Firefly Friday – The Three Dimensions of Character

Welcome to a new installment of Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip chestnut and marry it to my favorite TV show Firefly to illustrate it. Today’s topic: The Three Dimensions of Character. I haven’t done one of these since last November, but I thought this tip was shown so well in several instances in Firefly that I’d resurrect this feature.

I’m in the middle of digesting Larry Brook’s awesome book on writing called Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. It’s chock full of great advice that has frankly made my brain hum (in a good way). One of the 6 core competencies that he says a successful writer needs to grasp is character.

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. Every craft book talks about character. But, like everything else he covers, he takes you deeper. One of the aspects of character development he talks about is the three dimensions of character, and if you think this is just your standard ‘make your character three dimensional’ advice, think again. I’ll give a quick overview (you’ll need to get his book to get the full details) and then give examples from Firefly. 

He says that all characters, like people in real life, have three dimensions, or aspects.

  1. First Dimension – Surface traits, quirks, and habits. These are things the world sees about this person, which may or may not be what the person thinks it says about them. It’s the person’s outward identity. In fiction, a writer can show aspects of a person’s character (what they drive, what they eat, etc) and a reader may or may not assign meaning to it. The reason it’s not good as a writer to stop here for main characters is that illuminating a character’s first dimension does not tell us his true self. (Firefly fans can already probably guess an example I will use). Anyway, it could all be a smoke screen.  If, however, as a writer, you show the meaning behind these outward traits, you’ve now crossed into the
  2. Second Dimension – The realm of backstory and inner demons.  In this dimension, the writer gives the backstory, agenda and/or meaning behind the surface traits, and what the reader assumed might be totally different. It adds depth to the character. It’s their inner landscape. It’s all the juicy backstory stuff that prompts, explains, and motivates the character’s first dimension choices of identity. First dimension is what you see– a guy with a tattoo. Second dimension is why he has that tattoo. Illuminating the second dimension creates reader empathy.
  3. Third Dimension – Where the true character emerges through choices made when something is at stake. Basically, when push comes to shove, just who is this guy? The true character is not defined by their inner demons and/or backstory until the character does something under pressure, which exposes who they truly are (good or bad). Usually in fiction, this decision comes at the end to show the character’s arc. It’s what shows the character as a villain or hero. A villain will continue to define himself by his backstory, while a hero will overcome it.

Okay, now for the fun part–giving examples from Firefly! The first example is from the episode “The Train Job” which FOX aired as the pilot. The premise is that the crew of the ship is hired by an underworld criminal to heist goods from a moving train. The captain doesn’t really care what it is, as long as the job’s done and they get paid. But when the heist hits an obstacle, and he learns that the goods are invaluable medical supplies the citizens of the planet are in desperate need of? His choice illuminates his true self. To relate it to the 3 dimensions, you could have two captains with the same quirks and traits, same background to explain them (on the losing side of a civil war, living on the edge of civilization scraping by), but each now has the same choice. Same 1st and 2nd dimension stuff, but one could choose to finish the job (and justify it in their mind) and the other could choose to return it. What does Captain Reynolds do? His answer beautifully illustrates what we’re talking about (9:24 to 10:30 on the timestamp):

The pertinent quote here:

Sheriff: A man can get a job, he might not look too close at what that job is. But a man learns all the details of a situation like ours, well, then he has a choice.

Captain Reynolds: I don’t believe he does

To the captain, his belief that a man doesn’t have a choice when faced with such a moral issue is his true nature. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing. Another captain with the same traits and backstory might not have agreed.

This episode ties in nicely to the next example. The underworld criminal, not too happy with Captain Reynolds’ decision, gets his revenge in a later episode called “War Stories.” The villain, Niska, is a sick bastard, who follows the teachings of warrior-poet Xiang Yu. Niska loves to torture people because he believes it’s the only way to see their true selves. This whole episode becomes a demonstration of illuminating the 3rd dimension for many of the characters. For Captain Reynolds and his pilot, Wash, it is illuminated in how they react to Niska’s torture. Theirs is the biggest illumination of character in this episode, but some of the others get some too. In this episode, each has a choice about what to do now that their captain is captured. Each decides to rescue him, and in their own unique ways:

  • Shepherd Book, their man of the cloth, when asked about using a gun quips that the Bible is fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps
  • Kaylee, the engineer, discovers that she doesn’t have the fortitude to shoot anyone when their fall back position is overrun.
  • River, for the first time, shows a scary side of her abilities when she rescues Kaylee (twist here though is that her 2nd dimension backstory here gives her no option but to react this way)
  • Even the mercenary Jayne joins in (though it could be argued that even though he’s doing it for no money, he’s still operating between his 1st and 2nd dimension, since he also just likes a good fight)

The clip I’ve isolated (11 minutes) is a good example since it shows all of this and has the dialogue about ‘meeting the real me’. For those that don’t know the characters, this starts off with Wash, who up until this point in the season has been the never-been-violent, fun-loving pilot. His wife (who is a warrior) has just rescued him from a horrific torture session when this scene begins, leaving Captain Mal Reynolds behind. She also had a choice to make when she went in to ransom them, the captain or her husband, and she chose her husband (28:00 to 39:23):

And finally, the whole movie Serenity is the character arc of Captain Reynolds and River being resolved. For Captain Reynolds, until this movie, we never got to see what he’d be like when he was ‘at war’ and what kind of moral choice he’d make on something huge. His choice caused the death of two of his friends, but I believe his resolving that part of himself is why Inara is finally able to stay on the ship and explore a possible relationship with him. She needed to see his true self.

What do you think? Have you read Brooks’ book? Does this make sense? Fan of the show? Have you learned any good lessons from the show I haven’t covered?

Firefly Friday – Keeping Foreshadowing in the Shadows, guest post by Jim Ross

Today we have a guest blogger for Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip using the TV Show Firefly to help illustrate. This is my first guest blogger, so am excited! He’s a regular commenter on the Firefly Friday posts and graciously agreed to write a post for me. Thank you Jim Ross!

Jim Ross is a prolific reader who recently decided it was about time he tried his hand at writing. On his blog (www.jimrosswriting.wordpress.com) he is slowly working through the world-building for his first novel. He lives in Cambridge, UK and is a big fan of sci fi/fantasy, martial arts and cheesy films – the cringeworthier, the better. He enjoys kayaking, nature programmes, and is currently being distracted by Mass Effect. Again.

You’ve all seen it before. The hero appears to be disarmed but then pulls out a gun from the ankle holster that hasn’t been mentioned until now. The villain grabs the heroine in an attempt to use her as a human shield, only for her to throw him to the floor and put him in a complex arm-lock, despite having shown no previous knowledge of martial arts. Events like this will shake a reader’s immersion in the story, and it’s so easy to avoid. Perhaps earlier on the heroine mentioned that her father was in the military and wanted his girls to be able to take care of themselves? Even James Bond gets a quick run-through of what curiously specific gadgets he has available before they invariably come in useful later in the film. Openly setting things up in advance runs the risk of revealing the plot too early though. Foreshadowing works best when you hide it.

While it has an underlying plot, Firefly’s mainly a show of stand-alone episodes. Consequently, most of the foreshadowing of events happens in the same programme. River muttering “Two by two, hands of blue” in The Train Job sounds like crazy Riverspeak, and only takes on its full significance when we see the two sinister, blue-gloved agents searching for her at the end of the episode. In Shindig, Kaylee admiring the dress in the shop window looks like a bit of world-building and character-building for her and Zoe until she gets to wear the dress to the ball and when, in Safe, Captain Reynolds jokes to Simon “Don’t worry, we won’t leave you behind”, it feels like just the sort of thing he’d normally say – and then events force him to do just that.

Disguising the foreshadowing stops you from giving away the rest of the show.

Unusually though, Firefly also hides some foreshadowing that crosses the episode boundary.  For example, when the port compression coil fails in Out of Gas, on first watching I thought it came from out of the blue.  Certainly they hadn’t mentioned it recently.  When I rewatched the series though, it’s there right in the pilot.  When they land on Persephone, Kaylee asks for a new one, saying “if the compression coil busts, we’re drifting.”  In the next episode, The Train Job, we see her makeshift repair: “Were there monkeys? Some terrifying space monkeys that maybe got loose?” “…someone won’t replace the crappy compression coil!” It gets put away and enough episodes go by for the viewer to forget, and then… BANG!  They’re drifting, just as Kaylee said they would be all that time ago.

Then you have Shepherd Book.  In the first episode he disarms and knocks out a Fed in seconds, yet this clear indication of his fighting ability isn’t mentioned again until War Stories, where he displays impressive knee-capping skills with a rifle. Perhaps he has a reputation in some circles for being skilful – in Objects in Space, Jubal Early makes sure to drop him with the first strike before remarking “That ain’t a Shepherd.” All the other crew Early intimidates or beats up quite easily.  Perhaps he knew that Book would be a more formidable opponent? And just why did Book’s ident card get him preferential treatment on the Alliance cruiser in Safe?

We don’t get answers in the series, but perhaps that’s part of the reason Firefly became such a cult success. There are so many unanswered questions that make you want to know more, and the hidden hints to the future prompt you to speculate about how things might turn out. Why not try hiding your foreshadowing behind world-building or character development and seeing what a difference it makes? A bit of leftover mystery might even sell the sequel for you…

Have you noticed any other foreshadowing in Firefly done well?

Firefly Friday – Are you giving readers an excuse to put your book down?

Welcome to the next installment of Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip chestnut and marry it to my favorite TV show Firefly to illustrate the tip. Today’s topic: Scene and chapter breaks.

One of my favorite writing craft books is James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish). It is so useful in understanding the framework necessary to construct a plot. One of his tips is to make your scenes HIP. That is, start with a Hook, amp the Intensity during, and end with a Prompt. Note that he’s not talking about chapters, but scenes. Sometimes you could have several scenes in one chapter, and it’s important to make these HIP too. I added this to my checklist I inserted before each scene during revision, and checked off if I had each. If I didn’t, I dug back into the scene to figure out how I could.

For prompt, Bell advises that you have a “read-on prompt” which could be one of the following:

  • impending disaster
  • portent
  • mysterious line of dialogue
  • a secret revealed
  • and several more, but I’m not sure of copyright laws on this, so I won’t copy any more from his book.

The point is, you want to give them something that will make them want to keep reading. This is especially important when the scene ends a chapter.

So, to illustrate this lesson, here’s a scene from the episode Out of Gas. In this scene we start with Mal left alone on the ship. Their ship had a part blow, which knocked out their life support. The others have left in a last ditch effort for help and he waits onboard (the captain going down with the ship) in case their distress beacon is heard out in the middle of nowhere. He’s freezing, he’s fallen asleep, and then a call comes through.

In the commentary, show writer Tim Minear talks about how he wanted to break for commercial right when the rescue ship looms into view (3:35). Joss Whedon disagreed. Tim says that he fought hard with Joss on this, but that Joss insisted he keep going. There was no “jeapordy” at that point. Joss won out, and Tim agrees it was the right choice to end it where they did, which is when they hold him at gun point (5:09).

Now Mal’s in jeopardy and the viewer wants to come back after the commercial to see what happens. The earlier spot, while dramatic and a great tight shot, held too much hope for the scene. Too risky for the viewer to think “oh yep, he’s getting rescued, what’s going on in baseball world? {click}”

The other part of this scene that is useful to watch is how it illustrates Mal’s character and their world. Tim Minear talks about this in the commentary: Mal’s almost out of oxygen but he’s still suspicious and has the strength to stand up to them while discussing arrangements: “and I do expect to see that engine part before I open the door” (4:40)

Fan of the show? Have you learned any good lessons from the show I haven’t covered?

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Darth Vader’s Love Life

It’s getting colder down here in Mobile, brrr! Here’s my roundup of of blog posts I found helpful this week, plus my geeky obsessions that I came across. Enjoy!

Writing:

Ada Lovelace:

Austenites:

  • Where was this six months ago? As noted in my recent post Tomato, Tomahto, I’d created a Austen thesaurus when editing my hero. Now there’s a handy one online! Just type in a word and presto! Write Like Austen

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

  • George Takei posted this on his facebook page last night, giving me a good snort/groan:

Have a great weekend folks! Stay warm and safe!

Firefly Friday – Shiny! Using Setting to Illustrate Character

Welcome to the next installment of Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip chestnut and marry it to my favorite TV show Firefly to illustrate the tip.

Setting ain’t just a pretty backdrop. If done right, it can add multiple layers of meaning to your novel or even become a “character” in its own right. Setting can illustrate many things, but today we’ll focus on character.

We’ve heard it a million times: make your prose do double-duty. Setting can be one way to accomplish this. This is one of the things I loved about Firefly and why it can be watched over and over because each time you can discover something new.

Instead of showing clips today, it’ll be a series of pictures. This set illustrates Kaylee, the ship’s engineer. What can you tell about her personality from just seeing her quarters?

Inara leaving Kaylee’s room. No one else has their door decorated Kaylee in a hammock she’s strung up in the engine room, which she’s made into a second haven for herself. Anyone recognize the shout-out to Star Wars on the shelf behind her?
 
In her bunk. This setting also illustrated something new as the dress hanging there is a new addition to the room and shows how much that experience affected her (Shindig).  Contrast Kaylee’s bunk to the ship’s captain, Mal.

Now take a look at the Dining Room. It’s never said or pointed out but can you guess who painted the little flower vines up the walls and tried to make the room a little more homey?

The other character’s bunks/personal space also reflects their individual personalities, but I thought I’d focus today on just Kaylee.

Fan of the show? What other parts of the setting helped to illustrate character? What ways have you used setting to illustrate character in your WIP?

Weekend Grab Bag – Writing, Geekiness and Tolkien

Writing:

Ada Lovelace:

Browncoats:

  • This past week if you ran across any Whedonites, you probably saw them grinning with unadulterated joy. Why? Because it was revealed that Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, had made a film in secret! It started with Nathan Fillion tweeting on Sunday: Oh, it’s real. Very. Very. Real. muchadothemovie.com  – since no one knew of it and Mr. Fillion is known to be a prankster, it was thought to be a joke. But no, Joss Whedon assembled many actors from his previous ventures to make a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in 14 days! More details here and here

In Geekdom:

Firefly Friday – Dialogue – How Scary is Pain? It’s all in the delivery

This week: dialogue delivery.

Earlier in the week I decided to focus on dialogue, but as I mulled it over, I found I was having a really hard time with this post. The problem is, Joss Whedon is known for his witty dialogue. How could I even capture it in one post?

Well, I can’t. You can take any scene in any episode and study the snappy dialogue.

Then it dawned on me: the point of this writing series is to focus on lessons we hear all the time and illustrate the lesson using an excerpt from Firefly, not to promote how awesome the show is. Pressure off (whew!), I decided to zero in on one interchange, not because it exemplifies Firefly or its witty dialogue (it doesn’t), but because it illustrates a common dialogue lesson.

We often hear the admonishment not to overburden our dialogue exchanges with exclamation points and dialogue tags like “she screamed loudly!”

As a writer, over-relying on such ways to show emotion can weaken your prose. It shows the writer either didn’t trust his/her writing skills enough to properly show emotion, or he/she didn’t trust the reader to pick up on it.

Another reason to refrain from it is that sometimes understatement can be funny or more powerful. To illustrate this, here’s an excerpt from the pilot “Serenity.” Jayne, the crew’s muscle guy, is being asked by the captain to get information out of the spy they just captured. Watch until 7:37 and note Jayne’s delivery. His lines could be delivered very menacingly in typical bad-guy fashion. Instead, he states them very calmly in an off-hand manner, especially the “Pain is scary” line. From the commentary for this episode on the DVD we’re told that the actor playing Jayne, Adam Baldwin, originally delivered these lines in a very scary way and Joss told him to dial it way down.

How different would this scene be if he’d played it over the top? To bring it to the page, which is what we deal with as writers, here’s a transcript. Imagine this is dialogue in a novel:

Mal ripped off Dobson’s gag and stepped back to stand by Jayne. “I’m in a tricky position, I guess you know. Got me a boatload of terribly strange folk making my life a little more interesting than I generally like, chief among them an Alliance mole. Likes to shoot at girls when he’s nervous.” Mal strode back to Dobson. “Now I got to know how close the Alliance is, exactly how much you told them before Wash scrambled your call. So… I’ve given Jayne here the job of finding out.”

Jayne pulled out a big-ass knife. “He was non-specific as to how.”

Mal leaned in to Jayne’s ear and said in a low voice, “Now, you only gotta scare him.”

“Pain is scary…”

“Just do it right.”

Now, let’s get excessive with punctuation and menace to see how differently the scene would be:

Mal ripped off Dobson’s gag and stepped back to stand by Jayne. “I’m in a tricky position, I guess you know. Got me a boatload of terribly strange folk making my life a little more interesting than I generally like, chief among them an Alliance mole. Likes to shoot at girls when he’s nervous.” Mal strode back to Dobson and loomed over him, hands on hips. “Now I got to know how close the Alliance is, exactly how much you told them before Wash scrambled your call! So I’ve given Jayne here the job of finding out!”

Jayne pulled out a big-ass knife and growled, “he was non-specific as to how.” He slapped the knife several times against his palm and grinned wickedly.

Mal leaned in to Jayne’s ear and said in a low voice, “Now, you only gotta scare him.”

“Pain is scary!!”

“Just do it right!”

Do you have any spots in your dialogue that might work better underplayed?

Want to analyze the dialogue further?

Past Firefly Friday Posts

Weekend Grab Bag – Writing Tips, Firefly Soap and General Geekiness

This week’s round-up, featuring writing tips, Austen stuff, making Browncoats clean and other geekiness.

On Writing:

Romance:

Austenites:

For Fellow Browncoats:

  • Alliance Soap Bar – pretty shiny of these folks. They’ve taken the design of the Alliance foodstuff bars and made it into soap. Here’s their blurb: Genuine A-grade soapstuffs. Protein, vitamins, certified pure essential oils. One of these’ll wash a family for a month. Longer, if they don’t like their kids too well…
  • I don’t know what’s up with the Firefly soaps lately, but here’s another, in a different style altogether. Are they trying to tell us something? Honest, we’re not the ones that smell at Cons!

General Geek-Outness

  • Sarah & Candy at SBTB served up this awesome video yesterday, a repurposing of old floppy disc drives playing the Imperial March! Truly, I think this could go in the dictionary next to the word Geek.
  • Leave you with this I found floating around on Facebook: Why Men Shouldn’t Own Action Figures

Firefly Friday – Weaving in World-building Without Infodumping, a writing tip

Still proving popular, so onward we go! This is the 3rd installment in my writing tips series Firefly Friday, where I use excerpts from the very awesome TV show Firefly to illustrate various writing tips. Week One: Writing Lessons from the TV Show Firefly. Week Two: Flip That Cliché.  Today: world-building.

But! OMG, no! *beeep*beeep*beeep* That’s the deadly sound of the infodump truck backing up and dumping a ton of story info into your lovely prose, stopping your story flat and making it all “corpsified and gross” (that’s a Firefly quote for n00bs). That’s how world-building can sometimes come across as, like a huge infodump, literally asking a reader to wait*wait*wait*whileIDumpAllThisStuff*beep*beep*beep.

And before you think only SF/Fantasy writers need to worry about world-building, think again. Anytime you’re describing setting, that’s world-building. Ask yourself – why am I describing it other than to just insert some nice scenery? How does it relate to my POV character? How can I make it do double-duty by setting mood? Does it create any kind of emotion in my character? If it doesn’t, why is the character even noting it? (Caveat: I write in Deep POV, so all narrative is from my POV character’s frame of reference, so anything described has to relate to the character in some way).

I’m also guilty of wanting to insert all the cool historical tidbits I’ve learned during my research. I’ve pulled out whole paragraphs of really cool stuff that just didn’t relate to the plot or the character. *sigh*

So, what to do? There are lots of different ways to go about it, but one way is to make sure that you are making the world-building interesting, by making it relevant to your current plot and helping it move forward. You don’t want your story to stop, or, gasp, go backwards. Make it go forward by making the characters interact with the nugget of world-building. Also, have other things happening to help drive it forward. Make it illustrate character. In other words, make it serve many purposes.

To illustrate, here’s an excerpt from Shindig. These 4 crew members are killing time aboard ship and 3 of them don’t have a long history together (they only met at the beginning of the season and this is the 4th episode). Three others are at, you guessed it, a shindig, a mighty fine one, too. There’s a whole bunch of world-building going on in any episode, so singling this out is sorta strange, but I like how it shows just the tip of the iceberg, but in order to show it, the writers had to do a lot more invention.

In keeping with the Jane Austen-like setting of the ball/shindig, the episode’s writer, Jane Espenson invented a whole card game and set of cards. She apparently made up rules and the set designers came up with an unusual deck of cards. A writer might be tempted to show off all this new-found invention and indulge in showing all of it, the rules, everything. But resist. Moving the plot forward is key. So here, there’s several things going on:

1. They’re playing this card game. But that can get old fast, so…

2. We start to get a little more world-building, but in this instance, not about the cool card game the writer invented, but look what their stakes are for the game. What does that tell you about their world, without hitting you over the head with it? What’s important to them? What a great way to weave in such a detail as that.

3. But then, the game’s interrupted for a new plot development that is part of the series arc of River Tam. She starts acting crazy and it’s not until much later in the series that you understand what she’s doing and why she’s tearing off those labels.

4. You then get to witness more character illustration with Book’s quip about having a few ‘mystery meals’ and then while no one’s watching, you see Jayne stealing some of the winnings.

(If you want to see where ‘corpsified and gross’ comes from, keep watching past the card scene game. The next scene has the line.)

I thought I’d illustrate further with a before and after from my writing. In this excerpt, she’s on Bond Street in 1834 (she’s from our present) and I wanted to describe how different things were around her, but notice how I just describe it without it relating to her except by saying “she looked and saw.” Hopefully I fixed it a little in the next draft. If not, there’s always the next one!

Before:

Everywhere she looked, there were wooden signs advertising everything from shoe repair to cosmetics. A surprising number of them moved too – men wearing sandwich boards ambled the streets. One fellow passed her wearing a tall pasteboard hat that towered over the crowd and said in big letters: “Boots at fourteen shillings a pair, warranted.” No shop name accompanied the ad. Were you supposed to follow him, or stop and ask where?

They passed a stout woman selling oyster pies doing a brisk business from her cart, and another selling apples from a wooden wheelbarrow.

After:

Holy cow, were they much into advertising? Everywhere she looked, wooden signs touted everything from shoe repair to cosmetics. A surprising number of them moved, too — men wearing sandwich boards ambled the streets. One fellow stepped around her wearing a tall hat made of some kind of heavy, stiff paper that towered over the crowd and declared in big letters: “Kid gloves at fourteen shillings a pair, warranted.” No shop name accompanied the ad. Were you supposed to follow him, or stop and ask where?

A stout woman on the left sold oyster pies from her cart. She held one up and barked her price to Isabelle, the hand with the pie following Isabelle as she passed. A man in serious need of a new set of teeth and some manscaping sold apples from a wooden wheelbarrow. A grubby kid sat beside him, munching on the mealy ones, tossing the worms to a dog. She shuddered.

What else do you see in this scene? Do you have other examples of how Firefly does a good job of integrating world-building into the plot?  

Go Deep! Eliminate Distancing Phrases for Deep POV

Ah, Deep POV, or Deep Penetration, as Orson Scott Card calls it. There’s nothing quite as titillating.

And no, we’re talking about writing guys, get your mind out of the gutter, jeez. (Sorry couldn’t resist. *clears throat*). Anyway, my current WIP is written in Deep POV. For those unfamiliar with this, it’s a style of 3rd person POV (Point of View) and sounds very much like 1st. It’s a very popular choice for romance writers, because it allows the reader to be in the character’s head, but also reaps the benefits of 3rd.

My first introduction to it was in Card’s book Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint, but it only whet my appetite and it wasn’t enough for me to go on. I wanted more! So, I scoured writing blogs and read tips and tricks. One online resource I found useful was Jordan McCollum’s 12 post series on Deep POV.  However, alas, my poor emerging writer brain still had a hard time fully grasping how to achieve this immersive style of writing. I understood some of the easy, take-home tenets, but I felt like I wasn’t fully getting the rest. And I’m still learning!

So, I took a 2-week online class over the summer with the inestimable Camy Tang, and it was exactly what I needed. Each day she had a specific tip for us to use as homework that night and she’d comment back the next day. Some of them I’d read before, but it really helped having an author verify or push you further.

One of her tips you see a lot: eliminate distancing phrases like ‘he said’, ‘he heard’, etc. This is almost always covered in any blog post on Deep POV. But I thought it bears repeating since this is something I see a lot in submissions I critique. Anytime we use phrases like this, we’re yanking the reader out of the character’s head and telling them what the character is sensing as if we’re watching them in a movie. It’s like we’re telling the reader, “this is how the character feels right now,” instead of describing it in a way that makes the reader feel what the character is feeling. Since everything we narrate is what they see, hear, taste, etc., it’s best to take them straight to it. Sometimes we can’t get around it or it won’t make sense, but when we can, it will make the immersion deeper for our reader.

Do a search in your WIP for the following verbs and see if you can get rid of them:

  • saw
  • watched
  • felt
  • heard
  • thought
  • knew
  • wondered/wondering
  • realized/realizing
  • remembered/remembering
  • decided/deciding
  • noticed/noticing
  • wished/wishing

For examples on how these can be changed, see Ms. Tang’s writing tips. This is only a shortened version of her great online class. See also Girls With Pens’ post on writing in Deep POV.

And since no writing tips post is completely useful without embarrassing myself giving examples, here’s the before and after I submitted to Ms. Tang. The hero at this point has only recently learned she’s from the future and has found the item that will allow her to return. It is written from the hero’s POV, hence the old-fashioned tone (the parts in bold are parts that changed):

Ten minutes later Miss Rochon returned with a wooden bowl that she placed on a table between them. “These are the items that were with me when I came here. Normally I would have much more in my purse, but since I was going to a ball, and my purse was small, I only had the essentials.” She held up a clump of clinking metal objects and passed it to Miss Byron, “These are my keys. They are much different than the keys you are used to, but they open my house – your house, Phineas – another opens my office in the British Museum, another goes to my car.”

Of course they questioned the meaning of the last item named, and Miss Rochon went into a lengthy discussion of the automobile, its usage and ubiquity in her time. Next, she pulled out a hard, flat rectangle, calling it a debit card, and explained it; showed her “Georgia driver’s license,” the American bank notes she had, her tube of lipstick – which fascinated Miss Byron — and then she produced a thick black object. (‘fascinated’ wasn’t in the list, but it’s telling what can be better shown)

“Is that… I do believe that is the device you had the first night we became acquainted, is it not?” asked Phineas.

“Yes, but it’s lost its power. Kind of like how you use gas to power the lights on the street, this takes a different kind of power to work and it’s run out. But we use it to talk to who are in a different place, read news as it happens… That night I tried to contact my friends with it. Remember I wanted to meet some friends at a place nearby?”

Phineas understood, finally, how different was her normal lifestyle. He also suspected that the device did much more than what she had revealed and she held back for his sake. He felt overwhelmed and obsolete. (this part I cut out completely on the rewrite as it became clear that it was redundant when I deepened the POV) How could he compete? (this part I had to change so that it would match the new metaphor I came up with on the rewrite)

Miss Byron interjected to relate other wonders it performed, confirming his suspicion. “And that is not all. She captured a likeness of me at the ball, and I saw myself in there, in my dress. And it can also add numbers, as I told you Mr. Babbage is attempting to do.”

Phineas stared (looking and staring are so common in my drafts, argh! They don’t really add much) at Miss Rochon who caught his look and gave a half shrug. His stomach in turmoil, he cleared his throat. “Miss Rochon, I believe I have found the means for your return to this wondrous future,” and he retrieved the silver case from inside his pocket, wrapped now in satin cloth.

He heard Miss Rochon gasp and he looked up to see that she held herself perfectly still. Setting the object on the table, he pulled back the cloth.

After:

Ten minutes later, Isabelle returned with a wooden bowl that she placed on a table between them. “These are the items that were with me when I came here. Normally, I would have had much more in my purse, but since I was going to a ball, my purse was small and I only had the essentials.” She held up a clump of clinking metal objects and passed it to Miss Byron. “These are my keys. They are much different than the keys you are used to, but they open my house — your house Phineas — another opens my office in the British Museum, another goes to my car.”

Of course they questioned the meaning of the last item named, and Isabelle went into a lengthy discussion of the automobile, its usage and ubiquity in her time. Next, she pulled out a hard, flat rectangle, calling it a debit card, and explained it; showed her “Georgia driver’s license,” the American bank notes she had, her tube of lipstick — which Miss Byron kept spiraling open and closed, eyes wide — and then she produced a thin black object.

“Is that… I do believe that is the device you had the first night we became acquainted, is it not?” asked Phineas.

“Yes, but it’s lost its power. Kind of like how you use gas to power the lights on the street, this takes a different kind of power to work and it’s run out. But we use it to talk to people who are in a different place, read news as it happens… That night I tried to contact my friends with it. Remember I wanted to meet some friends at a place nearby?”

He suspected that the device did much more than what she had revealed, and she held back for his sake. A chasm opened in his mind’s eye, Isabelle, occupying the other side and retreating. How could he hope to bridge the gap?

Miss Byron interjected to relate other wonders it performed, confirming his suspicion. “And that is not all. She captured a likeness of me at the ball, and I saw myself in there, in my dress. Moreover, it can also make mathematical calculations, as I told you Mr. Babbage is attempting to do.”

Isabelle gave a half shrug. His stomach in turmoil, he cleared his throat. “Miss Rochon, I believe I have found the means for your return to this wondrous future.” He retrieved the silver case from inside his pocket, wrapped now in satin cloth.

She gasped and Phineas looked up. She held herself perfectly still. Setting the object on the table, he pulled back the cloth.

So how about you? Are you writing in Deep POV? What aspects of Deep POV have you found to be the hardest to grasp? Have you found any online resources that do a good job of helping writers learn Deep POV?