Tag Archives: Becky Alexander

Thoughts on Point of View

Our most recent around-the-table discussion…

photo by Marcie Schwindt

photo by Marcie Schwindt

Elizabeth McCallister
I think point of view is one of the most difficult things that new writers can face. It seems like a simple enough task – are you writing in the first, second or third person.

It gets more complicated when you actually get down to doing it well. In a sense, you must inhabit not only the personalities of your characters but also the world that you have created. A narrator who describes someone or something seems the easiest route until you realize that you have written something from one of the characters’ POV.

Trying to write from more than one character’s POV can be one of the most difficult tasks. How do you clearly separate the two characters’ POV so that each rings clearly?

Which is the final most difficult task – creating a character who seems fully human.

Jockie Loomer-Kruger
I like first person especially ideal for memoir which is my preferred genre. I [also] like it for the poetry I write.

Second person – sounds like a lecture. Thou shalt not…

Third person – can add a different type of detail from first. Good for fiction with various characters.

Omniscient – All knowing and able to get into everyone’s thoughts – best for descriptive scenes, for commentary on a character.

Barbara Lefcourt
From 1st person, there are unlimited POV – age, sex, ethnicity, personality, stage of life. What first person POV do you feel comfortable writing from.
What kind of minds are you able to get [into] and imagine being?

A major reason I love to read novels is to be able to get into the body and minds of persons totally different from myself.

My own writing of course grows from my personal points of view that have changed with age and with living in totally different environments.

Kathy Robertson
[POV] should convey the author’s opinion without being obvious.
Metaphors are effective tools in conveying imagery.
The true meaning should be elusive, not fully comprehended until the end.
One image building on the other until the complete meaning is fully realized.

Becky Alexander
I like to use the antiquated POV known as the “omniscient storyteller,” the guy who knows all, sees all and this includes knowing (and telling) what the characters even think, let alone what they do, see, etc. Think of the writers of the Bible.

I like this form as it is time tested, has survived for centuries and is the easiest form (for me) in which to write.

Case in point: I hate second person POV. [Sounds like a lecture].

Wendy Visser
Narrative style a) where narrator stands outside the story b) where narrator is part of the poem or story

Humour – writer writes from humourous perspective
• form of entertainment
o should not be forced but natural.

3rd person perspective – work written in 3rd person allows easy access to the reader. Can identify more with the situation – empathy.

First person -[works] depending on subject matter.

Marcie Schwindt
When I think about POV, first, second, third, whatever, just seems like an obvious choice based on the character’s voice and how intimate the reader needs to be with him/her to “get” who they are.

What’s more interesting, I think, is choosing which character’s viewpoint to write from. Personally, I choose the weakest character to showcase because they always seem to pull the most interesting text from me. Strong characters are boring. Weak people have to “fake it”, still have to learn how to cope. They have the greatest potential character arc because they have less to lose from taking risks.

Life is too short to waste writing on boring characters. The next time you need to decide whose story to tell, pick the less obvious choice: the character who might otherwise have been the sidekick. Give the non-speaking stock character a voice. Their story might surprise you.

Rob Quehl
1. In my opinion, if an author switches from one character’s point of view to another’s, then the style of writing should change to reflect this, so much so, that after a few chapters, the reader should be able to flip open the book at random and know whose point of view is being shown at that point.

2. I like the second-person point of view. If done well, it can pull the reader in and get them involved in the story, as it makes it sound like YOU, the reader, are the main character. A wonderful example of second-person for children is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books. (See example below.) I have also read second-person for adults, and found it unique and engaging.

Your Very Own Robot (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) synopsis:

Your parents are scientists and inventors. One day, they throw some pieces of a robot into the trash. If you can figure out how to put the pieces together, you’ll have a robot of your very own! But do you know enough to control it? Are you ready for the adventures your very own robot will bring?

Lee Anne Johnston
I find first person narration comes naturally to me and seems to flow. I feel too artificial using third person, although this is just me. First person has obvious limitations, i.e. your narrator can not get into the minds and hearts of others, whereas an omniscient 3rd person narrator can easily float from and into many characters.

BLACK MANTLE MOON

by Becky Alexander
August 29, 2004

photo by Exsodus | freedigitalphotos.net

photo by Exsodus | freedigitalphotos.net

BLACK MANTLE MOON

It was one of those nights
when the moon ran the sky
like a fullblown madam.

You were hot with a throb
that set your teeth, singed skin,
opened doors you’d never pushed before.

Black clouds slid over red light and darkness
was deep enough to slice with a blade.
Wind off the harbour scorched ears, reddened eyes.

Laughter rang with unholy glee,
catcalls blended into the unclean heart of night,
and we swayed snakelike, a deep pulsing throng.

One of those nights when the moon bled the sky,
when no friend stood with any other,
and shuffling angels fanned the earth with black wings.

(Previously published in Ascent Aspirations anthology Nanoose B.C., Dec. 2005, in STREET, Hamilton ON, March 22, 2007, and on Hammered Out blog, September 23, 2007.).)


Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer. Her work has been published in five countries, and has won hundreds of awards. She runs Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.

Titles

by Becky Alexander

photo by africa from freedigitalphotos.net

photo by africa from freedigitalphotos.net

The first thing a reader sees when you have a piece of poetry or prose published is the title. This will instantly soak into the reader’s mind: will it hook, or will it sink?

I’ve always found titles to be a challenge. They either fly right into my mind perfectly, or I cannot think of one easily. This is where one’s critiquing group can be of great help.

What should a title do, other than to hook the reader?

A title should:

  • fit the mood, theme or tone of the written piece;
  • offer some clue as to why it was selected; be a bit of a tease;
  • not give away the entire plot of the piece;
  • not be the first line of the poem (which is a common practice when a writer cannot think of another title: in today’s literary world, this is considered to be a ‘cop out’)
  • be fresh and original; e.g.: not The Oak, but something more creative like Mother.

Rules for Writing Titles

Be careful of capitalization in titles;

It was the custom of old to capiatlize every letter in a title. Now, in this cyber age, using capitals is considered to be ‘shouting’;
the first word in a title should be capitalized;
nouns, verbs, adjectives must be capitalized;
articles are not capitalized, unless they are the first word in the title.

So, put on your thinking cap. Let your titles inspire the reader to read.


Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer. Her work has been published in five countries, and has won hundreds of awards. She runs Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.

You May Be a Writer If…

girl with pencil on lip

photo by Ambro on freedigitalphotos.net

by Becky Alexander

You May Be  a Writer If…

  1. You sit up in bed from a sound sleep, grab the pen and notepad on your night table, and scribble down the brilliant thought that woke you up.
  2. If, having completed #1 above, you wake up in the morning, grab your notepad and read, “Bish that fidnit schiddle ploop,” which is absolute proof that our brains form thoughts before they transpose them to ‘word’ (pun intended).
  3. You have stacks of finely bound journals in your office.
  4. You continue to scribble on cheap yellow legal pads, and not those finely bound journals as they are’ too good to use’. You are saving them for something special…like what, your obituary?
  5. You are suddenly struck by inspiration, and need to write immediately.
  6. You find yourself driving in heavy traffic, searching frantically for a scrap of paper somewhere in your car, because inspiration has suddenly hit. Watch out for that tree.
  7. You own one of those spiffy little hand recorders, so you can record your inspiration while you drive.
  8. You keep saying to yourself, “I must buy one of those spiffy pocket recorders some time. And WHERE is that danged gas receipt?”
  9. You talk to yourself.
  10. When you are talking to yourself, you change voices, to the amazement of any family member who may walk in and find you delving into such pleasure. 

Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer. Her work has been published in five countries, and has won hundreds of awards. She runs Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.

Learning to Accept Criticism

by Becky Alexander

I joined the Cambridge Writers Collective in 1993, about a year and a half after it had been founded. I credit this group for inspiring me to write, and for continually helping me to improve my writing skills, through the helpful critiquing offered at our meetings.

Writers join writers’ groups for several reasons: e.g.: to be with like-minded artistic individuals, to feel connected to a greater whole, to be inspired to write, and to learn and improve.

In order to improve and grow, a writer must open her/himself up to criticism. Before this happens, the writer needs to ask a few honest questions: do I want to improve, or do I want to feed my ego? Am I ready to feel the swings and clouts of criticism? We have all met writers who simply want to show off, who want only kudos as to how wonderful their writing appears. These are people who will probably never improve (as they already believe they know everything) but move merrily along ‘doing it their way’, leaving a trail of cliches, and adjectives and adverbs behind them. Yet every writer has the potential to write something wonderful, if they allow themselves to be open to sincere suggestions for improvement.

When work is presented for critiquing, suggestions are offered in a group setting, and this can lead to productive discussion and input, which can be most helpful to the writer whose work is being analyzed. Yet unfortunately, there are writers whose egos are so fragile, and whose heads are so big, that they choose only to pick away and dismiss the work of others. (These are often the people who will loudly announce, to the whole critiquing group, any spelling or grammar errors they spot in your work, instead of graciously and privately recording those on your hard copy for your personal perusal and correction later on.) I have even witnessed writers in other writing groups actually sneering and making rude faces while some poor soul is presenting work. This is most unseemly, and offers nothing constructive to the writer. And such negative actions can result in a writer giving up writing altogether.

Conversely, I have also witnessed other group members, who immediately ‘jump in’, before a pause has been held after the writer has presented, with gushing comments about how wonderful the piece is. Fodder for the ego, or what? And this makes for a tenuous situation for any other writer who may feel that a suggestion or two for improvement is in order!

Many writers’ groups have rules such as ‘no comment on content’ which is fair enough. If I don’t like the genre, language, topic, or tone of a piece, I am not obliged to make a critique: I can merely take a quiet pass. There are writers who write simply to shock others: another egotistical way of saying, “Look at me!” But there should be no criticism on the content of a piece. Some writers feel this includes comments on why or what inspired the writer to produce such a piece in the first place. I have no personal problem explaining why or what prompted me to write something, but others carry this ‘no comment on content’ rule to personal reasons for why and what they have written, so be aware of that.

It is always up to the writer to mull over suggestions and to choose and reject these as s/he sees fit. It is important not to take critiquing comments personally as much as possible, and this can be tricky, especially if you think someone in a group may have some animosity toward you. The best way to deal with this type of person, I have found, is to ignore their obvious actions at a group critique session, and then to bring it up with that person privately.

We writers must have thick skins: not everyone who reads our work will appreciate it, but it is hoped that only honest and constructive criticisms should be offered. And a good rule of thumb, when one enters a critiquing session: check your ego at the door.

FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer, born and raised in Hespeler. She has been writing for more than two decades, and her work has been published in over 200 periodicals and anthologies, and has won over 100 awards. She runs the micro-publishing company Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.

Writing an Historical Memoir

by Becky Alexander

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over the course of the last five years or so, I have written a number of vignettes about my years growing up in Hespeler, Ontario. These were based on childhood memories of people, places, and events that I wished to share. In seeking out some of these pieces a year or so ago, to submit to a contest, it occurred to me that there was good value in sharing those memories, and in writing more of them.

Small towns across Ontario are disappearing, as they are incorporated into larger demographic clusters, and even the names of these places are disappearing. Such it was for the active town of Hespeler, in 1973, when it became part of the new city called Cambridge.

As I started to write about family and historical events during the halcyon Hespeler days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, more and more memories poured in. This is true of writing: once you write and write, the floodgates open.

It soon became obvious to me that my small stories formed a larger picture of how it was to grow up in a small town, where nearly everyone knew everyone else. I began to research dates, events and timelines, and my collection started to meld into an historical memoir.

As my fingers typed and typed, many thoughts occurred: what do I leave in and what do I leave out? If I recount a tale of one of my relatives, will they be insulted? Will this eventual book cause more trouble than it’s worth? Many mental struggles occurred along the way, and these are the resulting resolutions:

If you choose to write a memoir, tell the truth as you know it. But as Dickinson so aptly writes in one of her poems: Tell the truth, but tell it slant. Each chapter I wrote was based on my personal memory. I soon realized that these memories were not going to be the same for my relatives, friends, and former neighbours. As my best and oldest friend so wisely told me when we were discussing this project, “This is your story, based on your memories, so tell it as you like.”

When a chapter showcased the life of a specific person, I invited that person to read what I had written about them, or, in the case of a deceased person, I asked a surviving relative to read those related parts. Not one of those people was offended by anything I’d written, and many times I was offered further memories and facts about the people of whom I wrote.

Organizing a necessary timeline of events is crucial to the book, and difficult to attain. I was trained as a literary researcher, and those skills helped greatly. With the internet today, we have historic details and facts at our fingertips, but that is not enough. I learned the most about the people and places of whom I was writing by talking to people who knew and remembered them. When I absolutely could not find any printed or recounted facts, dates, or details about a certain story, I went with my best memory: and I said so.

I believe a memoir should present a balance of the good and the bad. We’ve all read memoirs that were nothing more than a series of ‘Poor Me’ complaints. And we’ve probably read ones written through the mystic eye of perfection. Life is not like that: good things happen, terrible things happen, and funny things happen: it is the writer’s job to pick and choose for balance.


Becky Alexander was born and raised in Hespeler, and now lives in the Preston area of Cambridge. She is a poet and prose writer, and runs Craigleigh Press, a micro-publishing company with her husband Dave Allen. Her historical memoir Growing Up (in) Hespeler is planned for a spring 2012 release.

Plain and Simple Writing Tips

by Becky Alexander

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  1. Write every day, even if that just means revamping old work, organizing files, or sifting through notes and old journals for inspiration. Daily writing will become natural, and the rest of life will flow around your writing time.
  2. Read. Reading keeps the mind sharp, as it is an ‘active’ process, as opposed to a passive one. The more one reads, the more the words flow in.
  3. Rely on a few good writer friends to critique your work. The smaller the group, the more you will be able to help each other. With the email access that we have today, this process is apt and effective.
  4. We’ve all read that it is a good idea to let a piece ‘cool’ before presenting it for a critique. Sometimes this is a good idea. Sometimes it is not. If you suddenly have something spill out onto a page as perfect as you can imagine it to be, there may be no need for a ‘cooling off’ period. I send such pieces out to my critiquing circle in short order, so no spontaneity is lost. When I have some doubts about parts in a piece, that is the one I set aside, let cool, and possibly rework before presenting for critique. The point is that you can tinker a piece to death, and it could end up being less than it was at the first draft.
  5. Look for inspiration everywhere you go: keep the blinds open, literally and figuratively. Sit at the back of church, funerals, literary readings, etc. so there is a full and open view of the ‘field’ Keep pens and paper in every room. Some day (when I remember!) I plan to buy a small recorder to keep in the car. Ideas come when least expected, and a writer needs every chance to catch those ideas before they fade away. As Dickinson so aptly put it: true poems flee.
  6. When I have a good idea, I stick with it.
  7. I write poems out the minute they ‘hit’. With stories, I like to carry them around in my head for a few days or weeks, thinking of various options, characters, problems, resolutions. I usually don’t start to write a story until it is blocked out in my head. (A creative writing teacher taught me this years ago. It took me further years to actually be able to do it.)
  8. When the story is ready in my head, I write it out to the end. If I’m not sure about some of the middle parts, I scratch down a few idea lines (e.g. the main characters have a fight; about what? Figure it out later.) Once I have the beginning, and the ending, I go back and flesh it all out. Some writers need to write out a story plan. This has never worked for me. Each scribe must find the best way.
  9. Attend writing retreats, and not just with the same group, same place, every year. Some of the best retreats I attended were with one or another of my Kentucky writing groups, each held in a different location. And once a year, if possible, go somewhere completely alone, and do nothing but eat, sleep, read, walk and focus on writing. This is how books can be born.
  10. Get your work ‘out there’. If nothing else, this is how we know that we’re writers. There are hundreds of good markets and contests for people who are neither virgins nor masters of the art. As serious writers, it is our job to seek these out. When something gets rejected, send it right back out elsewhere. Never let a rude or nasty rejection letter stop you in your tracks. As another old wise teaching instructor once taught me: one of your shots will hit them! And as far as rejection goes, remember the ‘Rule Of Twelve: some other wise old writer once scientifically determined that on average, a submitted piece gets rejected 12 times before being published. I aim to wait for that twelfth rejection before revamping a piece.

Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer. Her work has been published in five countries, and has won hundreds of awards. She runs Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.