Writer Wednesday: What Makes a Writer?

I’ve been active on a few writing forums (fora?) and communities the past couple of years. During that time, I’ve seen the debate about what constitutes a writer hashed and rehashed. Every time writers start comparing word count goals and achievements, someone invariably feels they’re more of a writer than someone else, for whatever reason. It seems there are as many definitions of  ‘writer’ as there are writers and aspiring writers. The opinions run the gamut from some saying to call yourself a writer, you MUST write every day, to those who say it is enough to TRY to write.

My opinion is simple. Writers write. Period. If you have a great idea, but don’t take the time to do the work and write it, you may be an aspiring writer, but you aren’t a writer yet. For years, I fell in this category, even after I had two completed manuscripts under my belt. There was always something more important, family time, work, reading, etc, and that isn’t a bad thing at all. At that time in my life, those commitments needed more. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the story wasn’t going to write itself. So, I gave up watching TV, and wrote. I didn’t give up family time, but my house did suffer a bit. Family time became more important when my daughter gave us not just one, but two beautiful grandsons. I became ill a few years ago, and had to stop working when I failed to recover fully.

It’s a matter of priorities. If writing is important to you, you make the time to write, at least occasionally. It really is that simple. IMHO, you don’t have to write everyday, but it does have to be on some kind of consistent basis – even if that’s the extra fifteen minutes you have left from lunch break once a weak. Lot’s of people write books a few minutes at a time.

I’ve heard many people say they’d write a book if only they had the time. Yet those same people spend HOURS each week watching TV or playing video games or surfing the net. My answer to them is that if you REALLY want to be a writer, you’ll give up some of the time you spend doing those things, and write. For me, my family is my first priority, and writing is my second, and both of those are subject to whatever my health is doing at the moment. By just giving up watching TV, I freed up a couple hours a day in which to write, and I take full advantage of it. For a time, I continued watching my absolute favorite shows, but after a while, TV held my attention less and less. Now, I watch, on average, one show per season, and sometimes not even that, if there’s nothing that truly interests me.

The internet was my big time suck. I LOVED the concept of having SO MUCH information right there at my fingertips. Yep, I’m a geek, but the ability to find out nearly anything about anything is something I value highly. Difficult as it is, these days, I limit my internet time to writing related stuff. I reward myself once a week with a couple hours of unrestrained surfing, if I’ve met my word count goals, etc, for the week. Last week, I started with Chinese mythology, and ended up reading about some obscure demon, then classic cars. That battle freed up several hours a week for writing. Between giving up TV for the most part, and limiting my internet use, I’ve given myself, on average, 3-4  hours a day to write. That’s outside the forty hours a week I would need for work if I still worked, and taking household chores and the like into account. So, if I worked full time, I would still have at least 2-3 hours a day for writing.

Tons of people call themselves writers simply because they like the IDEA of being a writer. Perhaps they think it sounds romantic, gives them an excuse to be eccentric, or that it will make them rich. Some of them hang out in online writers’ communities. Maybe they read a few articles. They might even string a few words together. But when the writing actually becomes WORK, they find other things to do  instead, and often make the excuse that they can’t ‘find the time’. It’s okay if they tried writing, found it wasn’t for them, and moved on to something else. But rather than admit that, they often use the excuse that they don’t have the time. That’s fine too, if other things are more important to them. But, IMHO, they aren’t writers, because writers write, even if it’s sporadic and they don’t produce  huge word counts.

Writers actually do the work. Maybe not every day, but on some schedule that works for them. They do the research, write the peice, edit it, and polish it. It might take them years, but they keep plugging away until they have completed a piece. Then they might start a new piece, or decide to take a break. Plenty of short stories and books get written during lunch break, while the baby naps, during the commute, during soccer practice. I greatly admire writers with the discipline to write in fifteen minute bursts every day, or every couple of days, and manage to complete something. I don’t have that kind of discipline, which is why I limit my TV and internet time.

Whether they write for their own  enjoyment, or for publication. Writers WRITE. Period.

Writer Wednesday: 4 Questions to Determine How Many POVs

I know you’ve seen them. Maybe even sailed a couple across the room. Those books. The ones with so many POV characters you feel like the guy in the old TV show Quantum Leap. You’re never with one long enough to get to really know them before the author tosses you into another one.

It’s difficult to understand why the author would choose to the POV of even the shopkeeper’s wife, detailing her affair with the baker’s daughter, when none of the three have a significant role in the story, and the affair doesn’t cause or resolve conflict for the main characters.

Sure, it’s tempting to show the reader every aspect of the story, to make sure they understand all the undercurrents and motives. If you’re like me, you put  a ton of work into your characters, even the minor ones. I’m even proud of the unnamed hotel clerk Kiellen questions in BLOOD DRAGON. I think he comes across really well. But I didn’t use his POV to show the reader that the reason he’s so surly is because he doesn’t sleep well because of the nightmares replaying his brother’s death every night. The reader didn’t need to know that, even though it would have added some interest. It didn’t move the story forward, so it didn’t belong. So the surly hotel clerk didn’t have a POV.

How do you decide how many POV characters?
Recently, I noticed several people on a message board discussing how to know which POVs to keep in one of their finished drafts. To decide which POVs my book absolutely needs, I ask myself several questions:
  1.   How many POVs are absolutely necessary to tell the story?
  2.  Is one (or more) of the POVs showing events that another POV character already knows? If so, that POV probably isn’t really necessary.
  3. Is the primary reason for one or more POVs to show development of that POV character? If so, it can most likely be shown through another character’s POV. Intimate details might not be necessary, or might be shared with another character in order to show them. As a reader, I don’t want intimate details from every single character, only from the protagonist(s) and antagonist, and possibly one other pivotal character.
  4.  Is the primary reason to show a character’s ‘side of the story’? Is that side of the story necessary, or redundant? Does the reader absolutely NEED to know that side of the story in order to understand the story? If so, is it possible to show the necessary information from one of the other POVs?

Every POV character we add is another complication for the reader to understand, so the minimum POVs that are absolutely required to tell the story makes it easier for the reader to understand the entire story. At the same time, we have to trust the reader to understand, without every single dot being connected.

As a reader, I prefer 3rd person, but will sometimes read 1st person if it’s well done. In 1st person, if there are more than 2 POV’s, it’s really unlikely I will read the book. In 3rd person, that magic number is 3.Of course, there are books with sweeping, multifaceted plots that simply can NOT be shown in 3 or fewer POVs, particularly if events are taking place in two or more separate locations, with no overlap in characters. I’m okay with those, too, as long as there are no extraneous POVs. IMO, unnecessary POV characters is usually the sign of a beginner, or lazy writing – not always, but often. Writers strive for clarity in their writing, and additional POVs just muddy the waters.
What do you do to determine how many POV characters a story needs? Do you plot it out ahead, planning which character will show which parts of the story? Or do you play it by ear? Or some combination?

BLOOD DRAGON is officially FINISHED!

I’ve finished the last of my edits and revisions of BLOOD DRAGON!! AND sent it to the editors who were interested in it from the RomanceDivas NGTCC pitch.

Now I have to decide what to focus on next. I have several ideas for new vampire/weredragon romances. I’m developing a new paranormal creature. And there are tons of ‘Really Should Do NOW’ things on my ToDo list.

Whichever, I’ll be working all the above. I’ll just have to decide which gets the majority of my time and effort right now. The focus can change, depending on many other factors.

And before I get tied up in any of it, I’m going to take a few days off and spend some extra time with my family. We’ll see if I make it more than 3 days before I give in to the internal pressure to get back to work. I seriously doubt it. 😀 I simply can’t just sit and watch a TV show, I have to also be DOING something. And that’s usually working on something writing related.

Do you ever have trouble deciding what to work on next after completing a major project? What about time off at the end of a major project – can you do it, or do you find yourself NEEDING to work?