Tag Archives: Elizabeth McCallister

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.

Congratulations Elizabeth!

20130723-215735.jpgCongratulations to Elizabeth McCallister on the launch of her first poetry collection.

Notes From Suburbia is available from the author, and through the publisher, Craighleigh Press


To Have and To Hold

by Elizabeth McCallister

To Have and To Hold

In the rough and the smooth of it all –

the razor burn on my body itches
from when you haven’t shaved
familiar callous on my hand
when you take hold of it

the smooth of your hair
when I stroke the back of your head
my shoulder when you cup it
in your hand and lead me

photo by photostock | freedigitalphotos.net

photo by photostock | freedigitalphotos.net

Elizabeth McCallister grew up in Scarborough now resides in Brantford. She is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, enjoys poetry readings and has been a winner in Cambridge Libraries’ Poem A Day contest.

Writers Donating Their Talents

by Elizabeth McCallister


Some of you might remember how I discussed in the blog a while back about how writers can speak the truth to power. I thought that I’d expand on that idea.

The most famous way of doing this is by becoming a member of the national PEN organization. PEN is a worldwide association of writers working to advance the rights of writers to free expression and for readers to have the right to read whatever they please. PEN champions writers who are attacked for what they write or the positions that they hold. PEN hosts benefit readings. PEN Canada published a fundraising travel anthology in 1994 and PEN America publishes a journal. If you are interested in joining this organization, their website is: http://www.pencanada.ca.

Writers also participate in benefit readings for a variety of causes. I participated in one of a series of readings held in London England to benefit the homeless. There was a small admission fee for the readings and poets submitted their work for publication. Cinnamon Press published the best of the submissions in an annual anthology. I checked their online catalogue and there is also an anthology by young writers benefiting Oxfam.

Those of you who write prose might think that aside from PEN that I’m not giving you any examples of prose writers working toward any greater good. However, this winter I read an anthology that had both prose and poetry. The anthology was titled Shine On: Irish Writers for Shine. It was published to support people affected by Mental Ill Health. One of the best pieces in the collection was the short story at the beginning “I Have Only Ever Loved” by Alex Barclay.

There are so many issues out there that many of us feel strongly about and we have the talents to try to make the community that we live in a better place. The old adage, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is certainly true. We can wield that sword to work for positive change in society. I did try googling poetry benefits in Canada but I just got a bunch of pages of how positive it can be to belong to certain organizations or to write poetry. I’m sure some of our more web-savvy members can find events out there where we/they could donate their time.

Writing can be a curiously ego-driven endeavour. We all believe that we have something worthwhile to give and yet we can all be sensitive about that gift. It’s a strange mixture of egotism and shyness. Perhaps that’s why it’s good to remember that what we have to offer can be used to highlight causes and benefit others.

Elizabeth McCallister is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective and the Brantford Poetry Workshop. Her poetry has appeared in Streets and Ascent Aspirations Magazine Anthology Four Fall 2007 – Borderlines. She was also one of the judges for 2010 Cambridge Libraries’ Poem a Day contest.

How 2012 Wasn’t Supposed to Be -OR- Not Facing the Empty Page

by Elizabeth McCallister

I guess you can tell from the title that this isn’t going to be one of my more positive (if I ever write such things) blogs. Normally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – they’re so easy to make and even easier to break. However, I had hoped that maybe, just maybe if I cleared enough off my personal to-do list, that I could get back into my regular writing routine. You know all those things that you simply must get done first in order to write. The list for every person might be different but most of us have them.

In fact, you might call them our excuses. The lies that we tell ourselves because we’re not being as productive as a writer as we know that we need to be. I’ve called them excuses or lies because professional writers don’t hide behind them. My excuses are as follows: I was working overtime before Christmas, I work with numbers mainly, Christmas got in the way, housework piled up, and family members were seriously ill in hospitals. Now, I can make a fairly convincing argument that all of the above are good reasons for slipping away from the empty page. Generously, you might agree with me.

Yet, this is a blog about being a writer not about excuses for not being one. If I can deconstruct some of my excuses, perhaps you can deconstruct some of yours. My favourite reason is that working with numbers might shut down the language part of my brain, but I know of poets who are accountants and engineers in their day jobs. I even find that working with lists (and what else are spreadsheets but lists of a sort) clears my mind for writing. Next “reason” is all that working overtime makes me tired and want to veg in front of the T.V. So now, I’m getting cranky because I’m behind in my reading and turning into a couch potato instead. I can’t even figure out my logic in that one except my eyes are tired from too much 8 point type.

The traditional excuses are work and family pressures. Yet, there are writers who have made the time round those things. One Canadian novelist and poet whose day job was a teacher used to wake up at five in the morning so that he could write. There’s the possibly apocryphal story of a Canadian woman writer who used her arts grant to hire a babysitter to watch her children so she could write. Modern technology has given us even more reasons to fritter our hours away – Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Spider Solitaire – take your favourite.

In the end, all that makes us writers is writing for the reader. That means taking the time every day to face the empty page or empty computer screen and do it.

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Elizabeth McCallister grew up in Scarborough now resides in Brantford. She is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, enjoys poetry readings and has been a winner in Cambridge Libraries’ Poem A Day contest.

Poetry in Politics

by Elizabeth McCallister

When I read Marcie’s e-mail that it was my turn to write for the blog, I wasn’t sure what I would write about. I’ve spent the last month or so filling my time with spreadsheets of the financial kind. While I like to think poetry might exist between the lines of numbers, it isn’t a very good thing to suggest at year end when you’re the bookkeeper. It might lead people to wonder what is missing. Besides I can’t quite find the poetry in math.

However, the other night I was at a local coffee shop discussing the possibility of doing poetry readings at a local art gallery. One of my points was that this could be a way of reaching the people who think that poetry matters. Yet, I believe that poetry and literature should reach the masses – you know those people whose only contact with poetry came in school and haven’t thought about it much since then. There are so many exciting things happening in the world of poetry since the canon that most of us read in high school. I like to remind myself of how important poetry and literature can be to people when I remember that the old English poets and their sagas were the way that people way back when got their news. Imagine sitting round a campfire in a village listening to a musical version of the Greek debt crisis. That might make it more palatable or easy to hear.

Some of the news this week hasn’t been good. There was an article in the paper about a bookseller wanting to charge writers to appear in their stores to launch their new works. I’m familiar with the bookstore. It had been a great place to get local writers’ works and participate in the literary scene.

That might make it seem as if even the literary news is bad along with the rest of it. However, one exciting thing has happened. A poet was elected as the new President of Ireland. Michael D. Higgins is a poet and peace activist who received over a million votes to win the election. I wasn’t familiar with his work so I Googled him. Here is a link to one of his poems, “When Will My Time Come”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/28/michael-d-higgins-poem. I found it quite good, and it’s not about winning the election.

It does bring me back, in rather roundabout way, to my original point. I heard Robert Kroetsch say in a talk that writers are sometimes seen as mad because we are the ones who dare to speak the truth to power. When some people are under the impression that writers are part of the literary elite, it is up to us to remind them what does matter in life. Most of us in the CWC lead ordinary lives (except for our writing) just like our neighbours. Yet we see the world and its patterns in a different way. In times of upheaval, we should get ourselves out there to remind people of what matters and how art is a comfort, not a luxury.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Elizabeth McCallister grew up in Scarborough now resides in Brantford. She is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, enjoys poetry readings and has been a winner in Cambridge Libraries’ Poem A Day contest.

What Makes A Good Ending to a Poem?

by Elizabeth McCallister

photo from FreeFoto.com

The first thing to remember when writing any poem is that each and every word is significant. Every poem should be an organic whole. A good ending is no more or less important than a good beginning. One image or series of lines does not make a poem no matter how good they might be. The poem needs to be built around them.

A second step to understanding what makes a good ending might be to examine some of your favourite pieces of poetry. Are the endings effective? Analyze how the poet built up the poem to its ending. If I look at two of my favourite poems, I can see how each poet has crafted the ending. First, “Mia Carlotta” by Thomas Daly is a comic piece about a barber who has his choice of many women except the narrator’s Carlotta. Daly used a dialect to help create the voice of the narrator and the poem ends with the lines:

“But notta –
You bat my life, notta –
I gotta!”

The ending of the poem suits the rest of the poem. The narrator’s voice and point of view are consistent and the poem ends on a triumphant note.

The second poem is “Bishop Hatto” by Thomas Southey. This ballad tells the story of a bishop who burns the starving in a barn and calls them rats. Southey takes the reader on a journey from the bishop’s actions to his flight to his final judgement.

Both of these poems are older but if you look at modern poems; you’ll be able to see how modern poets craft great endings. Some that I’ve read recently are in Dave Margoshes’ collection The Horse Knows the Way, specifically, the endings to the poems “To The Station” and “Scars”. Also, I like Ann Joyce’s ending to her poem “Her Six Sons Carried Her” in her collection Watching for Signs.

Most of us write lyrical or narrative poetry. If poetry is a new way of looking at something through a series of images creating a specific rhythm, beat and sound, a good ending must match the rest. Remember what kind of poem that you are writing. If you’re writing a humorous poem, don’t end it on a serious note or vice versa. If you’re writing from a particular point of view, remain in that point of view throughout the poem. While the ending of a poem is its climax, avoid hitting the reader over the head with the moral or meaning you’re trying to get across. If you find yourself doing that as I do, take out those last few lines and see what happens. Sometimes, the image before the “I’m going to tell you what the poem is about” lines is the best ending.

Finally, in all the great endings that I’ve read, I find usually the poet has taken me on a complete journey through the poem that ends in a crescendo. I’m left feeling only “yes” and “perfect”.

Elizabeth McCallister grew up in Scarborough now resides in Brantford. She is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, enjoys poetry readings and has been a winner in Cambridge Libraries’ Poem A Day contest.