writing

The Perils of Head Hopping

I don’t have a lot of absolutes when it comes to the writing style of things I read. I’ve heard people say they won’t read first-person narration or present tense, etc. I generally try to give everything a chance and let it come down to how the book works for me. For instance, I’m not a huge fan of second-person narration — “you do this” — but I’ve read a few stories where it works.

One thing that does come close to an absolute for me, though, is indiscriminate head hopping. That’s third-person narration in which the point of view character changes frequently — not just from chapter to chapter or scene to scene, but within a scene, and going back and forth within the scene. For instance, two characters are having a conversation, and when one character is speaking, in that paragraph we also get his thoughts. But then when the other character speaks, in that paragraph we get her thoughts.

This is different from omniscient narration because with that, we have an all-knowing narrator with a perspective on these events. That narrator may dip into everyone’s head at various times, but what we see in that character’s head is presented to us through the viewpoint of the narrator. This was common in 19th century literature. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens often used it. We might get glimpses into the heads of all the characters in a scene, but we weren’t so much seeing through those characters’ eyes as we were seeing what Jane or Charles thought about what the characters were thinking. Some of the cases I’ve seen of people writing head hopping today seem to be authors trying to do this but without realizing that omniscient POV works better if the narrator really does have a perspective, to the point of being an offscreen character.

I find it really hard to get into books that head hop because I can’t sink into any one character’s head, and that makes it really hard to get a grasp on the world and the people involved. If in one scene I’m switching among all the characters, I don’t get into any of them and I’m not sure what to think about any of them. It works better for me if I spend some time in one head, seeing all the characters through that person’s perspective, then in a different scene go into another person’s head and see everything through their eyes, and so forth, and then I can figure out all the characters by putting all this information together.

I will generally put a book down if I have too many instances in the first chapter or so in which I have to backtrack to figure out whose head I’m in. If I’m going along in one person’s head and then with no transition I’m suddenly seeing that person from the outside for a paragraph and it takes me a while to figure out that’s what’s going on, that I’m in another person’s head now, I find that very annoying. It’s worse when the author has point of view breaks on top of it, where the character is thinking things about himself that most people don’t think, so sometimes it’s just a POV break and sometimes it’s an entirely different perspective. For instance, if I’m in my head and reading something that astonishes me, the way I’d describe my reaction would be more internal — I might gasp, my pulse might speed up, I might get a knot in my stomach, etc. I probably wouldn’t think about my green eyes growing wider.

I just started reading a book by an author I’ve been enjoying, but the previous books were all first-person POV. This book is doing multiple character third-person, and I don’t think this author has a good grasp on that. We’re getting a lot of “her green eyes widened” type stuff from within the characters’ POV about themselves, but then the next paragraph will be another character thinking about what that first character’s reaction means, and then a paragraph later we’re back with the first person. I have to keep going back to figure out whose head I’m in. I’m really intrigued by the story situation, but it’s taking me forever to get into this book.

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule about what works here because I know of a lot of really popular books/authors who do this in a way that bothers me so much that I couldn’t read their books, and obviously it didn’t hurt them with a huge number of readers. My rule as a reader is that if I notice it in a way that hurts my enjoyment of a book, you’re doing it wrong for me.

writing

Almost There!

I’m so close to finishing this book that I’m having to battle with my usual “oh, just get it done” impatience in order to make the ending what it needs to be. I sat down to outline the rest and realized that I’d made a few minor wrong turns that have things in not quite the place they ought to be, so I think I’m going to go back over the last half with the same concentration I gave to getting the first half right so I can get a running start to the ending. I’d have to do this kind of editing at some point anyway, and there will be less to change later if I get the setup right.

I already know most of what I want to adjust along the way, and they aren’t major changes, just a few little tweaks that will eventually add up, and that I think (hope!) will take this book to the next level.

So, that will be my focus for the next couple of days. I may throw myself a party when I feel like this book is finally done (for now).

Bits and Pieces

First, a public service announcement: Be wary of “customer service” e-mails claiming to come from AT&T, telling you that you need to verify your e-mail address because of activity on your account, and telling you to call a particular number if you think there’s an error. That’s a scam, but it’s a really good one. The e-mail looks exactly like an AT&T e-mail, and if you look at the expanded headers to see where it’s really coming from, the domain names have “att” in them (though in a different format from the real thing, like “att-mail.com”). I was almost ready to think it might be legitimate, but thought I’d google the number you were supposed to call, and I got a string of sites reporting it as a scam, including a post on the AT&T customer service forums. So, if you get an e-mail like that from AT&T, call the number on your bill or on the AT&T site to check. Don’t click on the link to verify anything, and don’t call the number in the e-mail. Apparently, these same scammers do also call and claim to be AT&T, so don’t give information to someone who calls you. Say you’ll have to get back to them, and then call the number on your bill or on their web site.

Second, for the past ten or so years, I’ve been doing posts about writing every other Wednesday and then sending them out to an e-mail list. I took a break over the holidays and never went back to it, and no one seems to have noticed, at least, not that I’ve heard. Is this something that interests people? Does anyone care about the e-mail list? I’d kind of burned out on the schedule and was running out of things to say, and I was sidetracked by other things. I’ve been occasionally writing about writing when I feel inspired, just not on any kind of formal schedule, and I haven’t been e-mailing the posts.

Meanwhile, I have nearly ten years worth of posts. About five years ago, I put the ones I had at that time into a PDF “booklet” on my web site, but I’ve been thinking about compiling them into an e-book that I could distribute like I do my other books, probably with some cost involved, depending on the length of the book (but probably no more than 2.99). Would anyone be interested in getting all these posts about writing craft and business and writing life, in one handy e-book?

But first I have to finish the book I’m working on, and I’m so very close. I just need to figure out exactly what should happen at the end, since I’ve reached the “and then stuff happens” part of my outline and it needs to get more specific than that.

writing life

Almost Done!

I’m so very close to the end of this draft of this book (which was almost a complete rewrite). Of course, that’s when it’s as though every fiber of my being wants to do everything but write this book. I suddenly desperately want to clean my house, organize things, nap, read, research obscure subjects, and learn opera arias. Every other story idea I’ve had for years is suddenly jumping up and demanding attention.

But I will push through. I have to tell myself that I can’t work on those other things until this book is finished. I’m even going to work Saturday, if I have to.

Though I do have other stuff to do Saturday. I’m doing a talk at church Sunday night that needs some preparation, and then I’m doing a workshop at the Nebula Awards conference that I need to write because I need to get the handouts to them ahead of time. I have some promo stuff I really should take care of. I also want to get my house in order because, distraction and procrastination aside, it really is awful right now. And then there’s that trip to the Nebula Awards. I’m presenting an award, which means I may need to dress a little fancier than I was planning to (well, since I wasn’t actually planning to go to the awards ceremony at all, I guess it’s a lot fancier because if they hadn’t asked me to present, I’d have been wearing yoga pants and my nightshirt and lounging in my hotel room). Some people wear ballgowns to this event. I’m not going that far, but should probably find something fancier than yoga pants and a Star Wars nightshirt.

So, yeah, I’ve got stuff I need to deal with after this book is done, so I’d better get cracking.

TV

Cord Cutting Update

I now have my cord-cutting setup more or less complete. I need to get a couple more things for full functionality, and I might make some tweaks, but I have all the major equipment now that my tuner/media server/DVR has been delivered. I was looking at DVR options once I dropped cable, but I couldn’t justify the cost of the Tivo for the amount I’m likely to record from over-the-air television. Either you spend a lot up front for the lifetime subscription or you pay monthly an amount that’s about the cost of a streaming service.

Then I noticed that some of the digital adapters/tuners had a DVR capability if you added an external hard drive. Most of the reviews for these were pretty bad, but there was one that had good reviews. I followed that link, and it turned out that it had been discontinued, but that company was about to launch a new product to replace it, and it had fixed the things that were lacking in the previous version. If you pre-ordered it, you got it at about half the usual cost, and it was quite reasonable, so I took a chance.

It’s a little gizmo that you plug your antenna into, and then it plugs into the TV via HDMI, and it works kind of like a cable box. It gives you an on-screen program grid for all your over-the-air channels, and if you insert a memory card (I need to get one), you can record programs. The nice thing about using a memory card is that if you fill one up, you can just swap out for a new one, so it pretty much has infinite memory. I don’t anticipate recording that much, mostly stuff from PBS, but what I do record along those lines, it’s for archival purposes because it’s some documentary that I might use as a reference for something I’m writing.

The media server side of things is a little iffier, since it’s Android TV and there aren’t a lot of apps for it yet. They don’t even have Amazon Prime. So I’ll still be using my Roku for streaming.

I’ve been thinking of getting a longer cable for the antenna and moving it upstairs to see if that improves reception any. The PBS station is prone to glitching when a plane flies over. I may also eventually look into getting a better antenna that might pick up my ABC station. At the moment, I can get their local news online, and there’s only one series I watch on ABC, which is about to end, so I don’t know if upgrading the antenna is worth it for that one station.

I really have been watching less TV, which is good. I think my reading is up. Amazon Prime is allowing me to have a lot more variety in my documentary habit, so I’ve branched beyond WWII. I’ve been watching a lot of stuff about the Tudors and the British royal family, since I’m currently working on a book that involves royalty. There are also a number of good travel programs. I think the difference between cable and my current situation is mostly in whether I have access to specific things. Having something to watch isn’t a problem at all.

TV

Going Postal on TV

I made the dangerous discovery that if there’s something I’d like to watch, I can run a search on the Roku and see if it’s streaming anywhere. I’d found last week that some of the TV adaptations of Terry Pratchett books were available with Amazon Prime, but not the one I hadn’t already seen, Going Postal. It’s not even available to buy/rent on Amazon. Just out of curiosity, I ran the Roku search and found that it’s on one of the free TV apps. So, now I’ve had a chance to watch it.

I heard a lot of complaints when it was on British TV, but it really wasn’t bad at all. The book was still better, but that’s a big “Duh!” I thought the casting was excellent (Charles Dance was born to play Vetinari), and it was interesting seeing some of these things come to life, like the way they depicted the Clacks. There’s a bit of a steampunk aesthetic in the setting, technology, and costumes. The special effects are a bit on the cheap side, and the low budget is occasionally obvious, but I don’t think that ruins the overall effect. I would love to see some of these adaptations done with a decent budget, and since I’m sure there’s a big audience for them, I’m not sure why they’ve all been so cheap.

That’s one of my favorite Pratchett books, in part because it was my first, but in part because it’s such a satisfying redemption story, about a con artist who gets caught but gets another chance. At first, he’s scheming for himself, but then he starts to see the impact his crimes had on people and he actually starts thinking about a greater good. He finds ways to use his talents to the benefit of others, not just himself, and that ends up benefiting himself. And that’s all done without getting sappy or sanctimonious.

I don’t know if I’d want to watch this again, so I don’t know about looking for the DVD, but I was so glad I found it to stream. I liked the adaptation of Hogfather, though it, too, suffered from being a bit cheap. The Colour of Magic was kind of a mess, though. It’s pretty much impossible to do that story on a low budget, and that meant a lot of the good stuff was cut out.

Books

My Problem with Epic Fantasy Series

As I come to the end of a trilogy I’ve been reading, I started thinking about what to read next, and that got me started thinking about my reading patterns, and I realized that I have a weird problem with a lot of epic fantasy: I tend not to finish series. There are very few of those big, fat fantasy series that I’ve actually finished.

I know the Anne McCaffrey Pern books are technically science fiction, but they read a lot like fantasy and at various times have been published as fantasy. When I was a teenager, I got an omnibus edition of the first few books from the library, plowed through the first book, read the second, and bogged down somewhere during the third book, never finishing it and never reading any other books in the series.

I read the first two Shannara books when I was a teen, but they were self-contained, with the second book picking up a generation after the first. Not long after I was out of college, I discovered that the series has been continued, picking up some time after the second book. I read the third book, which had a cliffhanger-ish ending, read the fourth book, which picked up the story. And I think that was where I stopped. Part of it was because the party was split in the fourth book, with one group going off and the story sticking with the other group, ending with a cliffhanger involving them. But then the next book picked up the story of the group that split off. There was a time gap between books, as I’d caught up with those that had been published, and I couldn’t remember what had been happening with the group that was split off, so I seem to have lost interest entirely and stopped reading.

I got started on the Wheel of Time series when I was on a trip, finished the book I’d brought, and went to a bookstore to buy something to read on my flight home (in the days before e-books). They threw a freebie book into my bag, and that was what I started reading on the plane. It turned out to be just the first third or so of the first Wheel of Time book (so it was about the size of an average mass market paperback). Since it was a freebie sampler, of course it ended on a cliffhanger, and when I got home, I got the whole book from the library and plowed through it. I then immediately went to the library for the next book, and plowed through it. I grabbed the next one, and fizzled out midway through it when I realized I didn’t care what happened. Part of it was that the main character was changing, which is to be expected, but I didn’t like the person he’d changed into. Part of it was that they split the party, and all the characters I liked were with one group, but that wasn’t the group the book focused on. And I think part of it was burnout. I never did go back and read the rest of the series.

On the recommendation of a friend, I bought all the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. It’s a trilogy, but in mass market the final book is split into two volumes. There’s still a bookmark stuck midway through the last volume. If I were to try to finish the series, I’d have to start over again because I don’t remember anything at all about those books.

Of course, there are series I’ve finished, or at least have managed to read all of the books the author has written. So, what’s the difference?

I’ve learned that I do have a problem with burnout. While there is that urge to read all the books, right now, I’ve found that I do better to space them out, even if they’re all available. If I read something else in between volumes of a series, I’m more likely to finish the series.

To some extent, for me shorter is better. I can generally finish a trilogy, but when I see an unending series of doorstopper books, I feel overwhelmed. I find it helps if a longer series of connected books is broken up in smaller trilogies. That allows some sense of completion rather than feeling strung along forever without a resolution. Somewhat self-contained books are also good, with each book having a beginning, middle, and end rather than just being the amount of pages out of one long story that could fit into the binding.

Don’t split the party! That seems to be the kiss of death for me. I’ll be happy with the first book and the group of characters, and then they always seem to split up in book 2 (Tolkien did this, too). Even if I like characters in both groups, it changes the group chemistry when they’re split. If I don’t like characters in both groups, this is when I tend to skip ahead to find out what’s going on with the characters I like, and then I lose the thread of the overall story. I’m more likely to finish a series that sticks with one main character or group of characters.

Obviously, I’m not the norm for this because all of these series were very successful. Thinking about this has mostly been a way for me to recognize my own reading patterns. As a result, although I want to read the next book in the series I’ve been reading, I think I’m going to take a break and read something else, even though the next book starts a new trilogy in that universe. I like these books and would like to get to the end of the series, so I’m not going to let myself bog down and burn out.

Life

Garden Distractions

I didn’t last very long working on the patio yesterday before I was seized by the urge to get out the hedge clippers and trim the jasmine that invades the patio from the other side of the fence. And then the bare flowerpots started bothering me, so I found that I still had some seeds from last year. I don’t know if they’ll germinate, but I suppose I’ll find out in about a week. If they don’t, I can get more seeds or buy some plants.

I decided to move the morning glory trellis to a larger pot that I can put my plant waterer in, and I think I’m going to put zinnias around the edge, since the morning glories grow up and something needs to be around the base. That way, if nothing else survives any trips out of town, it’ll be the plant that matters most. The waterer is a slim terra cotta jar that you bury with just its top above ground and fill with water. The water seeps through the clay into the soil. Depending on weather conditions, it can keep plants alive more than a week. You start with a good watering, and the water only seeps through when the soil dries out, so the jar can stay full for a while until that last watering wears off, and then any rain will hold off on water coming out of the jar.

I did eventually get to work and got more than my word count quota done (though I was doing a lot of copying and pasting from the previous draft). Today, my arms and shoulders are complaining about those hedge clippers.

It seems to be a bit cooler and windier today, so I may have to work indoors. That may be good because who knows what gardening would distract me today.

Life

Garden Time

I’m still making forward progress on the book and have reached a point where I can incorporate stuff I’ve already written, so I should really make my word count today. It may be a patio office day, since it’s warm but not too warm and it’s not too windy. I always seem to get a lot done when I work outside.

It’s also getting to the time of year when I can start playing with flowers again. We’ve had some freakishly cold snaps the last few weeks, so I’ve hesitated. I’m also going to be out of town for nearly a week next month, and I don’t want to have to deal with figuring out watering while I’m gone, but I’m getting itchy for having my “garden.” I had zinnias and morning glories last year, and the morning glories brought me a great deal of joy, so I want to plant them again.

I never thought of myself as a garden-type person, but I’m discovering that there’s something about a garden that sings to my soul. I’m happy surrounded by plants and flowers. I also never thought of myself as an “outdoors” person, but as long as the weather’s nice, I could pretty much live outside. My patio becomes another living room. A good outdoor living area is on my wish list for my dream house.

So, it may be time to head to the garden shop and see what I can plant because the patio is looking awfully bare right now and I have a lot of empty flowerpots.

writing

Dreaming the Book

I made both my writing time quota and my word count quota yesterday, so I felt really accomplished. And I must have become deeply engaged in what I was doing because all last night I dreamed the scenes I wrote yesterday. It would have been nice if I could have come up with something new, like maybe the next scene, or even some revisions to the scenes I wrote yesterday, but I guess if it was vivid enough to dream, that’s still a good sign. I know when I’m dreaming a book that it’s going well.

I’m maybe a week and a half away from finishing, if I keep up this pace. But I’ve said that several times before so I’m not going to make any predictions.

In other news, this weekend is the North Texas Teen Book Festival. I’m not one of the featured authors and my books aren’t being sold there, but I am volunteering in the afternoon. I pretty much look like my book cover photo, though I suspect I’ll have my hair up and I’ll be wearing glasses, and I’ll have something on that will be a hint about who I am. If you’re there, look for me, and there may be a little prize to anyone who spots me and comes to say hi.

And for those in the Pittsburgh area, mark your calendars for a big booksigning that will be held on the afternoon of May 20. It’s part of the Nebula Awards weekend and will involve a lot of authors, including me. It’s free and open to the public. You can bring books from home, and there will be some books on sale there (supposedly, they’ll have copies of Rebel Mechanics. I’ll have a few other things). I’ll share more specific details as I have them.

I have a few events in the fall, but this is probably going to be the extent of my getting out and about until September (unless someone invites me to something else).