Posts Tagged ‘point of view’

dead man's reachhis father's eyes

David B. Coe has had two new releases out in the past few weeks:

DEAD MAN’S REACH, his latest Thieftaker novel written as D.B. Jackson, which Bookish chose as one of the Week’s Hottest Releases: 7/19-7/25.

HIS FATHER’S EYES, second book in The Casefiles of Justis Fearsson, which Kirkus Reviews named one of The Must-Read Speculative Fiction Books Coming Out in August.

In other words, David is a brilliant and prolific writer, and is here today guest blogging about…

“Point of View, Narrative, and My Newest Book,” by David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson

Many thanks to Lucienne for hosting me; it’s great to be here.

I am just completing what may be the busiest phase in my eighteen years as a professional writer. Two days ago, Baen Books released HIS FATHER’S EYES, the second volume in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy I’m writing under my own name. Two weeks before that, Tor Books released DEAD MAN’S REACH, the fourth book in the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I write under the name D.B. Jackson. And during the course of this summer I have also had three short stories published, all while attending conventions and teaching at writers’ workshops. As any author knows, busy is good, and I have been very fortunate.

The Fearsson series began with SPELL BLIND, which came out in January of this year. It’s a departure from my previous work in a couple of ways. It’s my first contemporary work. The Thieftaker books draw on my history background and are set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, and the epic fantasies I published before I began to write historical fantasy were all set in medieval worlds. The Fearsson books, on the other hand are set in modern day Phoenix. My magical private investigator hero drives a car and carries a firearm. He uses a cell phone and a computer, he speaks like you and I do, he swears occasionally, he has a girlfriend, he likes jazz and baseball and Mexican food. In other words, after writing point of view characters whose lives barely resembled mine at all, I finally have a protagonist I can relate to on all sorts of levels.

Which may be why Justis Fearsson — Jay, for short — is also the first point of view character for a novel that I’ve written in first person. When I started in the business, writing in first person point of view was frowned upon. Editors didn’t like it, so writers tended to stay away from it. In more recent years, though, with the success of first person novels (Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock books, C.E. Murphy’s Walker Papers, Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, just to name a few) this has started to change.

The truth is, I love writing in first person. I wouldn’t want to do it with all my books. It wouldn’t work in a big epic fantasy, with multiple point of view characters, nor was it the right choice for the Thieftaker books. For those, I chose close third person, which provided just enough narrative distance between protagonist and reader to allow me to explain key historical elements. These moments of brief exposition would have sounded awkward in first person.

With the Fearsson books, though, there is less to explain. And the intimacy of the first person narrative draws my readers in, allowing them to experience all that Jay experiences. This is particularly important for this series, which has an unusual magic system. Jay Fearsson is a weremyste. He is a runecrafter, who can cast a variety of powerful spells. But every month, on the night of the full moon and the nights immediately before and after, he goes temporarily mad, even as his power grows. So at the exact moment when he most needs to control his magic, he is least capable of doing so. Eventually the cumulative effect of these moon phasings will drive him permanently insane, as they have his father, who is also a weremyste.

The moon-induced madness that Jay goes through in the books would be compelling in any narrative voice, but in first person the phasings become a viscerally harrowing ordeal, which is exactly what I want. In addition, the immediacy of first person POV enhances the dramatic impact of Jay’s investigations of magical murders, enabling my readers to share in his discoveries and to experience “first hand” the twists and turns my plotting.

We writers have many tools at our disposal: metaphor and simile, dialog and internal monologue, misdirection and foreshadowing, to name just a few. To my mind, point of view is the most powerful. Using the perspectives of our POV characters — their emotions and perceptions and intellects — we guide our readers through our narratives, showing them not only what happens, but also the potential meaning of each new event. Point of view is, in essence, the point where narrative and character arc intersect.

This is why the choice of the proper narrative voice is so important. The Fearsson books would work in third person, rather than first, and I could probably rewrite the Thieftaker books in first person and they would remain good reads. But for reasons I’ve already covered, those are not the voices I chose for the two series, and I believe strongly that both set of books work best as written.

As writers we should be deliberate in choosing the proper voice for each story. We shouldn’t choose third person simply because the market might prefer it, as once it did, nor should we automatically gravitate toward first person just because that voice is in vogue right now. Rather, we need to consider several factors in choosing the right POV voice and, for that matter, the correct point of view character. Whose story are we telling? Is that person the logical choice to tell the story, or should it be told by someone close to that character? (See Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD.) Do we need several POV characters to tell the story effectively, or will one do? Will first person be the best choice, or will it be distracting? Does the amount of exposition we’ll need necessitate a third person approach?

These are the questions I ask myself when I begin a new project, either novel length or shorter. I would suggest that you ask yourself similar questions as you begin your next project. You might find that doing so helps you make optimal use of a powerful narrative tool.

*****

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, was released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, came out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

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thieftakerthieves' quarry

Anyone who’s taken my Writers Digest webinar on writing science fiction, fantasy and the paranormal or who’s taken one of my worldbuilding workshops will have heard me quote David B. Coe, who is a wonderful writer, blogger and teacher of all things writing.  He’s a regular contributor to Magical Words, which has a lot of amazing advice for writers and, as you’ll see from the post below, the author of the “tricorn punk” Thieftaker series, beginning with THIEFTAKER and moving on to THIEVES’ QUARRY under the name D.B. Jackson.  THIEVES’ QUARRY is just out today, so let’s wish him a happy book birthday!

History and POV by D.B. Jackson

Out on Boston Harbor, in the distance and to the south of where Ethan walked, lights bobbed on the gentle swells: lanterns burning on a dozen or more British naval ships. Several of the vessels had been anchored within sight of the city for a week or more; eight others had sailed into view earlier this day. They were arrayed in a loose, broad arc, their reflections dancing and swirling like fireflies. They might have been beautiful had it not been for what they signified: more strife and fear for a city already beleaguered by its conflicts with the Crown. — THIEVES’ QUARRY, Book II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, by D. B. Jackson

I have been writing historical urban fantasy for several years now, after beginning my career as an author of alternate world fantasies (under the name David B. Coe). As I have settled in to this new phase in my career, I have found, to my surprise, that establishing a historical setting for my Thieftaker books is not very different at all from worldbuilding for my older series. In both cases, I need to establish for my readers a sense of place and time, so that they feel the setting has substance and meaning; I have to write to all of their senses, using my descriptive passages to make the setting come alive; and I need to weave the backdrop into my storytelling, so that the world in and of itself becomes a player in my narrative.

The key to meeting these challenges lies in my use of point of view. A brief primer on point of view: Point of view is the unique perspective through which a story is told. In today’s literary marketplace, point of view is tied inextricably to character. Novels and stories are expected to have, at any given time, but a single point of view character. So, for instance, in the Harry Potter books, Harry is almost always the point of view character. We experience the story line, the other characters, and the world J.K. Rowling has created through Harry’s eyes. His emotions, sensations, and intellect color everything that we read.

Once upon a time — not that long ago, really — many writers wrote in what was known as omniscient voice, meaning that there was a detached narrator who told the story, giving us insights into the thoughts and emotions of every character in a scene. We would hop from one perspective to another, never really settling on a single perspective. That was considered the norm. Not anymore. Today, that approach is known as “head-hopping,” and it is frowned upon. An author can use more than one point of view character, as George R.R. Martin does in his Song of Ice and Fire series, but the transitions to new point of view characters need to be clearly delineated.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled post . . .

In my Thieftaker series, Ethan Kaille is my point of view character throughout every story and novel. My readers rely on Ethan’s descriptions, emotional reactions, and thoughts for clues as to how they should respond to all that happens. In my epic fantasies, I had many point of view characters. But what’s important is that in all these cases, my point of view narrators are the ones I depend upon to make my readers feel they are a part of the world I have established for the stories. I want to make my narrating characters tour guides in a sense. Which is not to say that they need to spend all their time walking backwards and telling my readers about the history of every building, monument, and alleyway. Rather, I want my characters to be immersed fully in their society and culture, so that when they interact with something that is unique to their time and place, my readers will not need to have that interaction explained to them. Its significance and its implications for my story should be clear from the context and from my point of view character’s responses.

This post begins with a passage from Thieves’ Quarry, the second installment in my Thieftaker Chronicles, which is to be released by Tor Books on July 2. It is a short passage — exactly one hundred words long, as it happens — and it actually offers very little by way of historical information. That’s all right. It comes in the first few pages of the novel, at a time when I am not yet ready to burden my readers with too much data. But it does establish the mood that hung over the city of Boston at the time this story takes place. Those ships out on the harbor carry an occupying force of over a thousand British soldiers. For the first time in its history, after a summer of conflict and rioting, Boston is about to become a garrisoned town.

Ethan’s thoughts don’t go into that level of detail, of course. They don’t have to. For the purposes of beginning to establish the tone and mood for my book, the small bit of information I give is sufficient. My readers can picture the ships, with their lanterns reflected on the harbor waters. And because of Ethan’s reaction to what he sees, they can guess that all is not well between the Colonists and the Crown.

Aspiring writers are often told, “Show, don’t tell,” although just as often the exact meaning of this advice is left obscure. When we “tell,” we inject ourselves into our books, bypassing our point of view characters and instructing our readers in how they should respond to our writing. “Showing,” as opposed to telling, means allowing our point of view characters to respond to and interpret the places, other characters, and events that our readers encounter in the course of our narratives. It means describing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures as our characters experience them.

We can do tons of worldbuilding or research, but if we don’t convey to readers why all that knowledge matters to our point of view characters, our settings will remain flat. On the other hand, when we show readers our worlds from the perspective of our characters, we make these settings — be they real world or imagined — something more than just a backdrop to our stories. They become our character’s home, or the alien land into which our heroine has just fallen, or the hellscape from which our hero is trying to win his freedom. Point of view gives dimension to our worlds by infusing our descriptions with emotion. It gives them context, weight, importance. And ultimately it makes them places to which our readers want to return again and again.

*****

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasy, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, came out in 2012 and is now available in paperback. The second volume, Thieves’ Quarry, has just been released by Tor Books. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

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