In a recent post, 3 Tips To Amp Up Your Writing, I spoke about narrative voice and how to use it. Today I have 3 more tips to strengthen your stories.
Tip #1: Grounding your reader when switching POV
When you alternate POVs you need to ground your reader in the first sentence so there is no question who’s narrating. Keep in mind, you should limit your POV characters to three so you don’t confuse your readers.
How do we ground our readers? By making sure our first sentence uses the POV character’s name or “I” (for first person) to show who’s narrating. You can show what your character is looking at or what he/she is thinking/feeling as long as you show whose view it is.
Here are two examples below. The first is straight forward, the second a little trickier, but in both there is no question whose scene it is.
On his way to another crime scene Sheriff Niko Quintano listened to the radio as he drove down Bailey Road in Alexandria.
Five months after the discovery of Ms. Lambert’s body Detective Manson retired, which made Niko question how hard he had worked the homicide, if he was just biding time or if this case was the reason he’d left the job.
If you want to set the scene by showing the milieu then you need to relate it to the POV character. Example…
A light shot out from a basement window, screamed across the hauntingly quiet forest floor, and Sage’s pulse quickened from the thought of who or what was in that basement.
Tip #2: Grounding your reader in a flashback
Many new writers think by just saying, “She thought back to a time when…” that is enough to show the reader they are in a flashback. It isn’t. Which is why some readers hate flashbacks. By using this trick you will ensure your reader is never confused by what is a flashback and what is present time.
This little trick is so simple some of you will kick yourself for not knowing this.
When your POV character flashes back to an event add “had” to the first and last sentence of the flashback. That’s it. Just a tiny three-letter word makes your flashback perfectly clear.
Here’s an example so you can see what I mean:
Her mind spiraled back in time, to when she was seventeen years old and her mother had just told her her father was dead. Nikki felt her chest tighten, her mind buzzing with images of what could have transpired in the short few hours since he left the house. She sobbed, keening over her loss. A second later she quieted, noticing the look on her mother’s face. It wasn’t sadness she saw, or grief, Mom had a gleam in her eye as though she was happy about the news. Nikki stepped back, away from her mother, not recognizing the woman in front of her.
Her brother Todd burst through the door, his excitement palpable– and she wondered if she was living with a bunch of psychopaths. Nikki gave her mother a spiteful glare and then stomped up the stairs, slammed the door to her room and slid a wooden chair under the knob. Her legs went weak, backing away with short, jerky steps. Later that night, her head propped up on pillows, she had gazed out the window at the night sky and prayed she’d find a way to escape.
As you can see HAD is in my first and last sentence, showing when the reader enters the flashback and when they exit. This technique becomes even more crucial when your flashback continues for several paragraphs. But regardless of length if you use this trick your reader will never be confused.
Tip #3: Remember that your characters do not live in a bubble.
Life happens around us. Thus, the same applies for our fictional characters. Whether they are in places such as restaurants, cafes or busy shopping malls, or at home or alone in the car by utilizing outside stimuli you’re adding depth to your scene, thereby further drawing your reader into your story.
Let me show you what I mean. This excerpt is from MARRED, where Sage is alone in her SUV.
The sun drained from the afternoon sky and the area around me darkened. The slivered moon rose and offered a feeble attempt at brightening the area. Trees soughed on the hauntingly quiet back road and pebbles crunched under my tires’ thick treads. A low rumble sounded in the distance and became louder as it approached. A man on a Harley sped toward me, his long mustache flattened across his cheeks. When he sailed by my window he gave me a nod and revved his engine, his loud pipes saying hello. The twin engines roared as he gunned it up the dirt road. A puff of smoky gravel trailed behind him, and the ends of his bandana skullcap and gray ponytail flapped in the wake of his escape.
And then I was alone again.
As you can see if I had only mentioned her thoughts the scene would become static. Just because your character is alone in her/his vehicle does not mean the world around her/him disappears. Let your words do the work for you. By showing only one motorcycle speed by I’ve also showed the reader that the back road is deserted. Thus, creating an image in the reader’s mind and subtly foreshadowing that something creepy is about to happen.
In another example let’s say your character is unloading a dishwasher when her husband enters the kitchen. Break up your dialogue by showing her taking a glass from the top shelf of the dishwasher and setting in the cabinet, or wiping a soap spot off a wineglass, or uttering a complaint that one of the forks still has crusty food on it.
Remember: Just because someone else enters the room does not mean the action stops for your character. Take the dishwasher example. When a wife is unloading dishes she doesn’t stop to chat with her husband, she chats while she continues to unload the dishes. By showing the continuing action you make your scene more realistic.
If you’ve been following me for a while you know I am a huge fan of Karin Slaughter. She is a master at this technique. Her scenes are so rich with tiny details that you can’t help but be glued to the pages. She had me on the first book and I keep coming back for more. Why? Because I am living these books right along with her characters. I’m in the scenes. Her characters are as real to me as you are. That is great storytelling.
Before I let you go my family and I would like to wish you a happy holiday season… Enjoy!
If you have anything to add to one of these tips please do so in the comment section below.
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