Tag Archives: Ann Stephens

Going Deep

brick-passage
Don’t be afraid to explore the depths of your characters

As in deep point of view. Not necessarily sexy, historical or romantic, but choosing a POV is a crucial part of storytelling. First person, second person, third person. Authors have used all of them to craft unforgettable books.

Many writers enjoy using first person, because they feel like they can dig up all their protagonist’s emotions. For that reason, many readers enjoy stories told in first person. Confession time here: as a reader, I struggle with first person books. Exceptions have been The Martian, by Andy Weir and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

First person isn’t a bad thing! It’s just a matter of personal preference. Like a kid at bedtime, I almost always want to know what the grown-ups are doing when I’m out of the room. Hence, I’m more comfortable reading third person, and a lot more comfortable writing in it. I like the freedom to move from character to character.

Even so, third person has its own pitfalls. I’m making my way through a book by a New York Times best-selling author, written in third person. It makes me want to poke pins in my eyes. Because it is All. Talking. Heads. Every last thought these characters have comes out in dialogue. Everything, including emotion, is on the surface — one of the hazards of writing in this POV.

Enter Deep Point of View

Deep POV, also known as third person limited, is a way to marry the intimacy of first person with the wider scope of third person. The reader is pulled into the head of a character from the first words of a scene, and experiences what it’s like to be that person as the story unfolds. Not just thoughts, but emotions and immediate physical sensations. The rush of first love, the burst of grief, the comforting squeeze of a friend’s hand on your arm. Making readers share those sensations gives them an investment in your story. Maybe even in you as a writer.

Going deep takes some work. For one thing, a writer can’t do it unless she or he knows his characters from the inside out. That means knowing more than their appearance and their basic goal, motivation and conflict. Where did they go to school? How do they view themselves? How do others view them? What was their birth family like? Do they speak formally? Swear a lot, or not at all? What are their wounds? For historical fiction, what are the customs, technology and language of their time and place?

The key to this point of view is that the writer is limited to what the current POV character can observed. (Limited third person, duh.) If you’re in your hero’s head, he cannot observe that the heroine thinks he’s hot. He can be aware when she flirts back at him, and can hear if she suggests going somewhere with less noise. But unless you’ve given him mind-reading powers, he cannot read her thoughts.

Besides, what if her ex is sitting in the corner and she’s trying to make him jealous by flirting with the first attractive man she sees? Mr. Hero doesn’t know this. The reader only finds out when the story moves into the heroine’s POV. (Things like this are why I love writing third person.)

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid phrases such as ‘he thought’, ‘she noticed’, ‘he saw’, ‘she knew’. These place a distance between the story and the reader. Eliminating them will pull the reader in.

Consider the differences in these two examples:

Third person: She noticed a dark-colored splotch next to the building. When she stopped to touch it, her fingers came away sticky. She sniffed and recognized the coppery tang of blood.

Third person limited: A dark-colored splotch next to the building halted her. One touch left her with sticky fingers. She sniffed, then gagged at the coppery tang. Blood.

Ideally, the second passage makes readers share the character’s response to her surroundings. Plus they learn that the smell of blood makes her sick.

The more vivid we can make our writing, the more interesting it is to readers. Interested readers keep turning pages. ‘Nuff said, right?

Till next time,

Ann Stephens

 

 

 

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OMG! A 19th Century File Cabinet!

Wellington chestThe 19th century equivalent of a file cabinet! Pictured is a ‘Wellington chest’, sometimes called a ‘side-locking chest’. These got their name because the Duke of Welllington is supposed to have carried a similar chest with him on his Peninsular War campaigns.
     Wellington’s chest had to be portable, but it featured a frame on the right-hand side that overlapped the drawer fronts. This strip of wood, when locked in place, prevented the drawers from opening. It was the latest security tech for that era.
Wellington desk with locking mechanism
     After the war, anyone who needed private and secure storage seized on these useful items. Surviving pieces average around four to four-and-a-half feet tall, with seven to ten drawers.
     Wellington chests were made into the Edwardian era, and are still found by lucky antique hunters today.
     I’ve given a Wellington chest to the factory-owner-turned-earl hero of my current Work-In-Progress. Would you like to have one of them for yourself, or stick to the plain metal models we’re familiar with today?
A full article about this particular Wellington chest is here.

Happy Mothers Day

This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?

10 Things Mom

 

The Dearest of Friends: John and Abigail Adams

OR, A Plethora of Love Letters

cropped-cropped-dewy-pink2In August 1774, a Massachusetts lawyer wrote to his wife of ten years, “I must intreat you, my dear Partner in the Joys and Sorrows, Prosperity and Adversity of my Life, to take a Part with me in the Struggle. I pray God for your Health – intreat you to rouse your whole Attention to the Family, the stock, the Farm, the Dairy. Let every Article of Expence which can possibly be spared be retrench’d.”

The lawyer was John Adams, newly-appointed representative to what is now known as the First Continental Congress. Attending this assembly risked his ability to support his family, not to mention his neck. He could have been tried for treason against the British crown, but he and his wife Abigail both agreed he should go.

(To their friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, he wrote, “I am at a loss, totally at a loss, what to do when we get there…” So much for images of a juggernaut of patriotic feeling.)

john-and-abigail-adamsMr. and Mrs. Adams had already forged their marriage into an equal partnership, surprising not only because of the era, but because of the nine year difference in their ages.

As a child, Abigail had not been permitted to attend school. Her mother feared too much learning would ruin her health and sully her mind. As an adult in 1774, she could not legally act in her own interest, for the law did not recognize her as a person separate from her husband. She had not permitted the repressive atmosphere of the era defeat her. Thanks to the books in her father’s and grandfather’s libraries, she was well read. When 14-year-old Abigail Smith first met 23-year-old John Adams, he described her to a friend as “quite lacking in tenderness”. Always forthright, teenage Abigail refused to curb her tongue for the benefit of a pudgy lawyer.

Within a couple of years, however, he was writing flirtatious letters to ‘Miss Adorable’ or ‘Diana’ and she replied in the same vein to her ‘Lysander’. (Presumably she referred to the Shakespearean lover.) After their marriage in 1766, their mutual salutation became ‘My Dearest Friend’, and deep-seated expressions of love replaced flirtation. As a lawyer, John had to ride a circuit of Massachusetts courts to make a living, which required him to leave Abigail and their growing family for days or weeks.

Letter and quillLetter-writing was the only way to communicate over long distances, and in the 18th century, people considered it an art. Abigail, conscious of her lack of formal education, often apologized for poor handwriting, spelling and punctuation, once going so far as to ask John to burn her correspondence. He wrote back “You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.”

Over the decades of John’s public life, they would exchange over 1200 epistles, not counting those that didn’t make it through enemy lines during the Revolutionary War or otherwise go astray.

Their correspondence ranged from brief notes when government or diplomatic business took up most of John’s time, to long letters composed over several days. Both the Adams must have found writing therapeutic, for at different times, they referred to it as a way to soothe inner turmoil.

Separation meant their disagreements also had to travel back and forth between Braintree and Philadelphia and eventually, across the Atlantic. Many involved the education of their sons and surviving daughter. And when John made the mistake of writing to Abigail how much he admired the cultured ladies of the French court, she retorted with a sharp complaint about how American girls were routinely mocked when they showed off their educations.

In her jealousy, she might have forgotten her effusions on meeting George Washington in 1774. “You had prepared me to entertain a favorable opinion of him, but I thought the half was not told me. Dignity with ease and complacency, the gentleman and the soldier look agreeably blended in him. Modesty marks every line and feature of his face.” In the parlance of an 18th century New Englander, this was total fangirling. John couldn’t have enjoyed her description of the tall, charismatic, and charming General.

Even during disagreements, they were still ‘Dearest Friend’ to one another. In February of 1779, toward the end of his first diplomatic appointment to France, John lamented that he dared not write to her of political matters: “…I know you can keep a Secret as well as any Man whatever. But the World don’t know this. If…the letter should be caught, and hitched into a Newspaper, the World would say, I could not be trusted with a Secret.

She had been his sounding board for years at this point; he trusted her more than any other advisor. John returned home later that year, where he was named to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in Cambridge, the body responsible for writing the state constitution. John wrote the first draft of the document, reading it to Abigail when he returned to Braintree at the end of each week. He also discussed the assembly’s debates with her, which gave her a grasp of issues of the day. His draft was accepted with minor changes, and is still in effect. It is the oldest state constitution in continual use.

In September of 1779, John was named minister plenipotentiary to France by Congress. The position gave him full power to negotiate a peace treaty Britain, along with fellow ministers Benjamin Franklin and John Jay. To Abigail, this meant another separation. John guessed the peace talks would take six months, and then he would come home to her. Instead, the couple would not set eyes on one another for five years.

After the War of Independence ended, Abigail could travel to Europe without fear of being captured or sunk by an enemy ship.  She met John in France in 1784. When Congress selected him as the first American ambassador to Great Britain in 1785, they moved to London. The following years brought John to two terms as vice president under George Washington, then to the Presidency. While Abigail did not always move to Philadelphia or New York with John, she was the first First Lady to live in the White House. Together or apart, he sought her opinion on policy, though at times her devotion blinded her, such as when she supported him on the Alien and Sedition Acts that contributed to his political downfall.

OldJohnandAbigailThe deaths of their daughter Nabby and their second son, Charles, marred their old age. John and Abigail took consolation in their grandchildren; Nabby and all three of their sons had married and started families. As a grandfather, John spoiled the youngsters with sugar plums while Abigail was the disciplinarian.

When she died in 1818, he was at her side. To their niece Lucy Cranch Greenleaf, John said, “I wish I could lay down beside her and die too.” He later eulogized his wife as “The dear Partner of my Life for fifty-four Years and for many Years more as a Lover.” Truly they deserve to be remembered not just on Presidents Day, but on Valentine’s Day as well.

John and Abigail Adams are fascinating both as a couple and as individuals. Do you have any favorite ‘Valentine couples?

 

Further reading:

John Adams, by David Mccullough

Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober

My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams, Margaret C. Hogan and C. James Taylor, editors

 

 

 

Happy New Year

RING!Happy 2013! I hope you are blessed with something wonderful to look forward to this year. My family will have our first wedding, with our oldest getting married to wonderful young man in the fall! Yes, that’s her ring pictured. Clearly he has excellent taste. (Duh, he fell in love with our daughter!)

Our youngest has fled the nest and is happy at Louisiana State University. Granted, I would be happier if LSU wasn’t a two-day drive from home,

LSU Student Union
LSU Student Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but she loves life without snow. She is doing an outstanding job of keeping her grades up, making friends and finding activities, and earning a stipend with work/study. We are extremely proud of her! Except of course for developing a football allegiance to the Tigers.

That, however, is a subject for another post. 😉

The year’s biggest challenge will be time management, but that’s always a challenge for me. :p In the face of a new job and some unexpected, but welcome, freelance work, my main goal for 2013 is: Protect the writing time! On the bright side, I spent November working out the plot of a new book that I can’t wait to get started on, so there’s something to fill up the writing time.

New Year’s resolutions have never worked for me, so I try to focus on goals, personal and professional. Also, I know myself well enough to understand that my brain goes on the fritz as soon it sees a long ‘must do’ list. It’s best to keep the goals few and simple.

In 2013, I want to drink a glass of water for every glass or cup of caffeinated beverage. Believe it or not, this is a challenge. I’ve never been someone who can just down a glass of H2O, but the benefits are more than just staying hydrated. Water will help cut down on caffeine, which keeps me awake at night, plus according to WebMD, it’s good for the skin, helps make a person feel less hungry, and keeps the kidneys and bowels in good working order.

As mentioned above, my most important professional goal is to protect my writing time. This means adjusting my daily schedule so that there is always a block of hours to spend at the computer. I don’t do change well — just ask my family — and I’m going to have to start with something truly drastic: not hitting the snooze button. I make no promises, but I’ll keep you posted on how well I succeed (or sleep in).

So those are my 2013 goals for now. Short and laughably simple, but both chosen because they’re doable, they’ll have benefits on more than one level, and neither is something I do now. (Or rather the snooze button is something I do too often.)

This year, I want more sleep at the start of the night, and enough time to write. What about you? What do you want out of life this year? What steps are you going to take to get it?