Marcy Kennedy

The 5 Keys to Writing Successfully in First Person Point of View

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image by Sanja Gjenero

Image by Sanja GjeneroBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week we continued our series on point of view in fiction with an opening look at first person POV, including what it is, the different ways it’s being used in modern fiction, and some of the benefits and drawbacks that come with writing in first person POV.

Over the next two POV posts, I’m going to look at the five aspects you need to manage well if you want your first person POV book to work and the most common challenges you’ll run in to when writing in first person POV.

These five keys aren’t exclusive to writing in first person, but they are the core of writing successful first person POV and represent mistakes writers more often make when tackling this point of view for the first time compared to other POVs.

So here we go…

(1)   Create a unique character voice.

Many authors think they’re created a unique character voice if they give their character a catch phrase or a dialect quirk, but that’s not what unique character voice means.

When we talk about character voice, those things do come into play, but what we really mean is that character’s unique outlook and personality expressed in their thoughts and speech. Readers enjoy first person POV in part because of the intimate look at the way another person views the world. Fiction allows us to explore this new perspective in a way we never can in our daily lives.

Before you set out to write a first person POV story (or when you’re trying to revise your first draft), ask yourself these questions:

  • How do they view the world around them? (E.g., mostly evil, mostly good, fair, unfair, random, ordered by a bigger plan…)
  • How do they view themselves?
  • How do they feel about the big ticket items like love and faith?
  • How do they feel about the people closest to them?
  • Are they cynical or optimistic?

More might come to you as you answer these. Once you’ve answered all the questions you can think of, consider how this will affect the tone of what your character says and thinks, the things she comments on, and the little asides he makes to himself. That’s where a unique character voice grows.

First person is all about interpretation by the narrator. Or, in some cases, misinterpretation.

How and what the narrator interprets are important elements of characterization. Showing change in how and what they interpret is an important element of their character arc and growth throughout the book.

(2)   Show us not only what they’re doing but also why they’re doing it and how they feel about it.

Motivations and reactions are what give first person POV the intimate feel that’s one of its strengths.

Have your first person narrator respond in their head to something said aloud or to jump ahead and make assumptions about what they think the other person will say next. Let us know why they’ve decided to respond in a certain way. Afterward, show us how what they did is affecting them emotionally and mentally.  These chains are more important in first person POV than in any other.

(3)   Remember that you still need to write in scenes.

The temptation when writing first person POV is for it to almost become stream of consciousness, but you still need to write in scenes. We don’t need to see every detail of the POV character’s life. We still only need to see the things important to the story. Each scene should have a goal, you should enter as late as possible, and you should leave as early as possible.

(4)   Alternate internal with external so the story doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

More than any other POV, first person POV can feel claustrophobic because you’re usually trapped in one character’s head the whole time. (This is the negative flip side of the intimacy it gives.) And because that character is telling the story directly—in other words, there’s no distance at all—it’s easy to fall prey to the talking head syndrome.

Talking head syndrome is where your character narrates for paragraphs (or even pages) without any external stimuli. The reader starts to feel like the character is just a disembodied head floating in empty space because they don’t see, hear, feel, smell, taste, or touch anything happening around them.

Don’t put your first person POV character in a bubble. It’s important that you regularly alternate between internal (your character thinking/narrating/feeling) and external (the five senses/action/setting/dialogue).

When you alternate every paragraph or every other paragraph between internal and external, you keep the reader grounded both in the world around them and in the emotions and thoughts of your character.

(5)   Make sure your first person narrator doesn’t come across as stupid.

Throughout your book, your first person POV character will likely miss something important, misinterpret information, or otherwise overlook a clue you’ve planted.

If you don’t want your first person narrator to come across as stupid when they miss something, make sure you create events that could easily have two possible interpretations or a situation where it would be believable for them to have missed that clue.

Having a character who’s too stupid to live in third person POV is annoying. In first person POV, it can kill the book.

If you regularly write in first person POV, what other tips would you give for someone who’s trying it out for the first time? Or what other questions do you have about writing in first person POV?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Strong Female Characters and How to Write Dialogue.

And remember, Frozen (my book of suspense short stories) is on sale for 99 cents only until tomorrow! Check it out here.

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I’m Considering Eating the Groundhog

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week the pipes in my house froze for the third time this winter.

When I looked in the mirror, I had crazy “is winter over yet?” eyes. Unless I did something fast, I was going to end up like this…

Wolf Ate Groundhog with Words

So I decided I needed to do something fun. Since my ebook of suspense short stories is called Frozen, it seemed fitting for me to put it on sale.

For this week only, you can get Frozen for 99 cents. If you haven’t yet read it, now’s the time!

Frozen: Two Suspense Short StoriesHere are a few more details for you about Frozen.

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.
“A Purple Elephant” is a 2,900-word suspense short story about grief and betrayal.

In “The Replacements,” a prodigal returns home to find that her parents have started a new family, one with no room for her. This disturbing 3,600-word suspense short story is about the lengths to which we’ll go to feel like we’re wanted, and how we don’t always see things the way they really are.

Grab your copy of Frozen here.

Hopefully it will help you forget about winter for a little while at least 😀

(The sale is Amazon only, but if you want a version for a different ereader, buy a copy from Amazon, send me an email, and I’ll send you a version compatible with whatever your preferred e-reading device is.)

Please help me spread the word about the sale on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

If you’d like to use some pre-made tweets, here they are.

Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. A woman losing her grip on reality. FROZEN on sale for 0.99 (Click to tweet)

Prodigal returns to find her parents have started new family with no room for her~Suspense story FROZEN 0.99 til Fri (Click to tweet)

Two disturbing suspense stories in one book ~ FROZEN on sale for 99 cents til Fri (Click to tweet)

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Image Credit: Asia Jones

How Is First Person POV Different?

First Person POV in Fiction

Image by Leszek Nowak

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As we head into 2014, I’ll be continuing my series on point of view in fiction. If you missed the earlier parts in the series from 2013, you can find them here:

Are You Writing in the POV You Think You’re Writing In?

How to Successfully Write Omniscient POV

7 Ways to Develop Your Voice

What Is Head Hopping and How Can We Avoid It?

Today I’m launching into the first of three posts talking about first person POV. I want to talk about what exactly first person POV is and how it differs from the other points of view before we dive in to how to write successfully in first person POV and how to tackle some of the most common challenges that come along with writing in first person POV.

What Do We Mean by First Person POV?

Just like it sounds, in first person, the character is telling us the story directly.

I dug through my purse. No keys. They were here yesterday. I’d dropped them in when I came home from work, didn’t I? I tipped my purse’s contents out onto the table, and receipts, old gum wrappers, and pennies spilled everywhere.

One of the major strengths of first person POV is its intimacy. We’re being brought into the confidence of a character.

Most of the time, when you use first person POV, you’ll only use that single POV throughout the book (like in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or The Shifter by Janice Hardy). However, that’s not a rule. Authors have successfully used more than one first person POV in the same book or a combination of first and third.

You can use multiple first person points of view like in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I wouldn’t recommend using multiple first person points of view for new writers because it’s difficult to do well.

You can use a single first person point of view for most of the story and then switch to third person for scenes where the first person narrator isn’t present. The theory behind this is that the first person narrator is telling us the story, and the parts in third person are pieces he was told about later. A good example of this is Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs.

You can use first person for the villain’s scenes in an otherwise third person POV book. This is a way you can hide the identity of the villain. (After all, how many of us think of our names on a regular basis. I don’t.) Julie Garwood did this in her romance novel The Bride.

Or, if you just want to dip your toes into first person, you can use it as a bookend prologue and epilogue to an otherwise third person POV story like in Beverly Lewis’ The Shunning.

How Is First Person Fundamentally Different From the Other POVs?

Other than the obvious use of I rather than he/she, writing in first person comes with a big opportunity—and a big challenge—that isn’t involved when you’re writing in third person or omniscient POV.

By its very nature, first person point of view is more self-conscious than any of the other POVs. The POV character is telling their story to someone. You can see hints of this in the way many first person stories include a paragraph where the narrator introduces himself. Take a look at how Harry Dresden introduces himself in Jim Butcher’s Storm Front and how Abileen does it in The Help.

You, as the writer, need to know why your first person narrator is telling the story and who their intended audience is.

Why does this matter?

The purpose, intention, or goal of the first person POV character in telling the story is what should be driving your narrative. Everything you write should forward the goal the first person narrator has in telling their story. By knowing this, you give your story focus it won’t otherwise have.

You don’t have to directly reveal your first person narrator’s goal or their intended audience to the reader. In most cases, you shouldn’t directly reveal them. But they need to be clear in your head.

The self-conscious nature of the first person POV story means the reader can’t always be certain if the narrator is reliable or unreliable. Beyond this, the narrator can be either intentionally or unintentionally unreliable.

In third person POV, the point of view character can lie to themselves, lie to other characters, or have a false impression of reality, but they can’t lie to the reader because they’re not aware the reader exists. Large parts of the story will be “objective” because they’re “outside” the POV character.* This is the biggest difference between first and third. In first person POV, the character is talking to us in some sense. Because they’re speaking to us, they can also lie to us.

Which means we have to ask, “Are they lying to us?” Presenting themselves in a certain way even if it’s not entirely accurate because they want to be perceived in a particular way (e.g., they want the reader’s sympathy or respect)? Because they want to convince us of something? Are they unable to see reality, and so they’re giving us their perception but not the truth, making them unintentionally unreliable? Playing with these aspects is part of the fun of using a first person narrator and also part of the challenge.

If you’re writing an unreliable narrator, you’ll need to drop subtle hints for the reader. The reader wants to be able to figure out what’s really happening, and to do that, they need hints about whether they can trust the narrator or whether they might need to doubt their story as it’s being told.

Have you tried writing in first person POV? What did you like about it? What did you dislike about it?

* I placed “objective” and “outside” in quotation marks because if we’re writing third person POV properly everything is still filtered through the eyes of the character. However, it’s still filtering. We still see what happens in an objective sense. The driver in front of our POV character slams on their breaks and our POV character hits them because she was tailgating. That’s what objectively happened. How it’s described and what details we receive depend on the POV character. It’s like a coloring book where the POV character fills in the colors but the lines are already there. In first person, however, it’s not just filtered. It’s created. They might tell us that they accidentally slammed into the car in front of them, but it might not have been an accident at all. They might be interpreting events for us in such a way as to make us believe that they weren’t out to get their ex-husband’s new wife. It’s like having a blank page where the POV character first draws the picture and then colors it in.

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Strong Female Characters and How to Write Dialogue.

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Game Review: Summoner Wars

Summoner Wars by Plaid Hat GamesBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

So far I’ve reviewed Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (a semi-cooperative game where someone ends up a traitor cylon) and Lost Cities (a quick two-player card game).

This month’s game is you against me until one of our armies is destroyed.

I’m not normally a fan of games where you directly attack the other person. Most of my game play is with my husband, who I love. Neither of us like working hard to build something only to have another player destroy it. We especially hate doing that to the person we love the most. But in Summoner Wars, you go in knowing that your units won’t last long.

Enter into the story…

You’re the leader of a race of peoples in the kingdom of Itharia. For years, the Fallen Kingdom has reigned over Itharia because they were the only ones who possessed a summoning stone—a magical object that gave them the ability to teleport troops onto a battlefield rather than having to move them normally.

Now more summoning stones have been found and the world has fallen into chaos as every race tries to win their freedom from all the others and rule their own portion of Itharia.

How well does the theme work? You feel like you’re there.

If you enjoy World of Warcraft or Guild Wars, there’s a good chance you’ll also like Summoner Wars.

In Summoner Wars, you’re playing one of 16 fantasy race armies (e.g. Tundra Orcs, Benders, Mountain Vargath, Phoenix Elves) against the army of a single opponent. Each race has its own unique special abilities. The Tundra Orcs can freeze their opponents in place. The Shadow Elves can bring darkness over the battlefield so they can’t be attacked with ranged attacks like arrows.

Summoner Wars Phoenix ElvesType of Game: Tactical war game using cards instead of miniatures.

The object of the game is simple. Kill your opponent’s summoner (leader) before they kill yours.

You’ll set up your chosen race into the starting configuration specified on your faction’s set-up card, and then if you want to bring more troops onto the battlefield, you’ll need to “summon” them by discarding magic points. (You earn magic points by either killing your opponent’s forces or discarding cards from your own hand.)

Length of Play Rating: For a Sunday afternoon.

I can’t call this game “after dinner fun” because I save that for games that always run an hour or less. While Summoner Wars can take less than an hour, it can also take up to 90 minutes. The better you know the army you’re playing and the one your opponent is playing, the quicker the game will go. However, if you’re equally matched in skill with the person you’re playing against, games can take the full 90 minutes as you fight to the bitter end.

Number of Players: 2 people

There is a way you can combine two boards so that four people can play (two against two), but I haven’t played that way and have no desire to. What I love about this game is that while there’s a little luck in which cards you draw into your hand at any time and in the dice rolls, what this really comes down to is my brain against yours, my strategic abilities against yours, my tactical moves against yours. Imagine chess but with magical creatures and abilities. It’s a little like that.

The Most Important Question: Would I Buy It Again?

For this game, the answer is definitely. My husband and I originally got the Master Set, which came with six armies. We’ve since bought more of the faction packs. It won’t be leaving my collection.

If you’re in the United States and want to check out Summoner Wars, I recommend CoolStuffInc. If you’re in Canada, a good site to buy games from is Cult of the New.

On this blog, I like to occasionally feature fun ways to introduce “fantasy” to your everyday life. Make sure to tell me what you’d like to see more of. More game reviews? More recipes from movies or books? More unbelievable real life features (where I highlight a place or creature from our world that’s real but looks like it should belong in a story)?

I hope you’ll check out my book of suspense short stories, Frozen: Two Suspense Short Stories.

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The Value of Online Writer’s Conferences

WANAConBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If you were to pull out the laundry list of things writers are supposed to do to be successful, one of the items you’d be sure to find is attend writer’s conferences.

And everyone who included that on their list would be right. I wouldn’t be writing to you now if it wasn’t for the writer’s conferences I attended when I was first starting out. I gained the inspiration I needed to keep going. I learned invaluable lessons on craft and platform building. I developed the network of contacts that earned me my start as an editor.

On a lot of levels, I am where I am because of the writer’s conferences I attended in those early years.

But what’s often devalued when we talk about writer’s conferences is just how difficult it can be to actually attend one.

I probably don’t need to go over the reasons this is so, but I will anyway.

Reason #1 – Cost

The least expensive conference I’ve been to cost over $400 in registration, plus the money I spent on gas to drive the four hours round trip and the two nights in a hotel. I’ve been to conferences across the country where the registration fee was over $900, and that was without factoring in airfare and gas to reach the airport (two hours from my home).

Conferences are a major investment, which means they can be a major bone of contention if you’re married. And, sometimes, the money just isn’t there and there’s no responsible way to get it.

Reason #2 – Need to Travel

In the past I was blessed with the freedom to travel because I don’t yet have children, we were a two-car household, and my husband’s schedule was flexible enough that he could juggle the care of our home and pets while I was away.

But things are different now. With my husband back in school, we’ve gone down to a single car and he needs it seven days a week between classes and work. He has no flexibility in his schedule. Leaving our Great Dane in her crate for 12-hours straight while he’s away isn’t an option.  It’s much more difficult now for me to get away.

If you have family or job commitments that make it difficult or impossible to travel, you know that I’m talking about.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us with the internet’s gift to writers—online training.

For the past two years, I’ve been involved as both a teacher and a student in online classes for writers and writer’s conferences. It’s been a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t trade.

Are they the same as live conferences? No way.

Are they a great solution for those of us who can’t go to live conferences? Absolutely.

And that’s why I wanted to take today’s post to tell you that WANACon is coming up on February 21-22.

WANACon is a 100% online writer’s conference. I’ve attended and presented at WANACon before, and in February I’ll be teaching a session called Putting Your Inner Editor to Work – Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

WANACon is only $149 (but if you use the code EarlyBird by January 31 you’ll receive an additional $30 off).

Even better, WANA International is giving three lucky attendees free admission. After you sign up for WANACon, complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win.

Registration includes all sessions and all recordings.

Along with my class, you’ll be able to learn social media and organizational skills like Blogging for Authors from Kristen Lamb, An Introvert’s Guide to Twitter from Jami Gold, OneNote: One Solution to Organizing Your Work with Jenny Hansen, and Building an Author Website without Getting Burned with Laird Sapir.

You’ll also get lifestyle classes like Write-Amin: Eat Well, Write Better with August McLaughlin, and craft classes on Creating Compelling Characters with Shirley Jump, Backstory with Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (of Emotion Thesaurus fame), and Writing in Deep POV with Lisa Hall-Wilson.

That’s just a sample. You can see all the presenters and class descriptions at the page I linked above.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope to “see” you at WANACon, but even if you’re not able to attend, I hope you’ll give online training a try at some point in the future. We all need help growing as writers, and the online training that’s now available gives us an advantage that writers in the past didn’t have.

Have you attended online training sessions before? What did you think?

Not able to attend WANACon, but still want to try out online training? On February 8th, I’m teaching a class called Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction. The cost is only $45, or you can get a WANA2Fer of my class along with Lisa Hall-Wilson’s How to Write in Deep POV for only $70 (that’s $20 in savings). Click here to check out the 2Fer.

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Are You Struggling to Forgive?

Tips for ForgivenessBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My book of two suspense short stories (called Frozen) is now available for purchase. Today and next Tuesday, I’m going to share with you some of my inspiration for the two stories inside.

I’ve told you the story before of the best friend I lost to a drunk driver when I was only 20.

What I haven’t talked about before is how much I hated the man who killed her. And how much I hated myself.

Amanda called me the Saturday before she died and asked if I wanted to tag along and keep her company while she took her car in for an oil change. I turned her down. It was less than a week post-9/11, and I wanted to stay home and watch the coverage on TV.

Once she died, I couldn’t forgive myself for not going. It wasn’t that I regretted not getting that last day with her (though I did regret it and I’d trade a lot to have it now). It was that the voice inside my head told me I was selfish because I’d put my own desire to watch TV ahead of her desire for companionship. I was a horrible friend.

I didn’t contribute to her accident, and I couldn’t count the hours we’d spent together over the years. My guilt and self-hatred was irrational.

But when we lose someone we love, our emotions aren’t always rational. In fact, they seldom are.

It took me years to work through my guilt and self-hatred.

When I wrote “A Purple Elephant,” one of the suspense short stories in Frozen, it was this dual hatred—for myself and for Amanda’s killer—and the need to forgive and move forward that I tapped in to.

I wanted to explore what would happen if a woman was responsible for the death of her only child and couldn’t forgive herself. What would that do to her mentally and emotionally? What would it do to her relationship with her husband?

And how far would someone go to punish the person they believed killed their child?

Forgiveness is a tricky thing, in part because we hold so many misconceptions about what it really means to forgive. I won’t tell you whether or not Candice and Gerry (the characters in “A Purple Elephant”) learned to forgive or not—no spoilers here! But I will tell you what helped me most to actually forgive the man who killed Amanda.

(You might ask, Why would you even try to forgive someone like that? Well, hating him didn’t change anything that had happened, and I found that hating someone was turning me into a person I didn’t want to be.)

To forgive, I had to figure out what forgiveness isn’t. I had to sort through the myths to find the truth.

Truth #1 – Forgiveness isn’t reconciliation.

Reconciliation has many meanings. When I say forgiveness isn’t reconciliation, I’m talking about when two people reconcile, make amends, and come to some sort of agreement or restore a relationship. They “mend fences.”

At his trial, the man who killed Amanda showed no remorse. Near the end, when given the chance to speak, Amanda’s mother asked him to look into “the face of a mother whose heart you broke by murdering my only child.” By refusing to look up, he also refused to admit any guilt or to try to make amends in any way.

For a long time, I didn’t even try to forgive him. How, I asked myself, could I possibly forgive someone who didn’t want to reconcile with those he’d harmed? The answer? I couldn’t.

A pervasive myth about forgiveness says that to forgive you must also reconcile with the person you’ve forgiven. But forgiveness isn’t based on restoring a broken relationship.  Forgiveness is something that we do internally, not something we need to do externally.

If someone has hurt you, you don’t need to continue a relationship with that person (or form a relationship with that person) in order to forgive them.

Truth #2 – Forgiveness isn’t condoning the harm that was done.

The more I learned about his history, the angrier I became. I was angry that he got into a car drunk that night, angry that his girlfriend gave him her car because his was impounded, and angry that the law doesn’t inflict harsher punishments on first- and second-time DUI offenders. Amanda’s death was his third drunk driving conviction.

I thought that I couldn’t even start to forgive until I was no longer angry. My mind had wrongly yoked forgiveness with condoning sin and excusing him for what had happened.

That was a false connection too. I could still feel that what he’d done was 100% wrong. I could be angry that he’d done it. Yet I could still forgive him for it.

Truth #3 – Forgiveness isn’t pardoning.

In the end, he went to jail for second-degree murder, the first conviction of its kind in Michigan. Relieved at the closure of having the trial over, I tried to figure out what life looked like now without Amanda. I even started to think that I’d forgiven him…until his appeal a year and a half later.

I prayed that his appeal would be denied, but felt guilty for it. If I’d truly forgiven him, shouldn’t I be alright with the possibility of his conviction being overturned? Didn’t forgiveness mean pardoning him?

Any good parent will tell you that isn’t true. Sometimes people still need to suffer the consequences of their actions even after they’ve been forgiven. If an offence against us broke a law, we can forgive while still insisting that the offender receive the full legal repercussions.

Truth #4 – Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.

Thankfully his conviction stood. Time passed, and the “forgive and forget” mantra haunted me. I couldn’t forget what had happened. Did that mean I would never be able to forgive?

When I researched this, I found that the Greek word for “remember” means “to call to mind.” Its opposite is not “to forget.” Instead of “forgetting” the wrongs done to us, what we should seek to do is stop dwelling on them. When we choose to forgive, we’re saying that we want to focus on the good things in our lives and to build from there. We’re not saying that we should or can ever forget what happened.

Have you struggled to forgive someone? Or to forgive yourself? What helped you most?

Frozen: Two Suspense Short StoriesHere are a few more details for you about Frozen.

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.
“A Purple Elephant” is a 2,900-word suspense short story about grief and betrayal.

In “The Replacements,” a prodigal returns home to find that her parents have started a new family, one with no room for her. This disturbing 3,600-word suspense short story is about the lengths to which we’ll go to feel like we’re wanted, and how we don’t always see things the way they really are.

Frozen is currently available at Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. More venues coming soon!

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Image Credit: Laura Glover (via sxc.hu)

The Hobbit: Where There’s Treasure, There’s Always a Dragon

Hobbit By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Bilbo Baggins and the band of dwarves continue their quest to steal the Arkenstone back from the dragon who has it (the Smaug of the title), along with all the dwarven treasure stored inside the Lonely Mountain.

Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf who is heir to the kingdom of the Lonely Mountain, desperately wants the Arkenstone because he believes it will reunite the scattered dwarven families so they can destroy the dragon who stole their home. He wants to rule over his rightful kingdom. He wants the gold. It’s the dream that drives him.

As the band finally reaches the mountain and Bilbo heads into the depths to steal the Arkenstone, the oldest of the dwarves pulls Bilbo aside.

“If there is a dragon sleeping down there,” he says, “don’t wake it.”

The problem is that if you want the treasure, you’ll never be able to get it without waking the dragon.

It’s a truth well known to fantasy fans. It’s a truth that’s equally true in life.

The only difference is that the treasures we seek in real life aren’t piles of gold or magical stones. They’re usually less tangible—the dreams and goals we have for our lives.

And the dragons…they don’t have impenetrable scales and they don’t breath fire. But they’re no less dangerous. They’re doubts. Fears. Insecurities. Sometimes they’re even people or circumstances standing between us and the thing we most desire.

Dragons are scary things, so when we first realize they’re standing between us and our treasure, sometimes it’s easier to give up on the treasure. That’s the path the unhappy Thorin had chosen until Gandalf encouraged him to go after the Arkenstone, dragon or no dragon.

When we first try to reach the treasure, we often take the same tactic Bilbo took. We try to sneak around it, hoping it won’t wake up. Hoping it won’t see us. We try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

But dragons, in real life like in fantasy, can’t be tiptoed around. Trying only delays the inevitable.

When we wake the dragon and have to face it, many of us will try to bargain with it or trick it. I’ll only do this, if this happens. If I do this, it doesn’t really mean I’m that kind of person. I don’t have to do thus-and-so to succeed. I’ll follow my dream when a certain perfect situation occurs. I didn’t really want it anyway.

Like when Bilbo tried to flatter Smaug, dragons won’t be tricked by words and rationalizations.

And so we’re left with only one option if we want the treasure.

It won’t be easy. We’ll come out the other side a little more battered than when we went in. The costs may be higher than we ever thought.

But it’s the only way.

Because if we decide to give up on this treasure and chase another, we won’t be avoiding facing a dragon. We’ll only be changing dragons.

Where there’s treasure, there’s always a dragon. The dragon always wakes. And if you want the treasure, there’s only one way—fight the dragon and slay it.

January is the time when most of us think about where we want our year to head. What’s your treasure and your dragon? Have you managed to face it?

Special Announcement: I’ll be releasing a book of suspense short stories in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

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A Literary Agent Can’t Replace Hard Work

Many times I’ve had editing clients worry that they don’t have the talent to do a story justice or that they’re not talented enough to be a writer. But talent is over-rated. Talent can contribute to success, but it isn’t the most important thing.

I have a guest poster here today to share the secret of what the most important thing is.

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A Literary Agent Can’t Replace Hard Work

By Bryan Cohen

1,000 Creative Writing Prompts Volume 2 CoverI’m writing this post after having a two-hour conversation with a friend, who also happens to be a New York Times best-selling author. My friend has an agent with a very reputable agency and he’s been published with one of the major publishing houses. We touched on many different topics during our chat about writing and life, including what his agent, editor and other publishing professionals have done for him. He had nothing but high praise for everyone who helped his book to sell tens of thousands of copies. He saved all of his negative comments for himself.

My friend said he didn’t do everything he needed to make sure his book was a lasting success. He said he didn’t lay the ground work of creating sign-up form for a mailing list on his website before the book was released. He said he’d given up on sending queries to magazines and other publications because he wasn’t immediately welcomed with open arms. My friend wasn’t talking about the changing industry or the lack of a marketing push from his publisher. He had trouble getting himself to do the hard work he needed to do to become successful.

A part of me was surprised by what he said. I considered asking him why his agent, editor and publishing house didn’t do the work for him. That’s when I realized that all those publishing professionals are in the business of selling books. They aren’t the ones who help authors to build a brand or a legacy. Authors need to do the work themselves.

Something common in almost any profession is that the people who work the hardest and the smartest are the ones who rise to the top. As writers, we like to think that getting an agent, an editor and a publishing contract would ensure our only requirement was the fun stuff. The truth is that even with all those ducks in a row, the nose to the grindstone hard work needs to be there to reach the highest levels of success.

While my author friend and I both shared advice and tricks of the trade (him from publishing, me from self-publishing) during our chat, the most important thing I took was the perspective. No matter where you are and no matter what stage you’ve reached in the game, hard work is the best way to propel yourself forward. Set some goals, create a plan and put in the time required. Treat the work as its own reward and you’re bound to get added spoils on the way to the top. 

Bryan Cohen Author of 1,000 Creative Writing PromptsAbout the Author

In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter!

Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. His other books include 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, and Ted Saves the World. He has published over 30 books, which have sold more than 20,000 copies in total. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter.

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Game Review: Lost Cities

Lost Cities 2-Player GameBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last time I introduced you to a long, complex game in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. This month I want to go the opposite direction to a quick, easy-to-understand, two-player card game.

Enter into the story…

You’re an archeologist setting out on expeditions to find lost cities in the Himalayas, the Brazilian rain forest, the shifting sands of the desert, within volcanos, or at the bottom of the sea.

But you have limited resources. You need to invest into each expedition you begin, and if you don’t at least make back that investment, you might never recover.

This is a game of no risk, no reward, but another archeologist might be setting out on an expedition to the same location, and it’ll be a fight to the end for the limited resources…

How Well Does the Theme Work? The game would be fine without it.

Normally I’m someone who wants a strong theme in a game, but in this case, I loved the way this game played so much that I didn’t care that the theme didn’t add much to the game. It’s just a structurally sound, fun game.

The game board is basically a spot to lay the discard piles and line up your expeditions. I wish the artwork had been prettier, but it’s not a big deal.

Lost Cities Game

To score points, you lay down cards (organized according to color) in stacks from lowest to highest. There’s only one card of each number for each of the colors—for example, there’s only a single red three. If the other player plays the card you needed, you’re out of luck.

You can skip numbers (so your stack could go 2, 3, 5, 9), but that makes it harder to earn back the 20 points you need just to make your investment on the expedition. If you don’t earn back your investment, you lose points at the end of the round. If you do make the 20 points, everything above that earns positive points at the end of the round.  

Lost Cities Cards

Type of Game: Card game

This is a super simple game to understand because you’re basically just drawing, playing, or discarding cards to try to make stacks of cards in ascending order, organized by color.

That’s not to say there’s no strategy involved. There is. You have to either play or discard a card before you draw another card (you can only play one card per turn). On their turn, your opponent can take the top card from any of the color-coordinated discard piles. So do you play your blue 5 even though you don’t yet have the 4 or do you discard the yellow 9 you know your opponent needs (thereby giving them those points)? How long do you wait for a card to come up (because the game immediately ends when the draw pile is gone)? Which expeditions should you try for and how many?

Length of Play Rating: Anytime

One thing I love about this game is its length. You can easily play a game in 20-40 minutes (a game is three rounds of finishing off all the cards and scoring, so you can see how quickly a single round plays). For my husband and I, when we don’t have time for a long game but we want some time together, this is our go-to game. The brevity also allows us to play multiple times, and we almost always want to keep playing.

Number of Players: 2 people

Lost Cities is part of the Kosmos line of two-player games. This makes it great for couples like my husband and I who don’t yet have kids. There is a four player variant described in the rule book, but you can’t play it unless you buy a second copy of the game.

Family Friendly? It depends.

This game is clear enough for mature children to understand and play. (The box says 13+, but I could have grasped and enjoyed this much younger than that, so judge based on your own kids and not the box’s recommendation.)

However, it’s obviously not a game the whole family is going to be able to sit down with together unless you only have a family of two. It is a game siblings could play together or a parent and one child could play together, so I wouldn’t write it off entirely if you have kids.

Have you tried Lost Cities? Do you prefer a straight-forward game like this or something more complex?

Click here if you’d like to check out Lost Cities.

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What Is Head Hopping and How Can We Avoid It?

head hoppingBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In my continuing series on point of view, I promised I’d explain the difference between omniscient POV and head hopping. Before I do that, we need to get one thing out of the way.

Head-hopping is never good. Sometimes an author can get away with it, but it’s never ideal and it never makes your story stronger. Never.

Omniscient POV, on the other hand, is a valid point of view for fiction. It might not be the most popular or the most commonly used in 21st century fiction, but there’s nothing wrong with it. And some stories are even best told in it.

Obviously, the tricky part for most writers is telling them apart. I’m going to show you the secret for keeping them straight.

To be head hopping, a passage needs to meet two criteria:

(1)   The viewpoint shifts between characters without a proper transition (e.g. a scene break).
(2)   The thoughts/feelings of the characters are given in their voices rather than in the author’s voice.

Now that you know the definition of head hopping, you’ll be able to run everything through its filter to decide if a passage is head hopping or genuinely omniscient POV.

Omniscient POV will be written in the author’s voice. The characters’ feelings and thoughts will be filtered through the author narrator.

Head hopping will be in the characters’ voices, and you’ll go back and forth without a proper transition.  

Let me give you an example of head hopping so you can see it in action…

Jack rolled down the window half an inch, a smirk spreading across his face. The slut would never find her way back without him, and no one would find her until the coyotes had picked her bones clean.

Anna yanked at the door handle. Her chest felt heavy, her lungs unwilling to suck in a full breath. “Unlock the door, Jake. This isn’t funny anymore.”

Jake’s cold blue eyes stared into hers. After all she’d made him suffer through, he was going to enjoy this moment. Savor it like a medium rare T-bone steak.

Now let’s break it apart.

Jack rolled down the window half an inch, a smirk spreading across his face. Sounds like we’re in someone else’s POV here. Someone who’s watching Jake. If we were in Jake’s POV, this would read Jake rolled down the window half an inch and smirked. The slut would never find her way back without him, and no one would find her until the coyotes had picked her bones clean. We’re hearing Jake’s thoughts in Jake’s voice. It’s him, not the author, thinking of Anna as a “slut.”

Anna yanked at the door handle. Her chest felt heavy, her lungs unwilling to suck in a full breath. Now we’re firmly in Anna’s head. Only she can describe how her chest feels and the dread settling there. “Unlock the door, Jake. This isn’t funny anymore.”

Jake’s cold blue eyes stared into hers. Still in Anna’s POV since she’s the one who can see Jake’s eye color. After all she’d made him suffer through, he was going to enjoy this moment. Savor it like a rare T-bone steak. Jake’s thoughts in Jake’s voice again.

Head hopping damages your story because it makes the writing feel choppy. Readers constantly need to pause, however slightly, and figure out who they’re supposed to identify with. They’re often left feeling disconnected entirely. Even if they don’t know what to call head hopping, they’ll know something is off and that they have a difficult time connecting emotionally with the characters/narrator. Readers need to connect emotionally with either the characters (in first person POV and third person POV) or with the author narrator (in omniscient POV).

Update: Turns out Jami Gold, one of my favorite bloggers and fellow WANA instructors, wrote a post back in February all about using transitions to avoid head hopping. Make sure you check it out!

Do you have any questions about omniscient POV or head hopping before we move on? Any questions on POV in general are also welcome!

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Image Credit: Richard Dudley (via sxc.hu)