Tag Archives: Mark Twain
POV is shorthand in the film industry for “point of view” – in that context, it has to do with not only the narrative context but also the camera angles and editing process. Changing the POV can affect the way the audience – or readers – perceive a character, an event, or the overall atmosphere of a scene.
Recently I was watching a history documentary series from BBC called, “British History’s Biggest Fibs”, with Lucy Worsley. The basic point of the series is that history is subjective; whoever wins gets to name the battles, and shape future generations’ perceptions about events; the victor gets to smooth over their own weak points and play up their heroism for posterity. PR and spinning a good yarn helped to shape how reigning kings were perceived and toppled, or usurpers could style themselves as “successors”.
When writing a novel, the POV can drastically change a scene either from the inside, or the outside, or both; by that I mean that either the scene itself changes “camera angles” to tell the story from a slightly different perspective, or that something within the scene shifts slightly, affecting the reader’s perceptions of characters or events in the scene. For example: I was reading through a particular scene in my current manuscript that I knew I wasn’t happy with, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me aside from the outcome. The scene involved an unjust flogging aboard a Royal Navy ship. The officer on duty was forced by the captain to either flog the innocent man or be punished worse in his stead. The original scene played out with the officer carrying out the punishment unwillingly but obediently. The scene’s purpose is to show the gradually decaying grip on reality in a captain going insane; I wanted a stronger contrast, and so I tweaked the dialogue, which changed the outcome: The officer refuses to punish the innocent man and takes the punishment on himself. This outcome builds far more tension among the crew, gives grounds for retribution against the true instigator (a snivelling King John’s man of a junior officer), and contrasts the honourable dealings of the officer on duty against the captain’s failing sense of right and wrong. By shifting the scene slightly, I take the reader and myself down a much steeper path.
In this illustration from Marvel’s Avengers film series, the camera angle chosen gives much more of an adrenaline rush than, say, if you were passively watching from off to the side; the fact that the arrow’s flying straight at you gives the scene that extra “kick”.
If you find yourself staring at one of your scenes – or even an entire premise of your story – that you’re not satisfied with, trying shifting the POV (sometimes it helps me to refer to it as the “camera angle”). Put your inner eye’s camera in a different position in the scene, and see if that unlocks the key to improving that scene, the story arc or a character’s arc. Keep writing!
I’ve been out of WordPress-land for the past week or so; I’ve been focused on editing and didn’t want to blog until I had something worth writing about. I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been working on & thinking about:
One golden rule in writing is to make every word count; along that yellow brick road are all kinds of signposts and potholes. Signposts are things like “make verbs do the actions”, while potholes are “watch out for unnecessary words” – either for the sake of padding word count (e.g. for a short story or report that needs to reach a certain word count), or words that slip in needlessly. Examples of unnecessary words are -ly adverbs (if we use the best verb, the adverb will be superfluous), strings of adjectives, really, very, and there is/are/were/was. Recently I’ve been scanning my current manuscript for the kinds of words that slip in easily while writing in a flow; I have a list of things that I watch out for personally, and one item is “there”. While I try to catch them as I write, sometimes I will intentionally use them as a “place-marker” – knowing that I’ll come searching for them later, find it, and re-write the sentence or scene with a fresher eye than I had at the time I originally wrote it. That’s just me – I know myself, that I won’t leave things like that long. If you’re not sure you’ll catch those sentences you want to improve on later, then mark them with a different coloured text, or an e-post-it, or something that will jump out at you.
Here are a few examples of sentences (from my current manuscript) with “there” before and after editing:
…there was a crisp off-shore wind… —> …a crisp off-shore wind blew…
…there was no recollection in his eyes… —> …no recollection flickered in his eyes…
…there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes… —> …amusement twinkled in his eyes…
…there was no sign of the HMS Norwich… —> …the HMS Norwich was nowhere to be seen…
…there would be dire consequences… —> …dire consequences would follow…
…there was a smirk on the captain’s face… —> …a smirk spread across the captain’s face…
Tightening up the wording makes the sentence less clunky and more precise. Making every word count is not about reducing word count, although that will be a natural consequence sometimes; at other times, by changing the sentence to mean more precisely what you want to convey, it may result in the word count actually increasing. Just make sure that the words you use carry their weight. Waffling, rambling & repetition will not win us any brownie points; I could easily go into detail about the ropes of a ship of sail, but it would probably bore most readers to death! Sometimes “less is more”; it’s enough to say “ropes”. If I describe a surgeon’s table and list the instruments he’s about to use, it may be TMI (“too much information”) if using the word “instruments” is enough; if I want something more specific, then I could name a tool at a particular moment in the scene. Though I like the (audio) book “The Host”, by Stephenie Meyer, my one gripe with it is what I call the “roll call” scenes – where the characters present are listed, as if in a roll call. It’s TMI – it would be enough to say something like, “those I counted as allies were with me”.
Other times, a list of words may become a linguistic collage, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of a character, or a place, or a mood. A classic example of this is Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky; most of the words are nonsensical, non-existent words, but they nevertheless paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.
It’s why writing is never an exact science, and why, as a writer, I can always learn something, always hone my skills. If I ever become satisfied with my own level of writing, to me that’s a warning sign that I’m missing a significant moment of improvement. That should never stop someone from publishing – from letting their baby grow up and go out into the world to make other friends – but in the writing and editing process, be prepared to let go of pet scenes, or even some characters, in favour of an improved manuscript. Making every word count requires that we learn to recognise what counts, and what doesn’t. So keep writing, and keep honing your skills!
I love quotes; good ones take an entire concept and condense it down to one or two lines. Some are pithy, some profound, some obscure and some obvious, but most always, they make you stop and think. They often relate universal conditions of the human existence, whether that quote comes from a present-day person or one that lived hundreds of years ago.
I often use quotes in my articles here, but I’ve never really had titled posts dedicated to them; I like to use alliterations, but “quote” doesn’t rhyme with anything practical in English – so (naturally) I went with Latin. [For the few Latin aficionados out there, please let me know if I’ve used the wrong form… there aren’t exactly Latin dictionaries floating around.]
I’d like to kick off with one of the wittiest writers I know of, Mark Twain. Here are five zingers (and I apologize in advance for the grammatical errors – I didn’t make the jpegs!); enjoy!
Challenge: Write a short paragraph (100 words or less) daily on a topic beginning with the sequential letter of the alphabet.
Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” Life is usually smoother than its fictional counterpart; true stories made into film, such as It Could Happen to You (Nicholas Cage, 1994) would be “too boring” if they only told the truth. But wires need to be crossed… relationships gone stale must be electrocuted back to life, communication hampered by misunderstandings, and obstacles placed in the path of the hero/heroine to make it more interesting. Crossed wires are the bedrock of most tales, no matter the genre.
I had to share this! As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” In this case, it’s the difference between a home run and a strike…
If you’ve ever painted a picture more than a colouring book or a paint-by-number, chances are you’ve learned something along the way about layers. Layering is also a digital graphics technique in programs such as Photoshop, and as each layer is made, the image changes, taking on the shapes or colours as you add the consecutive elements.
Besides being a writer, I am also a vocal coach. I only take on students who are already in bands, or preparing for recordings or competitions, and one of the things I teach them is layering within a vocal performance: The nuances of thoughts, the power of imagination, the colouring of the vocals through not only the physical placement of the tone within their instrument (their body), but the placement of their imagination. One can communicate boredom or interest or empathy with the exact same wording by merely varying the intonation, and that comes through the layering of the performance.
Writing is much the same way: It is through the employment of grammar, spelling and punctuation that we signal the reader to prepare for a particular experience; as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Oh, the difference between, “It was rainy last night,” and “It was a dark and stormy night”!
So the next time you feel like your manuscript or poem is falling flat, take a minute to think about the layers, and see what creative brush strokes you can give your work.
“If you invent two or three people and turn them loose in your manuscript, something is bound to happen to them – you can’t help it; and then it will take you the rest of the book to get them out of the natural consequences of that occurrence, and so first thing you know, there’s your book all finished up and never cost you an idea.” Mark Twain