Good morning! We’ve had lovely blue skies and bright sunshine over Yorkshire today, so I’m feeling as though spring might be on the way at last. (By the time you read this, another Beast from the Freezing East will probably have arrived, but hey ho!)
As you may recall me mentioning, I recorded my very first podcast a few weeks ago with Ralph Dartford, the poetry editor at Northern Gravy. It’s now been edited – though I still say “you know” far too often! – and is available on their website. So for those of you who’d like to listen to me chatting to Ralph about poetry and other writerly things, here’s the link: https://northerngravy.com/podcast-8/
I paid a visit to the wonderful Kemp’s Bookshop in Malton the other weekend, and did a little dance of joy when I saw that they’d made a display based around their Yorkshire Life book reviews. It was lovely to see An Unfamiliar Landscape featured as a recommended read. I’ll be back there at the end of April to talk about short stories as part of their monthly Under the Covers event, which they describe as a kind of book group, with drinks and nibbles but without a specific book. Sounds good to me – I’m looking forward to it already!
Reviews and Events…
This summer, Victorina Press is publishing an anthology of migrant writings in conjunction with TogetherintheUK, a social enterprise whose mission is two-fold: to provide an unbiased communications platform for migrants and refugees to safely share their stories, while providing reliable advice and insights into life in the UK.
The anthology is already garnering interest – and great reviews – from public figures such as Lord Alf Dubs and Jonathan Portes.
Hear Our Stories is a collection of poetry and prose by those who have made the journey to the UK in search of an opportunity to be themselves, to connect with relatives and families or to work and grow.
Kim Leadbeater MP, sister of the late Jo Cox, has given the anthology the following endorsement:
“Stories are more powerful than statistics; they help us to make connections and to understand just how much we all have in common. Hear Our Stories is full of courage and hope, heartache and loneliness, sacrifice and determination. We can all learn to open our hearts to others through reading this collection of lived migrant experiences. Words bring us closer together, and these are stories which need to be told and need to be heard.”
These stories couldn’t be more pertinent right now, and I urge you to check them out when Hear Our Stories launches in August.
(If you have any book news or forthcoming events you’d like me to share, then let me know!)
It was International Women’s Day last week, and several of the VP authors shared their thoughts about women they admired. Angel author, Wendy Beasley, chose her mother.
“My mum was born within the sound of bow bells and brought up in London during the Great Depression. Her origins were anything but salubrious and yet she inherited the cockney spirit and indomitable resolve that made her a virtual tigress in pursuit of her dreams. From tenement block to London Palladium, she carved out a career first as an acrobatic dancer and then with the Tiller Girls. She toured all over England and Scotland, and continued until she met my dad, a guitarist in a jazz band, and joined the band as a vocalist. Heading for great things, all this came to a halt when war broke out and Dad enlisted. They married before he left, and for the next six years he was engaged in bloody combat while she gave birth to their first born and brought him up alone. She was just nineteen when they married, and a mother by the time she was twenty, and yet she not only coped with the daily bombing and fear of invasion, but also contributed to the war effort with her work as a bus conductress around heavily targeted Brighton.
After the war, two more children came along. Money was tight and jobs scarce, but she made the world a magical place for me and my older siblings. She was a natural story teller, and although she never wrote anything down, her made-up tales were every bit as good as those she sometimes read to us from books. A natural actress, her voices, characterisation and imagination brought the stories to life and instilled in me a love of fantasy and suspense that remains to this day. Thanks, Mum, for making me the writer you always said I would be.”
This week we’re looking at how to create deep point of view. Here’s another extract from my short story course, The Heart of the Short Story.
CREATING DEEP POINT OF VIEW
The level of physic distance is hardly ever fixed throughout an entire story. We can open a story at level one, then quickly zoom in to level three or four, and in shorter pieces of fiction it is possible to sustain level five if the story demands it.
As we have seen, the principles of showing and telling are intrinsically linked to narrative distance within a story, and we are now going to look at the tricks and skills needed to create a deeper point of view in your work.
The aim of deep point of view is to immerse the reader in the story so they experience the action alongside your characters. You need a strong voice in a short piece, and a first person narrative is naturally more immediate. However you can can easily create depth in a third person narrative too. The power of deep POV is the up-close perspective it gives us, the inner, authentic emotions, the fine-focussed view through which readers experience your story. If your reader doesn’t know how your character feels about something then it makes it hard for them to care. Creating deep POV is all about showing us these feelings, rather than telling us, about removing distance and thinking words, about eliminating author intrusion.
The first thing to learn is to have faith in your readers. If you carefully convey a character’s emotions, personality and innermost thoughts through a skilful trail of clues and sensory details, then don’t give in to the urge to follow that up by telling your readers exactly what it all means – you have to trust that they’ll ‘get it’!
There are so many ways to use sensory and physical details to deepen POV. Here are a few of the things you can implement to inject more depth into your character portrayals:
Body language is a strong indicator of emotion and state of mind, and you can use so much more than obvious facial expressions. The way your character walks and moves can reveal their current mood and their relationship to the world around them. Watch how people react physically to others – their closed and open postures, their need for personal space. Think about the way people fold their arms or cross their legs defensively, step backwards when someone moves in too close, touch someone’s wrist as they speak to emphasise their words, tap their fingers to indicate nerves or boredom.
In my story, ‘All Stations to Edgware’, the protagonist, Eleanor, is outgoing, sure of her place in the world, a little selfish. Right at the beginning of the story I try to reveal a little of Eleanor’s character by showing the way she charges through life, unrestrained and uncontrolled.
“There were still a few seats, and Eleanor flopped down, dragged her bag awkwardly behind her. She always managed to take up more space than anyone else. She moved carelessly and extravagantly, sweeping papers to the floor with the sleeve of her kimono, trailing the embroidered hems of her long dresses through the damp Indian earth. Even here, in the crowded train, she was sprawled across two seats, her rucksack on the verge of toppling into someone’s lap.”
When you are out and about, or watching a film or a soap opera, listen to people’s conversations, note the changes in their voices that indicate emotion. Listen for volume, pitch, tone, tempo, articulation; consider speed, pauses, cadence. When we talk we use our voice to convey emotion and to invoke it in others – and we do so both intentionally and unintentionally. However when we write we often use shortcuts – reducing it to ‘she exclaimed’ or ‘she whispered’.
We can use punctation to hint at pauses, sentences training off, speech being interrupted, but we can also consider all the other nuances of speech. How does your character articulate? For example, a shaky voice or stumbling over words can indicate nerves or anxiety, fear or even surprise, mumbling can indicate vulnerability or shyness. A monotonous voice can indicate boredom, lack of enthusiasm or nervousness.
“His voice was a dull, steady drip, each word a small, measured effort.”
“Stella’s eyes held Paul’s in a steady gaze, but her voice cracked on the last word.”
“His voice shook and he turned away before Ella could answer.”
How characters react to sensory stimuli can also be indicative of their emotional state or reveal personality traits.
“She jumped when she heard the telephone ring, even though she had been waiting an hour for the call.”
“Rain is drumming on the metal ducting outside the window, amplifying my jet lag.”
“When she passed by the park gates she was caught unawares by the heady perfume of the roses, and for a moment she was unable to take another step forward as she inhaled the scent of her mother’s skin.”
Thinking and feeling
Try to eliminate author intrusion by reducing the use of thinking verbs which put distance between the reader and the character.
One of the most commonly over-used distancing verbs is ‘to feel’, yet it’s quite easy to remove – for example, you can use the body to show the reader how your character feels.
When your character is thinking about the past, try not to overuse ‘remembered’ or ‘recalled’. Consider the difference between:
“Eleanor caught the earthy scent of patchouli and recalled those special evenings in India.”
“Eleanor caught the earthy scent of patchouli, redolent of Jaipur, where the soft dusk was always heavy with incense and sandalwood attar, saris caught the light, silk scarves billowed like jewel-bright parachutes.”
You can also use symbolism and recurring motifs to reflect characters’ personalities. It can be something as simple as choosing fire to represent a character with a hot temper or something more specific. For example, in Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë uses birds as symbols for confinement and freedom. Small, unassuming birds like sparrows represent Jane herself, and birds of prey represent Edward Rochester. She takes the motif further and uses it to represent location as well – Thornfield Hall is Jane’s haven, but it is also Rochester’s prison, and is often described in terms of a bird’s cage.
Word of the Week…
stuzzicadenti – the rather beautiful Italian word for toothpick!
See you next time…