Beware Head-Hopping

head-hopping-writing-vivian-lawry
We all know about Point of View. It’s the narrator’s position in relation to the story being told.

 

With the objective POV, the writer tells the story entirely with action and dialogue. S/he never discloses anything about thoughts or feelings, leaving it for the reader to infer these from the dialogue and action.
head-hopping-writing-vivian-lawry
In my experience, writers more often choose to get inside the head and heart of one or more characters.

 

The closest POV is when the narrator is “I.” I struggled to speak around the lump in my throat. My heart thundered painfully in my chest. I planned the meal carefully, including all of Dad’s favorite dishes.

 

A step more distant is the third person POV—he, she, or it felt, thought, planned, reacted…

 

And then there are stories with multiple POVs—not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it is risky. Authors who do it well clearly lead the reader from one head to the next. One good exemplar is Diana Gabaldon. When she’s writing from Claire’s POV, it is first person. Everyone else is third person, and these shifts are typically by chapter.

 

The danger is changing POV within scenes. For example, a couple argues intensely and the writer tells the reader what each is thinking and feeling. Why is this a problem?

 

The challenge is to be consistent when two POV characters are in the same scene. It’s incredibly easy to accidentally give the non-POV character fleeting thoughts or feelings.

 

Head-hopping is jumping from one POV to another quickly, with no warning to the reader. It makes the story feel choppy and can be confusing.

 

Doing it right means signaling the changes to the reader by chapter breaks or the ubiquitous *** that signals something is changing. The writer sticks with  any given POV for the duration of the chapter or scene.

 

And one last consideration: Readers typically identify with the POV character—whether “I” or a third person “s/he.”  With multiple points of view, the reader may have difficulty deciding who to root for. And the more POVs included, the greater the difficulty.

 

head-hopping-writing-vivian-lawry
Bottom line: handling multiple POVs effectively is a challenge, and avoid head-hopping, always!

Writers Love Toxic Men!

And you needn’t be a female writer to succumb!

 

Lillian Glass Toxic Men
Toxic Men by Lillian Glass, PhD.
Lillian Glass defines a “Toxic Man” as one who elicits negative emotions from you, behaves badly toward you or doesn’t treat you right, or makes you feel bad about yourself (thus affecting your behavior and lowering your self-esteem). Substitute “your character” for “you” and voila! You have the makings of a great deal of tension in scene after scene and a lot of sympathy for your character.

 

Glass’s book includes questionnaires to identify specific ways in which the Toxic Man elicits negative emotions.

 

Under the heading “How Does He Behave Toward You?” there are several subheadings: sadistic behavior, manipulative behavior, dishonest behavior, selfish behavior, non-communicative behavior, critical and judgmental behavior, angry behavior, embarrassing or shaming behavior, controlling behavior, and jealous behavior.

 

And under the heading “How Does He Make You Feel about Yourself?” the subcategories are: feeling emotional changes (feeling depressed, hopeless, frustrated, anxious or panicky, angry, empty, etc.); feeling afraid or fearful; feelings of self-doubt; physical changes (such as sickness, headache, weight gain or loss); feelings of guilt and shame; or just not feeling like your old self.

 

The Eleven Toxic Types of Men:

  1. The jealous competitor
  2. The sneaky passive-aggressive silent-but-deadly erupting volcano
  3. The arrogant self-righteous know-it-all
  4. The seductive manipulative cheating liar
  5. The angry bullying control freak
  6. The instigating backstabbing meddler
  7. The self-destructive gloom-and-doom victim
  8. The wishy-washy spineless wimp
  9. The selfish me-myself-and-I narcissist
  10. The emotional refrigerator
  11. The socio-psychopath
Glass’s book is accessible, gripping, and a great read. I recommend it to writers in any genre!
Dr. Lillian Glass
Dr. Lillian Glass
AND REMEMBER: role-reversal is always a great alternative! For every toxic man, there’s a toxic woman!

Guest Post on Thrill Writing: The Company You Keep

Thrill Writers, The Company You Keep - Does Your Character Act "Out of Character" in a Group Dynamic?

I’m honored to be interviewed on Fiona Quinn’s Thrill Writing, a blog helping thriller writers write it right. 

We talk about why a character might act “out of character,” group mentality, behavior matching, why people might be more passive in groups or more likely to riot, and more.

Excerpt from “The Company You Keep – Does Your Character Act ‘Out of Character’ in a Group Dynamic?”

In this article, we’re talking about what happens to a character when they get into a group where a character might act “out of character”, which is a fun way to develop the plot.

Can you first give us a working definition for “group”

Vivian – We usually think three or more, but some “group” effects are present even with only two. Also, the “group” needn’t be physically present to exert influence.

Fiona – Can you explain that last sentence?

Vivian – Some group memberships are literal memberships–for example, a church congregation, sorority, bridge club, etc. such groups are often in our thoughts, and serve as a reference or standard for behavior even when the member is alone.

Fiona –  Does “group mentality” work both ways? For example, people in a riot become riotous, but people in a disaster, where they see all hands on deck, become heroes?

People in a religious forum feel more religious. . .sort of like a magnifier?

Vivian –  Absolutely. I just mentioned formal groups–which are the ones having the strongest influence at a distance– but crowds, mobs, any physical gathering of people, shapes our behavior to act or remain passive.

Fiona – Can you give us a short tutorial on what we need to know about group dynamics to help write our characters right?

Vivian – Well, there is a phenomenon known as behavior matching, a tendency to do what others around us are doing. This is reflected in everything from eating to body language. Even a person who has eaten his or her fill will eat more if someone else comes in and starts eating. If others are slouching, your character isn’t likely to remain formal.

Fiona – Yes, it’s hard to pass up a piece of chocolate cake when everyone else is moaning about how delicious it tastes.

Just sayin’

Vivian – A related phenomenon–I suppose it could be a subset of behavior matching– has the label diffusion of responsibility. This is the tendency for people to stand passively by when others are present. There was a classic case, decades ago, in which a NYC woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered in the courtyard of her apartment. The murder took approximately half an hour, and dozens of her neighbors watched from their windows. No one came to help or even called the police. The more people who could help, the less likely anyone will take responsibility for doing so.

And then there is group disinhibition. This is sort of the opposite. It is that people are more likely to take risks, break the law, be violent when others are doing so. Think looting, or harassing a homeless person. Disinhibition is even more powerful when alcohol is involved. I recently posted a blog on alcohol for writers that goes into that a bit.

But the bottom line is that we behave differently with others present than when alone.

Read more at Thrill Writing

Thank you, Fiona!

Psychology for Writers

psychology for writers

Roundup of Psychology for Writers series

Do You Have a Beautiful Bod or What? couple in snow

The Cold Facts About Sex 

Characters’ Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words 

Animal Writes 

Considering Creativity 

When Characters Are in Conflict with Themselves: Psychology & Folk Wisdom 

Writing Relationships: Why Not Get the Hell Out of Dodge? Writing Relationships: Why Not Get the Hell Out of Dodge?

Frangible Characters

Toxic People Are Great

Writers Need Toxic Relationships 

Two Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing 

Psychology of Uncertainty 

The Principle of Least Interest"Stop procrastinating. Start writing." Writers and procrastination.

Why Writers Need Empathy

Why Women Have Sex: Character Motivation Matters 

Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters 

Want to be published? Join Sisters in Crime at the Libbie Mill Library on Saturday, February 27, 2016, for “Paths to Getting Published–Mystery Authors Tell Their Tales.” A book signing and celebration of the publication of Virginia is for Mysteries II will follow.

Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II celebration on February 27th at Libbie Mill Library

Do You Have a Beautiful Bod or What?

Everyone has a body image. It’s how you feel about your body and all its parts as well as how you think other people view you. Body image isn’t something you’re born with, but you acquire one pretty early on—starting with what family and friends say and do, and then from how what you see in the mirror compares to what you see reflected in the media and what your culture values.
body image: Body Bizarre, Body Beautiful by Nan Menab
People who accept the way they look and feel good about their bodies (most of the time) have positive body images. Beyond looks, body image is related to how you feel physically and what your body can do. Some say that a positive body image must also reflect reality. Consider whether this is what you want for your character(s). 
 
body image: Anatomical Anomalies book
It might be effective to have a serious body defect and/or distortion of perception. Interesting (to me) is that research indicates that (1) women of all ethnic groups have more issues with body image than men do, (2) women think men are attracted to thinner ideals than men actually are, and (3) men think women are more attracted to more muscular body builds than women actually are. In the extreme, distorted body images are associated with anorexia, bulimia, and exercise disorders. As a writer, consider the value of misery!

 

Although body image tends to be established early and to solidify during adolescence, it isn’t static. Artist’s self-portraits often reveal a great deal about how they view themselves at a given time. Consider these two self-portraits by the same artist, two years apart. What seems to have happened to body image?

 

I recently wrote a memoir in which I mentioned illness turning me into a person I never meant to be. All sorts of trauma can have that effect. Think of the opportunities!

 
Of course, we seldom live au naturel.  Men have haircuts and facial hair, maybe lifts in their shoes, and other bits for more adventuresome tweaks—maybe hair transplants. Women, on the other hand, have haircuts and hair color, corsets or Spanx, shoe choices and jewelry, makeup, and all manner of accessories. In the extreme (my judgment), they go for tummy tucks, face lifts, breast augmentation (sometimes reduction) and so forth. What about your character? Recently, in the US, tattoos have been coming into their own. I was surprised recently to learn that Richmond, VA, is one of the most tattooed cities in the country.

 

body image: Tattoo book

 

Would your character get a tattoo? Why or why not? Where? What? Under what circumstances? Is the tattoo public or private?

 

Never say never!

Writing Winter Weather

Writing 101: Winter Weather

Like so many other people affected by the recent extreme weather, I had plenty of time to consider snow. And as with so many other things that I consider, I started reading about it. Yes, Elmore Leonard is adamant that you never start a book with the weather—but that is not to say weather is taboo in your story. Your task as a writer is to make weather interesting. As an exercise, consider the following snow-related facts, and how you might fit them into a story in a way that seems natural, preferably relevant to the plot!

neighborhood with snow
Snow January 2016

 

Chionophobia is a persistent fear of snow, especially being trapped by snow. Winter cold kills more than twice as many Americans as summer heat does. Maybe your character has a reason to move to Key West!
snow drifts by house
Snow drifts during January 2016

 

Some parts of Antarctica have had no rain or snow for two million years. Also, snow has never been reported in Key West, FL.

 

On average, an inch of rain makes 10 inches of snow.

 

winter weather in Richmond, Virginia, January 2016

 

Skiing was introduced to Switzerland by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893.

 

Handschuhschneeballwerfer is German slang for “coward.” It means someone who wears gloves to throw snowballs.

 

A snowflake that falls on glacier in central Greenland can take 200,000 years to reach the sea.

 

Conventional wisdom holds that all snowflakes have 6 sides. But according to the Huffington Post, there are triangles, hourglasses, spools of thread, needles, hollow columns, dendrites, prisms, and flat plates as well. Asymmetrical snowflakes are more common than symmetrical ones. Shapes vary by temperature and moisture in the clouds. What sort of person would care about the shape of snowflakes?

 

It’s a myth that no two snowflakes are exactly the same; in 1988, two identical snow crystals came from a storm in Wisconsin. But according to physicists, complex snowflakes are indeed unique.

 

According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest snowflake was reported to be 15 inches across and 8 inches thick. While witnesses said the flakes were “larger than milk pans,” these claims have not been substantiated.

 

tree covered in snow, January 2016

 

Snow isn’t white; it’s actually clear and colorless. The appearance of white results from absorbing sunlight uniformly over the wavelengths of visible light.

 

Sometimes snow doesn’t appear white. Orange snow fell over Siberia in 2007. Deep snow can appear blue. Snow can also appear pink (watermelon snow). Snow in high alpine areas and the coastal polar regions contains fresh-water algae that have a red pigment that tints the surrounding snow. Perhaps your character made snowcream with pink snow and all who ate it got sick from the algae.

 

Each winter in the US, at least 1 septillion ice crystals fall from the sky—that’s 1 with 24 zeros. The average snowflake falls at a speed of 3.1 mph.
1 septillion ice crystals fall from the sky

 

An average snowflake is made up of 180 billion molecules of water.

 

Besides snowflakes, frozen precipitation can take the form of hail, graupel (snow pellets), or sleet.

 

The most snow ever recorded in a 24-hour period in the US was 75.8 inches (Silver Lake, CO, 1921). The second most fell in one calendar day, 63 inches, in Georgetown, CO, 1913. In 1959, a single snowstorm in Mt. Shasta dropped as much as 15.75 feet of snow in that California region.

 

Mt. Baker ski area in Washington State has the world record for snowfall: 1,140 inches in the 1998-99 winter season (about 95 feet). Who would be happy about that?

 

80% of the freshwater on earth is frozen as ice or snow, accounting for 12% of the earth’s surface.

 

footprint in snow
Footprint in snow

 

A blizzard is when you can’t see for 1/4 mile, the winds are 35 mph or more, and the storm lasts at least 3 hours.

 

People buy more cakes, cookies, and candies than any other food when a blizzard is forecast. And I thought it was bread and milk! What would your character stock up? Wine? Beans? Oatmeal? Dog biscuits? Toilet paper?

 

The US averages 105 snow storms per year, typically lasting 2-5 days and affecting multiple states.

 

An igloo can be more than 100 degrees warmer inside than outside—and they’re warmed entirely by body heat.

 

According to wikipedia, the Eskimo-Aleut languages have about the same number of distinct word roots referring to snow as English does, but these languages allow more variety as to how those roots can be modified in forming a single word. This issue is still debated.

 

Snowboarders and skiers often distinguish different types of snow by labels such as mashed potatoes, pow pow, champagne, cauliflower, sticky, or dust on crust.

 

Ski lift in snow
By Nathalie Gouzée

 

Nova Scotia holds the record for the most snow angels ever made simultaneously in multiple locations: 22,022 in 130 locations in 2011. Bismarck, North Dakota holds the record for the most snow angels made simultaneously in one place:  8,962 in 2007.

 

The largest snowball fight on record involved 5,834 fighters in Seattle on January 12, 2013.

 

The largest snowman ever recorded was 113 feet 7 inches, in Bethel, ME. Perhaps your character wants to break that record.

 

Rochester, NY, is the snowiest city in the US, averaging 94 inches of snow a year.

 

In 1992, the Common Council of Syracuse, NY, passed a decree that any more snow before Christmas Eve was illegal.  Just two days later, they had more snow. But what’s the story there?
tree covered in snow

The Value of the Unexpected

woman on motorcycle, 20th century
Great-aunt Mary

 

This is Great-aunt Mary. She and her husband lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, over the bar they owned and operated. Her mother was a strict Southern Baptist and disapproved so strongly that she refused to visit them.

 

But Mary was definitely a free spirit. Given that, you might not be surprised to hear that besides riding a motorcycle, she flew a small plane. She once went canoeing alone on the Ohio River when it was at flood stage.The unexpected thing about Aunt Mary is that she always said she was “too nervous” to drive a car! Interesting as she was anyway, this last adds another layer of richness.

 

And so it is with your fictional characters: if everything is consistent and predictable, why would anyone read to learn more?

 

Takeaway for writers

Always try to include something surprising or unexpected.

 

Writing 101: The Value of the Unexpected

Characters’ Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words

Writing 101: Character Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words

 

Some things seldom if ever appear on the page because they are just taken for granted. If your characters leave the house—unless you specifically say otherwise—the reader assumes they are wearing shoes and street clothes appropriate to the season, have combed their hair, had breakfast, brushed their teeth. . .  If you’ve established quirks for your characters—e.g., Sue Grafton’s detective Kinsey Millhone works out twice a day—even these individual habits or routines aren’t mentioned every time they happen. The reader assumes those actions as part of the background.

 

Consider the power of not doing the usual. Under what circumstances might a character wear the same clothes for a solid 48 hours? Does it make a difference if those clothes are pajamas? What are the implications of skipping showers, hair washing, and tooth brushing? Why might a character eat sardines and Great Northern beans straight from the can? All of these possibilities imply powerful motivation or situational constraints. Is your character held captive? Lost in Alaska? Deeply depressed?

 

Even if your characters aren’t doing what’s expected, they’re doing something. Maybe it’s computer solitaire, or a jigsaw puzzle; reading trashy novels and eating bonbons; getting knee-walking drunk; or maybe it’s only sleeping, or staring into space—but it’s something. What that something is—and the feelings that accompany it—say a great deal about your character. Is your character in survival mode? Overwhelmed? Feeling rebellious? Guilty?  Ashamed? Weak?

 

TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS

Sometimes what a character doesn’t do is as telling as what s/he does do. Use it!

 

man sleeping in truck

More on Characters

When Characters Are in Conflict with Themselves

Frangible Characters

Quirking Your Characters

Writers on Writing

What’s in a Character Name?

Books for Writers: Deborah Tannen

Animal Writes

Writing 101 Animal Writes

Should you want to add an animal to your story, here’s the First Rule of Thumb: the more important the fictional animal is to your story/plot/series, the more you need to know about the actual one. That being said, here are some snippets that floated through my brain while thinking about fictional animals

Second Rule of Thumb: if you want your readers to identify with the animal, consider a dog or cat. In most Western countries, the two most popular pets are dogs and cats. There are approximately 75.5 million pet dogs and 93.6 million pet cats in the United States—compared to 5.3 million house rabbits. On the other hand, more households own dogs than cats—45.6 million households vs. 38.2 million households, respectively. Among college students, 60% identified themselves as dog lovers compared to 11% cat lovers (everyone else being both or neither). (And just a fun fact: in 2013, pets outnumbered children four to one in the U.S.)

Sticking to dogs and cats for a bit: dog owners report seeking companionship, while cat owners sought affection.

If you do go with a dog or a cat, consider how the profile of the typical owner matches your character. Overall, dog lovers are more energetic and outgoing, and are more likely to follow rules closely. Cat lovers are more introverted, open-minded, sensitive, non-conformist, and intelligent. As most people know, dogs and cats of various species have identifiable personalities and behaviors, so consider how compatible or incompatible your character and pet need to be to support your storyline. Which is your dog?

Third Rule of Thumb: the more unusual the animal you choose, the more you might have to work for reader affection but the easier it might be to grab reader attention.  Consider the red-footed tortoise.

red footed tortoise in tank
Oogway

Only 4.7 million U.S. households own reptiles, and many of those are lizards, snakes, etc. Chances are a red-footed tortoise would be pretty unfamiliar. Few readers would know that they can grow to more than 18 inches, and live more than 30 years. Some readers would be interested to learn that they are omnivorous, rest 50% of the time, and prefer temperatures around 86 F, not below 68 F or over 95 F. What sort of character would choose such an animal companion? What sort of household might own four dogs, six cats, one parrot, and a tortoise?

BIG TAKE-AWAY FOR WRITERS

Think carefully before you throw one or more animals into your story. Consider the role of the animal(s), and the fit between your character and the fictional animal(s). And then have fun with it!

P.S. FYI, January 14th is Dress Up Your Pet Day. Work that tidbit into your story!

Collectors

Not to be confused with The Collector movie

I’ve mentioned here and there that I collect things: dictionaries, carved wooden Santas, napkin rings, funky earrings, and mah jongg sets, among other things.collector, collection of dictionaries

I’m not alone here. Indeed, I’m not not even close to making it into the The Mammoth Book of Weird Records.

There are people out there collecting

  • love dolls
  • dolls dressed as nuns
  • aluminum can pull tabs
  • belly button fluff
  • airsick bags
  • banana labels
  • nail clippingscollector, collection, wooden Santa
  • already chewed Nicorette Gum
  • wooden toilet seats
  • cow hairballs
  • pictures of cement mixers
  • toothpaste tubes
  • vacuum cleaners
  • key chains
  • back scratchers
  • beds
  • empty pizza boxescollector, collection, napkin ring
  • clothing tags
  • Walmart receipts
  • husbands (or wives)
  • traffic cones
  • umbrella covers
  • teabag labels
  • autographed drumsticks
  • dildos

AND THE LIST GOES ON!collector, collection, earrings

Think about the sort of person who might collect these things. And why. Who is comforted by plenty? Who wants to be distinctive, not one of the masses? Who sees it as a mark of economic superiority? Or maybe there’s a family competition going on.

Are you a collector? What and why?