Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

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I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

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Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

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The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

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*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

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writing technique

POV Explained

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POV Explained

Let’s differentiate point-of-view (POV) in the simplest, most direct manner possible.

The first distinction to be made is to identify what perspective your story is being told from: first-person, second-person or third-person. Examples:

First-person: “I walked into the bank . . .”
Second-person: “You walked into the bank . . .”
Third-person: “He walked into the bank . . .”

First- and second-person POVs are fairly self-explanatory, but there are sub-categories within third-person POV that need to be elaborated on for purposes of clarity.

The secondary distinction to be made in third-person POV is along the “subjectivity/objectivity axis”: whether or not the writer gets inside the head (or heads) of the characters he or she is describing.

If the writer confines himself to describing the behavior, emotional reactions and thoughts of one single character at a time while other character’s observed emotions and conjectured thoughts are only described as externally-perceived phenomena, you are writing in third-person limited POV.

If the writer confines herself to describing only the actions and sounds of a scene, you are writing in the third-person objective POV. You are chronicling the scene as if you had a good camera and recording device trained on the action. No character thoughts or emotions are directly revealed or described.

If your narrative has a single, god-like viewpoint from which we view all other characters and perspectives—or you talk directly to the reader—or your narrator travels freely backward and forward in time—or the narrator can transfer their all-knowing perspective into animals or inanimate objects—you are writing in the third-person omniscient POV. (Much frowned upon today, though a very popular POV in 19th-century novels.)

—Sharon was angry and confused. (You are making a flat declaration of fact about Sharon’s interior emotional state, hence are writing in third-person omniscient POV.)

—Sharon looked (or seemed) angry and confused. (You are confining your description to only those facts an objective, not omniscient, narrator might observe or know; hence you are writing in third-person limited or third-person objective POV.)

Q: What if I describe the actions, conjectured thoughts and observed emotions of, say, five different characters in a scene. Isn’t that the omniscient POV?

A: Nope. You didn’t declare anyone’s emotional state as a flat declarative fact (hence talk directly to the reader), nor did you reveal anyone’s inner thoughts. You are still writing in a third-person POV, but now it’s a multiple third-person POV. If no one’s thoughts or emotions are directly shared or revealed, it would be an objective multiple third-person POV. If you reveal or share the focal character’s thoughts or emotions with the reader you are writing in the third-person limited POV.

Here’s where things can become muddled: You “head-hop” into another character within the same scene and directly reveal their emotions and/or thoughts to the reader. This does not mean that your narrative has necessarily shifted from third-person limited to a third-person omniscient viewpoint (remember: the omniscient viewpoint is an over-arching, unifying viewpoint that contains all characters and perspectives), but rather that the focal point character has shifted within the scene. A writer can use multiple viewpoints in a work of fiction, true—but it is strongly recommended that the text show a clearly-demarked line or chapter break when you switch amongst multiple points of view.

Q: My focal point character—the one I’m following most closely in this scene—reveals his inner thoughts and emotions to the reader. But the other four people in this scene do not. Since I’m only directly revealing the thoughts and emotions of one of the five people in this scene, I’m writing in third-person limited POV, correct?

A: Correct. If you didn’t directly reveal the thoughts and/or emotions of even one character in this scene, you’d be writing in the objective third-person POV. (Camera and sound recording device only, remember?)

Q: My reviewers are accusing me of head-hopping. So what? I’m writing in multiple third-person limited POV; what’s the big deal?

A: The big deal is that every time you jump into another character’s head to directly reveal the inner life of that character you steal focus from the scene’s focal point character, thus injecting emotional distance into your text by diffusing empathy and muddying the over-all clarity, dramatic pacing and concision of your scene. A clean line or chapter break when switching amongst POVs will help to keep your reader focused, involved and empathizing with the most important person in the narrated scene.

First-Person POV: allows for the closest reader identification with your narrator. Drawbacks include: (a) the narrator is strictly confined to discussing what he or she directly experiences or observes, (b) first-person voice can come across as comically narcissistic and melodramatic, and (c) first-person voice is not the easiest (or most credible) stylistic vehicle to use when describing the thoughts and motivations of others.

Second-Person POV: almost never used, for obvious reasons. (Who’s this joker telling me what I think and feel and do?!)

Third-Person POV: has the most credibility with the reader.

(a) The third person omniscient narrator can move backwards and forwards in time; talk directly to the reader; inhabit the bodies and psyches of animals, insects, toasters and toys—but this can come across as mightily contrived and corny to a contemporary reader.

(b) The third person limited narrator must confine his description of directly-revealed thoughts and/or emotions to only one character at a time in any given scene.

(c) The third person objective narrator mechanistically chronicles the scene like a camera and sound recording device, never entering his character’s emotional or cognitive lives.

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