For Week 3, let’s talk about world-building a little.
1. What are some common flaws you’ve noticed in how authors do world-building/describe setting?
Authors often provide general descriptions rather than detailed ones. Although “red geranium” is more engaging than “beautiful flower,” too much detail (e.g., a floor-to-ceiling description of a room) slows the pace of the story. Authors may not provide sensory detail, which helps the readers to experience a scene. For example, instead of saying that the diner was busy at lunch, it would be more engaging to include what the characters could hear, see, smell, touch, or taste, for example. Finally, setting can feel remote (e.g., distant snow-covered mountain tops), rather than close to the characters and what they are experiencing (e.g., soft cotton sheets).
2. What are some ways the setting could affect/influence plot? If you’ve read a story where this happened, tell us a little about it.
In the romance I read for this course, the female MC was on board a ship that had been boarded by terrorists near the end of the story. The hero must board the ship to rescue her, and they flee by helicopter. When shots are fired, they end up in the ocean, where he almost loses his life.
3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?
Deleting verbs such as “thought,” “felt,” and “wondered” and replacing speech/dialogue tags with action beats when necessary can help create a sense of deep perspective. Using active rather than passive voice (e.g., “Ryan devoured his lunch” rather than “His lunch was devoured”) also brings the narrative closer to the character’s perspective, as do imagery and sensation (“As Jane watched the river’s silver fingers reach up to the front steps, her heart began to thump”).
4. If an author is head-hopping, what are some things we can do to help build their awareness of what the problem is and how to fix it?
Here is one way to approach that:
• Explain what head-hopping is and how jarring it can be for the readers.
• Edit and comment on a scene in which it occurs.
• Ask the author to compare the original version with the edited one to see how much easier the latter is to enjoy.
• Suggest that the author identify a single POV character for each scene or chapter and consider what that person is thinking, feeling, and perceiving.
• Remind the author that the POV character can’t read minds and doesn’t know what other characters in the scene are thinking or feeling. Show how the other characters can express themselves through words, actions, gestures, and facial expressions.
5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?
I had to do some research to answer this question. Here is some advice that I found, in no particular order:
• Avoid objectifying characters. Use telling details to reveal who they are, and provide them with distinctive voices.
• Avoid stereotyping characters as male or female. Make them round and interesting instead. Not all men, women, or nonbinary people are alike.
• Avoid stereotypical behaviour (e.g., a male acting aggressively) by asking first what a specific character would do or say in that situation. Moderating their behaviour can make characters more subtle and realistic.
• Use third-person rather than first if it’s too difficult to write from the perspective of someone of the opposite sex.
• Read novels written from the perspective of the sex you’re struggling with and/or those with strong male or female characters. (E.g., Google or search Goodreads for “best male characters” and “best female characters.”) Note passages that convincingly convey gender.
• Observe and listen to people you know who are of the opposite gender.
• Remove gender identifiers from your text and ask beta readers whether they can tell whether characters are male or female. Beta readers can also identify what works well and what doesn’t ring true.
• Base your characters on people you know and imagine what they would say and do in specific situations.
• Highlight secondary sexual characteristics (e.g., a short-haired woman with narrow hips, a hero with a soft voice and a man bun) to make your characters sound less stereotypical.
• Consider context and how your characters behave and want to be treated (e.g., a tough female boss might want to be pampered at home).