Tag Archives: Marcie Schwindt

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.

Link Round-up

by Marcie Schwindt

Links to 10 helpful things I’ve found around the web this week:

Beat Procrastination and Get Motivated with The Procrastination Equation

What Makes A Good Almost Kiss?

Pitching Your Potential

Sub Ops Ten: Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Hiveword: Online Fiction Organizer

How do you decide whether a particular conference is worth it?

Revise for Focus: Plot and Subplot in the Right Proportions

10 Things No One Told Me About the Publishing Process

The One Thing You Must Do If You Want to Write Storybook Apps

The Secret Train Car in Bloomingdale’s

Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow. Find her on Twitter @marcie8

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

by Marcie Schwindt

photo by Marcie Schwindt

My goal this summer was the same as every summer—to finish one novel and start another, and for me, that meant it was time to hit the road. I love the hurry-up-and-wait rhythm of road trips, the exploding energy of the explorer’s spirit when the car finally stops and everyone pours out. Some years, the road trips are short getaways. Harbinger’s Kiss, for example, embodies the trek of the weekend cottager. This year, my family went further afield, soaking in Atlantic Canada for two whole weeks. I’m hoping to get two novels from that experience, though only one story has formed itself enough at this time. What inspires you to write? People, places, things?

Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8

Organizing with Storybook Novel Writing Software

* unfortunately this software has been discontinued 😦

by Marcie Schwindt

I have two superpowers: a natural ability to bring order to chaos, and a photographic memory. The former makes communication difficult mid-process. The latter is declining with age. When you add to that the idea that I write multiple novels at once ( in different genres), all non-sequentially, you can see why I have trouble finding and holding onto critique partners, and why I needed to find a tool to help me visually track and present the stories in their present state.

My initial solution was a piecemeal one. I used index cards for scenes; Springpad to track character details, research results, and high level book details (cover design, log line, story description); MS Project to track clue placement and timeline; Google maps to track geographic movement; Pinterest to track setting and object details; and MS Word’s document map as my plot map. This solution worked well for me, but took some effort to put together into a neat package for someone else to use to understand my work.

My search for a more comprehensive solution led me to Storybook. From their website:

Storybook is a free Open Source novel-writing software for creative writers, novelists and authors. Starting with the plot to the finished book — with Storybook you’ll never lose the overview. Storybook helps you to keep an overview of multiple plot-lines while writing books, novels or other written works.

Storybook assists you in structuring your book

Manage all your data such as characters, locations, scenes, items, tags and ideas in one place. A simple interface is provided to enable you to assign your defined objects to each scene and to keep an overview of your work with user-friendly chart tools.

Like many writing tools for authors, this program strives to be a full solution, including functionality for both organizing and writing. But MS Word is the one tool that I am loyal to, so I use Storybook for organizing only.

I now use Storybook to track plot, scene, character, location, and timeline details, and for holding links to the information still better handled by other programs (like a customized Google map to show geographic movement). But the program’s functionality doesn’t stop there. Beyond the expected, Storybook also has three spectacular features: strands, tags, and idea tracking.

I’ve yet to find a clear definition of strands, so here’s mine: strands are colour-coded blocks of things you want to visually track at a high level. I mostly use them for balancing. Specifically, I use them to visually show me my dialogue to action to narrative ratio (making backstory dumps super easy to pick out). I use them to show me scenes by point of view. When I blend genres, for example Romantic Suspense, I use them to show the ratio of romance scenes to suspense scenes. But the coolest use is for tracking behind-the-scenes information vital to, but not specifically written into, the story – for example, what characters not in the scene are doing at that moment. And, I can show or hide as many of these as I want at any given time.

The value of tags is seemingly endless, so most programs use them. Storybook is no exception, but what it does have is a two-pronged tagging approach: tags and items. Both are identical in terms of mechanics (name, category, description, and assignment to something), but breaking them up into two, helps me to feel more organized, and reduces the size of the tag list. For example, I use tags for localized things, like ‘show vs tell’. When a character demonstrates a behavior, like frowning to show disapproval, I tag that spot #emotion #frown #disapproval. Then when I’m editing, I can look at all the behaviours I used to show disapproval. I can ensure each character shows this behaviour consistently for a given emotion, but also differently than other characters.

Items can be used to literally track items (Necklace A goes from Character J to Character Y on Day 3 then onto Location K, etc.). But I use them instead to mark clues/foreshadowing, theme elements, and behaviour changes over time (character arcs, stages of grief, etc.).

The idea tracking feature is a simple/obvious concept, but invaluable. I use this part of the program for recording feedback from critique partners and beta readers, and (in conjunction with tags) for tracking changes. Each “idea” gets a status—not started, started, completed, abandoned (I would also like a “reversed” option). Having somewhere to track changes (and more importantly, the reasoning behind the change) is so important, because the smallest change can have major repercussions throughout the manuscript, and the thing would never get completed if I went back and made those changes immediately. Ideas change, improve, reverse, get abandoned, and it’s a complete waste of time for me to make them as I go along. It’s much more efficient for me to make all the changes at once in a new draft. I’ve also used this feature for recording research, but still prefer Springpad or Evernote for that.

I’m currently using the open source version of Storybook and am quite happy with it. The paid version does offer more functionality, particularly for writers looking for manuscript formatting help, or summary reports to tell them what’s happening when to whom.

How do you organize and communicate your story elements?

Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8

Breaking Through That Dreaded BLOCK

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since no one person has all the answers, we’ve starting gathering around-the-table tips from members on subjects that affect us all. What follows is some of what came out of our discussion on writer’s block.

Lee Anne Johnston:
I journal every day. In my formal writing, I write in the first person so the characters seem to develop themselves and tell their own story. I also am a very slow writer. I write historical mysteries and I just love learning the gritty details about the past that will make my story come to life.

Barb Day:
There you are writing away, the words flowing from you, gushing out, you can’t get your thoughts down on paper fast enough. Your mind is working faster than your pen. And then it happens – you hit a brick wall, your mind closes (more like slams shut.) Your pen comes to a screeching halt. For me- it’s always two reasons – I’m tired of sitting in the same spot for hours or I’m not knowledgeable about the topic I’m writing about. I get up, get a coffee, take a break and come back refreshed and ready to do research. The joys of Google and from the research, ideas pop into my head like crazy just from reading what someone else has written even though it’s dry, boring facts. And then I’m back at it – full speed ahead, refreshed and armed with new knowledge.

Barbara Lefcourt:
The key for me when I want very much to write but cannot get thoughts to flow IS TO NOT SIT AT MY DESK. Rather, I turn my attention to some of the mindless household chores that always get delayed being done: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning floors, hand laundry, etc. etc. etc. It also sometimes help to put favourite instrumental music ( no vocals) on my stereo. That often sets the stage for the magical flow of poetic expression. And it’s good to have paper and pencil handy around the house so I can easily pause to jot down ideas, expressions, particular words that must be captured before they fly from my head.

Marcie Schwindt:

  • I try to write something everyday to keep the muse happy and coming back.
  • I read from something published every day. There’s always something to be learned from someone else’s successes.
  • I critique at least one unpublished work every week. Figuring out on my own what does and doesn’t work for me, and why, is more helpful to me than anything I’ve learned second-hand (through a course, instructional book, etc.).
  • I plot out my stories, then don’t write them sequentially. If I’m blocked on something, I write around it. Once I have the thing surrounded, it usually surrenders.
  • I stop writing mid-sentence or mid-scene. That way I don’t really have to face a blank page the next day. I already know how that sentence or scene should end.

Diane Attwell Palfrey:

  • I get a lot of inspiration from news stories or articles I read via different search engines. I like to research a topic and then write about it. So when the idea train has left the tracks – I head for the PC. I like to write about people and relationships, the human condition etc. News is full of items that can be turned into poetry.
  • I also get ideas from Facebook. I’ll read my homepage and that will inspire me. Sometimes I can’t quite believe the kind of things that people blog on a public forum. But then I think – well – it’s giving me a subject to write about.
  • Sometimes I ply myself with chocolate and listen to music. It soothes and helps the ideas flow.
  • Most of my writing is done after midnight. That’s when the house is quiet, the phone has stopped ringing and there are no more e-mails to deal with.
  • I’m not above asking others for ideas. I’ll often ask someone to give me an idea. I’ll just say, “hey, I need to write a poem – do you have an idea for me – tell me a story and I’ll turn it into a poem for you”. My mother is a great source for that.

Have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? How did you overcome it?

Character Fairy Dust

by Marcie Schwindt

Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What makes a character unforgettable? You know the ones I mean—the hero who makes you want to be a better, smarter, cooler person; the villain that keeps you awake at night; the side-kick who captured your imagination.
I’ve received tons of advice on how to make a character likeable. I’ve followed all of it, but have never quite been satisfied with the results. And so began my quest for Character Fairy Dust—that magical ingredient to elevate my characters from predictable to iconic. While I’ve yet to find one all-encompassing formula, I have discovered a few truths that work for me.

  • All characters, regardless of hat colour, benefit from being written in “shades of grey”. No one is perfectly good or perfectly evil, or even perfectly stereotypical, so characters shouldn’t be either. Sometimes good people make bad choices. A villain can still antagonize your main character while otherwise seeming an upstanding citizen. Who’s scarier—your kid’s favourite babysitter who is secretly a serial killer, or a known ‘mad-scientist’ who keeps himself locked in his isolated castle in the forest?
  • Contradictions and obsessions create conflict and make characters interesting. For example, my playboy character “kisses like a fish”. Confusion over how that’s even possible makes the reader question their assumptions and guess at what else about him they may be surprised by. What does your ‘neat-freak’ have hidden in his/her junk drawer?
  • I rely heavily on dialogue to move my story along. If each of my characters didn’t have a distinct voice or viewpoint, the text would be littered with he saids and she saids. Some of my characters are witty, some direct, some shy, heavily accented, or speak in clichés or catch phrases. Some are even silent.
  • At least once in my text a main character will solve a problem in an unexpected way—oh the things MacGyver could do with a paperclip and chewed gum…

How do you make your characters live on in your reader’s mind?

Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8

Ideas for Later

by Marcie Schwindt

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I joined this group, I had trouble coming up with new ideas. Writing stories took me forever, if I finished them at all, because, subconsciously, I was afraid I’d otherwise be without something to write. The title prompts we use for homework and writing exercises just don’t do it for me, never have.

At my first CWC retreat, Marion Smith led the group in a character building exercise, where she provided us with a list of names (First and Last, a couple with middle names). She asked the group to write a one or two sentence description of how we saw that “person” based solely on the name. The focus of the workshop was to show the correlation between a character’s name and the reader’s expectation of the character’s personality. But I took something more away. From that simple exercise, I realized that characters were my source of inspiration. I expanded on them, and created character files for the few that spoke to me. Later I added more pages for other “characters” I came across in real life. Soon I had a box full of them.

When the box overflowed, I stopped collecting. Later my productivity suffered from the opposite problem, too many ideas in my head. This weekend characters born out of my attending the Santa Claus Parade took residence in Box #2, and writing for my current WIP once again began to flow.

Here’s an exercise for you. Create a short character sketch for one or more of these people:

Someone who:

  • attended the parade as a spectator
  • watched the parade on TV
  • didn’t watch the parade at all
  • participated in the parade (driver, float rider, walked, wore a costume, etc.)
  • worked at, but did not participate in, the parade (crowd control, paramedic, street cleaner, etc.)
  • designed and/or built a float
  • organized the parade

What inspires your new ideas? Characters? Words? Phrases? Questions? Do you have a box (or digital representation thereof) for them? Why or why not?

Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8

Revision and Self Editing

by Marcie Schwindt

Image: ningmilo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was thinking about what I might want to include in my handout for our upcoming round-table discussion on Revision and Self-Editing. So much of my process is on auto-pilot now, that I just do these things as I go without really thinking about them. But have I become complacent, forgotten any steps? If I had a physical list in front of me as I wrote, would I make better choices, reducing the amount of revision and editing needed later? Honestly I expect the reason I don’t already have one is because I believe a judgmental piece of paper taunting my every word choice would stifle my creativity and bring the writing machine to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, the idea of creating a checklist to share is an exciting prospect, and no doubt a valuable tool for when I finally finish this draft of my WIP.

To get into the right mindset, I first wanted to clearly define for myself what those two terms meant, and how they differed.

For me, revision means a new draft resulting from a change to a big picture element. For example, my main character is in her mid-twenties. If I were to change her age to early fourties, a fair amount of the story would change. Characters would react differently to her, her behaviours and attitudes would change. Her vocabulary would change. I would have to comb through the entire manuscript and recreate the story to accommodate all the changes resulting from that one variable.

Editing, on the other hand, is localized. Restructuring sentences, adding in commas, or changing the name of a walk-on character doesn’t affect the story concept as a whole. The result of editing is cleaner, easier to read copy, not a whole new story.

Once I understood what the words meant to me, my next step was to identify which writing elements fit under which category.

(Big-picture elements)
(Localized update)
  • Primary & Secondary Character attributes (includes Backstory and Dialogue)
  • Conflict and Stakes
  • POV and Voice
  • Plot (includes scene order)
  • Pacing and Passage of time
  • Believability
  • Appropriateness for intended reader
  • Theme
  • Spelling, punctuation, grammar
  • Setting (unless the setting is a character)
  • Transitions
  • Opening and ending scenes
  • Word choices and clarity
  • Flow
  • Clue placement
  • Descriptions and sensory detail (includes show vs tell)
  • Tense
  • Minor characters
  • Suspense/tension
  • Movement
  • Formatting

Did I miss anything?

The final step is putting this altogether to document a process that will make me look far more organized than I am (which I will use as my handout for the meeting).

What’s your revision and editing process? Does it change based on the piece type (poetry vs prose, fiction vs non-fiction, etc.) or length? Can you do it as you write, or do you leave it all to the end? How many drafts do you need to get it right?

Marcie Schwindt makes stuff up for a living and loves every minute of it.

Some dark Christmas humour for this fine Spring day

Code Name: SC
by Marcie Schwindt

Image by Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We were all chasing the same phantom killer. Scotland Yard and most of Europe called him The Biscuit Butcher, the Australians, Arsey Assassin. To me he’s The Exterminator. No matter what the name, the story’s the same. His victims, bachelors and childless couples, are found on Christmas Day with their throats slit. The weapon is unknown. The crime scenes are void of fingerprints and DNA. The only witnesses are cats and dogs—often drugged. Then there’s the calling card: cookie crumbs and tinsel in the victim’s hair.

We agree on the killer’s profile: assassin-for-hire with multiple identities and unlimited, untraceable access to anyone and anything. He’ll be someone seemingly above reproach and have a convincing alibi. Undoubtedly he’ll also be considered a myth to the slack-jawed masses who’ve been spared the gruesome details of these cases.

For the past four hours of this latest closed-door Intelligence session, I’ve listened patiently to theory after theory. Crime scene photos and empty coffee cups litter the table, mocking me. I cannot remain silent any longer.

I’ve hunted this guy for my entire career and, overwhelmingly, the evidence points to only one man. A man who lies low 364 days per year. A man with leverage against exposure. A man who wears red (blood red) to confuse colour-blind pets.

No wonder he never comes to my house, he knows that I know.

Marcie Schwindt makes stuff up for a living and loves every minute of it.

A Pantsing Experiment

by Marcie Schwindt

photo by Lean Brooks - burningwell.org

Writing is a skill that cannot be honed by practice alone. To grow we experiment with and learn from the techniques, approaches and preferences of others. In that spirit, I gave “pantsing” (writing “by the seat of your pants”) a try.

A natural planner/organizer, I knew pantsing would be a real challenge for me.  The allure of this approach is the surprise. Not knowing what’s going to happen makes the piece exciting, some would argue addicting, to write and less predictable for the reader.

First I joined a brainstorming session on a subject I knew even less about—sports. The group developed a comedic short story about a young girl’s search for hockey equipment (women’s gear was virtually non-existent at the time) in order to play hockey with her new group of friends (all boys) on the local pond. Nearly three years later, I completed Hand-Me-Down Hockey.  As promised, the finished product was completely different than the idea I began with.

The lessons learned were mostly expected: I will never be a full-time Pantser. In my opinion, the tale took longer than it should have to complete, and I required more external validation than I’m comfortable with. I am not confident about the finished product, and, as much as I’ve been told not to, I know that I will rewrite it, again.

The approach does deliver for me, however, when I incorporate it into my planning process. By planning only the basic plot and structure of the novel and using the Pantser technique to fill in the blanks, I end up with an extended outline that falls just short of a first draft. And, as promised, the resulting story is exciting/addicting to write and less predictable for the reader. It also means that I can complete the story in only two or three drafts.

Are you a pantser or a planner? Have you ever tried the other way? If you have, what was your experience? If not, why not?

Marcie Schwindt makes stuff up for a living and loves every minute of it.