Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What People Say About Books

So many young people say they "don't read." It saddens me. I suppose video games have taken the place of  books for many, and they do let people use their imaginations -- to a point. I'm not sure they can carry you around the world, other than to play against people in other parts of the globe.

Imagination keeps children playing with blocks and puppets and has taken us to the moon and back. Lucky the child whose parents read to them.

Some of my favorite quotes about books are:

A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.         Abraham Lincoln.

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.       Joyce Carol Oates

I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.       Ray Bradbury

The cool thing about reading is that when you read a short story or you read something that takes your mind and expands where your thoughts can go, that's powerful.                           Taylor Swift

The bottom line is: Books are the Best.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or subscribe to her newsletter.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Eyes that Give Descriptions in a Book

 I've had a number of discussion with people about how much to describe a character's appearance, a room  they walk into, or scenery viewed from a car. Using an omniscient narrator gives an author the leeway to describe a room down to the coasters on a coffee table. 

But what if you write in first person or close third person? I subscribe to the belief that all information has to be provided through the eyes of the person narrating the story. The "I" individual in first person stories. In close third person, such as the Harry Potter stories, everything (except occasional chapters he's not in) is through his filter. 

A first-person book may offer information from the character's point of view -- even long paragraphs. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone provides in depth background on a neighborhood, criminal, or crime -- but it's always something Kinsey knows or is learning.

Sometimes it may seem hard to tell a reader about a setting if the point-of-view character has been there previously. They wouldn't walk into a good friend's home and recite (to him or herself) the layout, style of furniture, or color of the walls.

However, there are ways to tell a reader what they need to see without doing a full stop as the character tells herself what she already knows. To use the friend's house (we'll call her Chloe), the sleuth could admire how Chloe manages to put so much antique furniture in a small living room without blocking access to the second-floor stairway. The reader learns  the house is small and has a second floor. Knowing Chloe values antiques may be something that goes with other characteristics she exhibits. (Or tells the reader something else, such as the kind of stores she burglarizes.)

I go to a lot of conferences and short classes about writing. I've learned pearls of wisdom from John GilstrapLeigh Michaels, William Kent Krueger, and Julie Hyzy, to name a few. These authors write very different kinds of books, but they impart knowledge well and offer good discussions on point of view. 

First person works well for traditional or cozy mysteries, when the reader is solving the crime with the sleuth. Third person (especially multiple points of view) is almost essential for thrillers. It's the best way to learn what the bad guy (a.k.a. the antagonist) is up to. Even then, a writer has to be "forever conscious of camera placement" -- John Gilstrap's way of saying don't stray out of the point-of-view character's vision.

Authors have their preferences. As long as they, their readers, and at least some reviewers like them, books sell. In the Harry Clifton novels, Jeffrey Archer announces each POV change by putting the character's name and a time period on a separate page. 

Contemporary romance novels usually have two POVs, since the focus is on a couple's relationship. The more racy Regency romances may have several, often associated with different subplots and clearly delineated. 

One method that will make me close a book is shifting points of view in the same scene or even paragraph. Authors may see this as more appropriate now that we've watched movies for...more than a century. The camera takes in everyone's view, including the audience's. I find constant POV shifts to be a lazy way to tell a story.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a guest blog post for Dru's Book Musings. I took a scene from Final Operation, one of the Logland Series books, which are generally from Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman's point of view. Then I rewrote the scene from the medical examiner's POV -- which is never expressed in the book. What a difference! I'm going to do it more often.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or subscribe to her newsletter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Writing Scene By Scene

I'm working on Mountain Rails of Old, third in the Family History Mystery Series. I finished the basic outline a month ago, and have written about a third of it.

As I get to know the characters -- especially resident ghost Uncle Benjamin -- I have almost more ideas than I can use. Rather than develop each one, I'm doing short scenes about the various events. It's liberating.

I'm mapping out conversations and actions and putting words into the characters' mouths, so to speak. Because these are a jumble of scenes, for the moment I don't have to create smooth transitions or worry about whether I've done adequate foreshadowing. That can come later.

This is a new approach for me, and possibly not one I'll use again. In the meantime, it's enabling me to work on the different subplots in and of themselves. I can put them together (in order!) later.

Why try this? For a time, I'm doing some 'day job' work. I wanted to be sure I kept writing at a fast pace, but I can't always do four to six hours at a time. I'll have to think of a name for a method. Scatterbrained doesn't seem quite right...

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or subscribe to her newsletter.