I approach things in cases where I've used multiple POVs over the course of a work is to see whose POV gives the best story for that scene. Usually, for me, it's the main character, since I want my readers to be with him/her and understand what is going on through his/her mind, but on the odd occasions when I want to conceal the MC's thoughts because of later important reveals, I'll go with a secondary character who has the best view and can give the most.

It's certainly not required for every POV character to emote and relate his/her thoughts etc in every scene. However, failing to give us this depth -- particularly for the main characters -- will likely make your writing seem very distant and cold. It's always adviseable to use POV to reveal the interiority of the characters, rather than simply writing scenes via a kind of CCTV, whereby everything is shown, but nothing is felt. (This piece in Critiques by Betok_Haney and the comments it received may explain rather better what I mean on this score Baptism (615 words))

A lot of the classical lessons on POV are confusing to me. I'm omniscient, but I don't want to tell the reader everything. For one thing Sarah has something that might be a type of alexithymia, so her thought process is bizarre and I've never seen anything like it in fiction except for maybe computers. My characters are also telepathic but I think what I'm doing is head-hopping slowly by changing the POV seamlessly in the middle of a scene. I do read an old role-play where it switches limited POV every few paragraphs and I think that works for it.

  • “That’s what superhero stories do to people.” Sarah hadn’t meant to make Tanyanika flinch, so she continued in a calmer tone. “Superheroes inspire people to want to help instead of just standing by and doing nothing, but following their example can get someone killed.”
  • Tanyanika gazed at Sarah critically. The Edaphology Institute was a fictional organization from a Hylden movie. What she didn’t know was that the basic premise was stolen from Terran movies like Stargate and Men in Black. “Are you being serious?”
  • Tanyanika thoughtfully gazed at the screen that could display hundreds of movies from another world. “I’m supposed to favor the simplest explanations, but I also know that the simplest explanation isn’t always true. Believing you completely would be simplest, but it’s not working.”

I just read the beginning of chapter four of Star Mother and since I read it before, I knew what one character wasn't revealing, but the character who doesn't know what's going on yet was very intuitive in that she picked up some information anyway without being told and relayed it to the reader. I just e-filed for a new library card so I can read something properly-published that's less than 20 years old. Part of the problem might be that I'm influenced by mediums that don't do internalization.

I think that Jahangir might work as the heart for the example scene if I decide to include it, especially since the character pretty much is having this conflict because of (for, from my perspective) him. He has insight into what type of person she should be so it might provide a window to whether she's acting properly.
 

The Judge

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To my mind you're getting hung up on the issue of what is or isn't being revealed by your characters -- which is really only vital if you need to conceal plot points such as the identity of the murderer -- rather than the more important matter of using POV in the best way possible so your readers are fully engaged with your work.

I'd suggest that instead of using a kind of omniscient and repeatedly head-hopping, you try writing very close POV from only one character and stay with him/her throughout the entire scene. See if that gives more depth and richness to the work, as well as making it more accessible to readers. In the example you've given above, for instance, if the cadet was going to play an important part in the story, I'd be thinking of writing it from her POV, as being the strongest; if she was only a bit-part player, though, I'd choose the most interesting observer.
 

tinkerdan

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but the people who told me that are too conceited to deal with criticism and I think that they don't deserve to act like writing gods.
Things like this make me hesitate to answer this post.
It's almost best to refer you to something like this link.
Which is a pretty good post for understanding POV.

The thing about POV is choosing one that works best with what your writing is trying to achieve.
It is usually best--in any POV--to try to stick with one character as the focal point.
If you read the link above you will possibly see that you can do either objective or subjective.
The point is that whichever you are in O or S you should stick within that for that POV.

Objective: relies on observation of outward appearance of facial and body language.

Subjective: allows for more internality or the thoughts and this is a good way to dig into the character motive and triggers and to help the reader get closer to both the story and the character POV.

What is best is what grabs the reader best and suits the intent of the writing.

As to what you have above in OP: It does seem distant but also as mentioned it seems close to head hopping with is both unsatisfactory and sometimes confusing. Also your example wanders from objective observation to subjective closeness in some cases which can work to a small extent, but mostly if you are using a subjective POV or Narrator.

However; please read the link and also just do a search for other articles on POV or use the forum section on writing resources
look in the toolbox area and search for POV examples.
 

Bramandin

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Things like this make me hesitate to answer this post.
It's almost best to refer you to something like this link.

Sorry, my social skills are terribly lacking and I have trouble with creative interpretation. I am literally saying that just those particular people were conceited.

If a story was written in number five from your article, third person objective, they'd say that it's wrong because it doesn't reveal the character's thoughts. They also got mad because I misinterpreted their comment about the character feeling like a puppet as seeing that I hadn't fleshed him out yet, no mention about how I wasn't writing out his thoughts. He didn't have internal thoughts at that point. (I once dug out the original story once I figured out that's what they were looking for. It was still bad writing, but I actually did reveal the other's character reaction to something.)

The article is good. I guess I'm sort of "zooming" my narrative perspective between different third person perspectives; sometimes being objective, sometimes being subjective, sometimes being omniscient.


Things like this make me hesitate to answer this post.
It's almost best to refer you to something like this link.
Which is a pretty good post for understanding POV.

The thing about POV is choosing one that works best with what your writing is trying to achieve.
It is usually best--in any POV--to try to stick with one character as the focal point.
If you read the link above you will possibly see that you can do either objective or subjective.
The point is that whichever you are in O or S you should stick within that for that POV.

Objective: relies on observation of outward appearance of facial and body language.

Subjective: allows for more internality or the thoughts and this is a good way to dig into the character motive and triggers and to help the reader get closer to both the story and the character POV.

What is best is what grabs the reader best and suits the intent of the writing.

As to what you have above in OP: It does seem distant but also as mentioned it seems close to head hopping with is both unsatisfactory and sometimes confusing. Also your example wanders from objective observation to subjective closeness in some cases which can work to a small extent, but mostly if you are using a subjective POV or Narrator.

However; please read the link and also just do a search for other articles on POV or use the forum section on writing resources
look in the toolbox area and search for POV examples.

I think that when I'm zooming out and showing just what a character is showing to others, it's because that's all the information that I'm giving the reader at the moment. It also feels redundant if a character is being forthright. Is it really bad to adjust how much I'm zooming?

One example where I needed full omniscience:

“She just stood behind them until they turned around and noticed her. I don’t think that she would have tried to startle them if she had thought that they would panic.” Tanyanika didn’t know how to articulate how shaken Sarah got once the young warriors retreated, and her pause to think about it made the moment pass.

“It’s embarrassing.” Jahangir was unwilling to share what happened when they got back to the warrior’s hall.


But I think I can usually get away with being in a more third person multiple subjective viewpoint. I think I'll try being more in-tune with the character's emotions, except for the one that might have a type of alexithymia. I don't think an average reader really can identify with: Sarah thought that she should be annoyed about that, but annoyance was a bad feeling so she did not make an annoyed face.
 

tinkerdan

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One thing I notice is that there are elements in your writing that others might find hard to pin down.
Which is why they seem a bit overbearing or maybe even arbitrary in their critique.

Take this:
“She just stood behind them until they turned around and noticed her. I don’t think that she would have tried to startle them if she had thought that they would panic.” Tanyanika didn’t know how to articulate how shaken Sarah got once the young warriors retreated, and her pause to think about it made the moment pass.

“It’s embarrassing.” Jahangir was unwilling to share what happened when they got back to the warrior’s hall.


But I think I can usually get away with being in a more third person multiple subjective viewpoint. I think I'll try being more in-tune with the character's emotions, except for the one that might have a type of alexithymia. I don't think an average reader really can identify with: Sarah thought that she should be annoyed about that, but annoyance was a bad feeling so she did not make an annoyed face.
To begin with you seem to be specifically trying to force the reader into some exact description that does require that they are in the people thoughts; however there is both what might seem like filtering and passivity in the writing that might need you to edit through to both help the writing and to give the reader a bit of leeway.

Take this.
Tanyanika didn’t know how to articulate how shaken Sarah got once the young warriors retreated, and her pause to think about it made the moment pass.
Might go like this:
Tanyanika paused, unable to articulate Sarah's emotional reaction when the young warriors retreated, and the moment passed.

Then this:
“It’s embarrassing.” Jahangir was unwilling to share what happened when they got back to the warrior’s hall.


A couple of problems one is that I'm unsure if he was hesitant when he got back to the warriors hall or he didn't want to share what happened in the warriors hall.

However it also needs some smoothing and editing. Assuming he was reluctant to share when they returned to the hall.

'It's embarrassing,' said Johangir, reluctant to share more, when they returned to the warrior's hall.

Then this:
Sarah thought that she should be annoyed about that, but annoyance was a bad feeling so she did not make an annoyed face.

It might work better this way:[based on the definition of alexithymi]

Sarah's face was masked with a blank expression , though it possibly was annoyance that she couldn't shape or form.

Just food for thought.

Many times when a critique seems strange or egregious it is a simple matter of the reader being affected by something that they are unable to identify so they stumble across other things that they think might be the problem. My usual reaction these days is now that they have drawn it to my attention; how can I make it clearer without spelling everything out to the reader.
 

Bramandin

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To my mind you're getting hung up on the issue of what is or isn't being revealed by your characters -- which is really only vital if you need to conceal plot points such as the identity of the murderer -- rather than the more important matter of using POV in the best way possible so your readers are fully engaged with your work.

I'd suggest that instead of using a kind of omniscient and repeatedly head-hopping, you try writing very close POV from only one character and stay with him/her throughout the entire scene. See if that gives more depth and richness to the work, as well as making it more accessible to readers. In the example you've given above, for instance, if the cadet was going to play an important part in the story, I'd be thinking of writing it from her POV, as being the strongest; if she was only a bit-part player, though, I'd choose the most interesting observer.

I guess I've got to examine if I have a reason to keep things about characters hidden from the reader. Would it be bad to constantly mention how a strong-looking character is constantly breaking inside when I just want to point out what they notice and internal reactions? Would it be weird to not show that someone is constantly on the verge of snapping until they do? Someone else mentioned switching to a secondary character if they don't want to reveal too much about the main in that moment.

I looked into a chapter that manages to stay out of everyone else's head while including a lot of Birney's navel-gazing. Would I need to add internal thoughts to something like this?

Ribaki smiled at Birney. “At least you’re not the only one having family problems.”

Birney started chuckling, but then put his hand over his mouth and composed himself. “I’m sorry, it’s not actually funny.”

Catullus sighed. “I understand what you’re going through and my current problem is minor in comparison.”

Birney frowned. “I assume that boy was human; are the tensions getting worse?”


Considering that the cadet would probably end up fridged if it served my story, I think I can safely limit her point of view to what other people know about her.
 

Bramandin

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One thing I notice is that there are elements in your writing that others might find hard to pin down.
Which is why they seem a bit overbearing or maybe even arbitrary in their critique.

Yeah, I'm a bit of an untrained mess. I believed the whole "starving artist" thing and got an animation degree instead of taking creative writing classes. I also have learning differences, but remedial english was not the place to put someone who willingly read doorstop books.


To begin with you seem to be specifically trying to force the reader into some exact description that does require that they are in the people thoughts; however there is both what might seem like filtering and passivity in the writing that might need you to edit through to both help the writing and to give the reader a bit of leeway.

I'm not sure I understood that. Basically I'm trying to tell the reader what a character is thinking, but not giving enough information for them to understand what I tried to tell them? Also I should read up on passive voice and get better at editing?


“It’s embarrassing.” Jahangir was unwilling to share what happened when they got back to the warrior’s hall.[/I]

A couple of problems one is that I'm unsure if he was hesitant when he got back to the warriors hall or he didn't want to share what happened in the warriors hall.

I tend to drop "had" and "that" when they should be there. The correct interpretation is that something happened at the warrior's hall that Jahangir doesn't want to tell his peers.

Sarah thought that she should be annoyed about that, but annoyance was a bad feeling so she did not make an annoyed face.

It might work better this way:[based on the definition of alexithymi]

Sarah's face was masked with a blank expression , though it possibly was annoyance that she couldn't shape or form.


I might have misdiagnosed my character. It's my opinion that it's better to make a character consistently quirky instead of starting with a specific mental condition. Telepathic characters tend to describe Sarah's emotions as a mechanical process, but that's to a character that understands clockwork better than logic gates. She acts like she's been trained to display situation-appropriate emotions while trying not to feel inappropriate emotions at all. One of her nephews picked up her habit of acting like she's not crying.

Just food for thought.

Many times when a critique seems strange or egregious it is a simple matter of the reader being affected by something that they are unable to identify so they stumble across other things that they think might be the problem. My usual reaction these days is now that they have drawn it to my attention; how can I make it clearer without spelling everything out to the reader.

I'm getting a lot of food for thought in this thread. I have some things to try to see if they work.
 

Dan Jones

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I believed the whole "starving artist" thing

This has come up once or twice before and I get increasingly frustrated by it. The whole "starving artist" thing is just plain wrong, and it's horribly damaging. This pseudo-romantic idea that the conditions for the artist creating his or her best work are absolute privation is appalling. Creative work requires room to think and space, and that means building a solid foundation so you don't have to think about things like money and heating and food - at least, not all the bloody time. So make sure you don't bet the farm on becoming a famous writer, because it's not a good bet.

The fact that you said you "believed" it (past tense) implies that you've moved away from it. That's a massive win for you. It's hard to find your own writing voice, and it may well take several years to hone and perfect. You'll also have to figure out whose critiques are useful and whose aren't. That only comes with experience.

The good news? Fiction writing tends to be one of the few creative disciplines that seems to peak in most (not all) writers when they reach their middling years and beyond. In other creative disciplines that's not always the case (songwriting, art) so you can afford to take some time and make a few mistakes along the way. Don't fear the mistakes! They are the only thing that will make you improve.

FWIW I think you're overthinking the specific scenes you've mentioned. The best thing would be to simply write it, warts and all, and to hell with any errors in there. So what if you're head-hopping? I'm head-hopping in my WIP, and I'm going to make it work. And if it doesn't? That's what second drafts, edits, the critiques section here, and beta readers are for.
 

Biskit

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My impression is that you are struggling because you are relatively new to writing and trying to do something quite complex, including presenting characters who are not neuro-typical (to use the currently fashionable terminology).

I have a couple of suggestions, neither of which is a quick or easy fix. I've put them in the order I thought of them, but really swapping round probably works just as well.

Firstly, and summarising some of what @The Judge and @tinkerdan have said, you need to take a step back and decide what the story is that you are trying to tell. It feels like you have got bogged down in technicalities of style and POV and the complexity of the story when what you need to start with simplifying things. Step one has to be a concise statement of my story is... Then you can try to decide who is telling my story, and then how is my narrator(s) going to present it. And just to repeat - this is NOT easy to do. (And honestly, I often can't tell you what my story is until I've finished writing it.)

Secondly, take a small part of your story, a scene or chapter, and pick out your top two or three possible POVs and re-write the whole thing from each of those POVs. This isn't just going through and swapping a few names or pronouns around, but getting yourself into the head of each character, being the advocate for each character, making the story about them and telling it as they see and feel it. Again this is not easy to do, but it might help you to think about the story and the presentation.

And finally... a sort of "full disclosure". I write a lot of 1st POV, which is a very different beast from a multi-POV 3rd narrative, and makes choices of POV and how a story is presented very different. I am not suggesting that you abandon your own approach to writing, but just undertake the exercise of teasing out the bare bones of what you want to achieve and exploring simplified scenarios. I come from a science and problem-solving background, and this seems a prime example of where things have become overly complex and the best answer is to wipe the board or take a fresh sheet of paper and start again, as simply as possible, only putting the complexity back in once you've solved the basics.
 

The Judge

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I second Dan's and Bisket's comments that you seem to be overthinking matters and perhaps as a result you've made everything far more complicated than is necessary.

I also think you're spending more time worrying about technicalities than just writing a thumping good story. We all need to be both writers and storytellers, but of the two aspects storytelling is by far the more important for those of us dealing in genre fiction -- fashionable authors beloved of the literati can write a no-plot-going-nowhere-wordfest, but we humble mortals need to have more if we want readers. And not only is it easier to impose good writing standards on a great plot -- as Dan says, that's what second (and third, fourth, fifth...) drafts as well as beta readers are for -- but in some cases poor writing doesn't actually impede sales, as long as the work is eminently readable. (I rest my case on the shoulders of Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer and EL James.)

I guess I've got to examine if I have a reason to keep things about characters hidden from the reader. Would it be bad to constantly mention how a strong-looking character is constantly breaking inside when I just want to point out what they notice and internal reactions? Would it be weird to not show that someone is constantly on the verge of snapping until they do?
I do think you're confusing two very separate issues. We conceal/keep secret things from the reader in order to give a surprise reveal -- A is actually in love with B not C; D is the murderer not E; F did overhear the conversation that changes everything -- it's a plot issue, so we can have misunderstandings and red herrings and the like which propel the story along and give a satisfactory ending. But that's very different from when we just don't tell the reader things. It isn't keeping things "hidden" if we don't provide unnecessary backstory, or we don't allow the characters to angst at length, it's just getting on with the story and keeping to what's important.

But to answer those specific questions:
  • it isn't "bad" to constantly mention a character is breaking inside -- in fact it would be counter-productive and boring if you did do it constantly. However, it would also be unwise never to tell us that a character is getting more and more het up, unless it's actually important to the plot that there's a sudden geyser-burst of emotion coming out of the blue. But how and when to mention the fact must be driven by the needs of the story not by what you want to point out.
  • again, it's isn't "weird" not to show someone is on the verge of snapping, but you should only not show it if that not-showing serves the story.

Considering that the cadet would probably end up fridged if it served my story, I think I can safely limit her point of view to what other people know about her.
Again, I think you're confusing issues. If the scene is being given through the POV of another character, you're not "limiting" the cadet's point of view, you're not giving it at all -- you're only showing what she says and does, and giving the reactions and voiced suppositions of those who are present, and the unvoiced thoughts/emotions of the POV character alone.


Yeah, I'm a bit of an untrained mess. I believed the whole "starving artist" thing and got an animation degree instead of taking creative writing classes.
The "starving artist" concept is really nothing to do with having taken classes or being educated -- it's a false notion that only those who concentrate on their art to the exclusion of all mundane things like earning a living or having enough to eat are true artists. It's not only demonstably untrue, it's actively dangerous in my view.

As to the issue of taking classes, I'm willing to bet that most of us here are self-taught. For myself, I did school exams in English a good many years ago, but I had no formal training in creative writing -- whatever skills I've picked up have come as a result of just getting on with it and writing stories for myself and friends, and then being interested to learn more.

Basically, stop worrying about technicalities. Just write a good story. To start with, have a look at the Writing Challenges -- there's a 75 worder open, and many previous Challenges which you could look at and try for yourself. That will perhaps help you to step outside your worried over this current project and enlarge your actual storytelling ability.
 

The Big Peat

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With apologies if this has been asked and answered and I missed it -

Is there any reason you can't plough on with your story the way you've envisioned it and then show it to people and see what they say?
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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This feels like you're moving more towards the good ol' Omniscient Narrator, which is less fashionable that it used to be but stil a perfectly valid way to tell a story.

Many writers nowday default to Close Third Person, Multiple Protagonists, where you follow one character's viewpoint strictly for the duration of a whole scene or chapter. In contrast, the Omniscient Narrator is free to describe the thoughts and feelings of any character at any point, and also to NOT describe their thoughts and feelings if that doens't suit the scene. You can view the thoughts of two different characters in two successive sentences; you can have entire scenes of just actions or speech with no inner commentary whatsoever.
 

Bramandin

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This has come up once or twice before and I get increasingly frustrated by it. The whole "starving artist" thing is just plain wrong, and it's horribly damaging. This pseudo-romantic idea that the conditions for the artist creating his or her best work are absolute privation is appalling. Creative work requires room to think and space, and that means building a solid foundation so you don't have to think about things like money and heating and food - at least, not all the bloody time. So make sure you don't bet the farm on becoming a famous writer, because it's not a good bet.

I think this is becoming less true now then when I was going to school. I just discovered someone who seems to make a living by being a blogger. It's not a glamorous living, she seems to risk freezing to death every winter, but she's doing well enough. Writing is also not incompatible with having a day-job. Back when I thought I could work, I did nights at a photo-processing facility and was so bored that I got really productive on the script for the webcomic I never got around to drawing. If I had to go back to my 20's, I would have tried to be a truck-driver. Now I have more to lose by not putting everything into becoming a writer. Sure the average lifespan for people with my condition is only 60, but that gives me fifteen years.


The fact that you said you "believed" it (past tense) implies that you've moved away from it. That's a massive win for you. It's hard to find your own writing voice, and it may well take several years to hone and perfect. You'll also have to figure out whose critiques are useful and whose aren't. That only comes with experience.

The good news? Fiction writing tends to be one of the few creative disciplines that seems to peak in most (not all) writers when they reach their middling years and beyond. In other creative disciplines that's not always the case (songwriting, art) so you can afford to take some time and make a few mistakes along the way. Don't fear the mistakes! They are the only thing that will make you improve.

FWIW I think you're overthinking the specific scenes you've mentioned. The best thing would be to simply write it, warts and all, and to hell with any errors in there. So what if you're head-hopping? I'm head-hopping in my WIP, and I'm going to make it work. And if it doesn't? That's what second drafts, edits, the critiques section here, and beta readers are for.

What I have been doing is not worrying so much about it being "good" because even if it wasn't an unpublishable mess, it's fanfiction that's diverged so much from its source that I think I've lost my reader. There's nothing to say I can't still write things like them going out for pizza when I just need to keep my fingers moving. A project I was working on several years ago was even more random with karaoke and body-swapping.
 

Bramandin

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With apologies if this has been asked and answered and I missed it -

Is there any reason you can't plough on with your story the way you've envisioned it and then show it to people and see what they say?

Drop a Stone on AO3 if you're interested in what's there already. I suggest starting with part seven if you can tolerate NSFW, part eight if you want it a bit cleaner.
 

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