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    • #102896
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      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?

      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.

      3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?

      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?

      5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?

    • #103492
      Misha Robinson
      Participant

      1. What are some common flaws you’ve noticed in how authors do world-building/describe setting?

      Some authors put so much information in the beginning of the story that it’s overwhelming. Authors want those first pages to set the scene for the reader, but if they throw too much at the reader at once they will likely lose them. No infodumping, please! The opposite is also true. Sometimes authors give so few details that it keeps readers from becoming fully immersed in a story. Also, the more specifics the better. I want to see it in my head. I also find more often than not authors forget to use all of the senses, only focusing on what the character sees and nothing else. I want to hear about the sounds, smells, and touches (when it makes sense). These details can really set the scene.

      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.

      If the story takes place in a real-life location and the details are incorrect or not believable, that immediately removes me from the story. If it’s fantasy/paranormal/science fiction anything goes, but with contemporary or historical romance I am much pickier. Don’t mention things that weren’t invented yet. Setting can influence how you feel about a character. Time, place, and environment are important. I might feel differently about a character who is a slave owner in 1860 versus in 1960. The right world-building or setting can heighten readers’ emotions and cause them to be more engaged. Also, the setting has to fit the plot. One of my favorite books was a romance that blossomed between two poor teenagers who lived in the Appalachian Mountains. They both desperately wanted to earn a college scholarship being offered as they knew it was the only way they’d ever be able to leave their town. The details about how they lived and what they had to overcome based on the setting fit perfectly and added a great deal to the plot.

      3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?

      Authors should think carefully about what the POV character would be thinking and feeling. They need to write as if they were the character as opposed to writing about them, avoiding the inclusion of anything he or she couldn’t know. I’ve read stories where I felt a certain chapter should have been written in the other character’s head because it would have been more emotional, so I think that is an important factor to consider when trying to decide whose POV to use for a particular chapter or part of a story. In order to help create deep POV, it goes back to making it a sensory experience. Aside from thoughts and feelings, an author should also include sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Along those lines, they should do more showing than telling and retain an active voice. This helps readers become truly absorbed in a story.

      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?

      I think the more authors practice learning how to spot POV jumps and shifts, the easier it will be to notice them in their own work. Before writing a scene, it’s helpful to stop and think about the POV being used and why it’s being used for that scene. Authors should have checking for head-hopping on their self-editing checklists. If an author wants to switch POV in a chapter, he or she should use a clear signal such as asterisks to denote the change. As they are writing about other characters, authors should consider whether the viewpoint character knows the information without being in the other characters’ heads. To fix head-hopping, authors can delete information the POV character wouldn’t know or reframe it from that character’s perspective.

      5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?

      I would recommend reading other books in the genre that include that perspective and noting what they like about how the character’s POV is told and what seems realistic. Authors can observe and talk to men and women around them and note how they act and interact. The key there would be to make sure to observe or talk to many and not just one. This is a great time to caution authors to avoid stereotypes and generalizations like all men think about is sex or all women are obsessed with their looks. Another idea is to suggest an author send a sample scene to someone and see if that person can tell whether the POV character is male or female and why.

    • #103837
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      These are great answers, Misha. Your point about the setting provided challenges in the Appalachian story is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about. The contribution of setting to plot is more obvious when the story is character v nature but even in stories where it’s not, it’s very satisfying to see how setting drives character and plot. I remember reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil years ago and thinking the only place that story could happen was Savannah. Transport it to New York or Omaha, and it’s not the same story at all.

      And I agree about the amount and kind of detail in setting being important; we don’t need every detail at first but we need enough to understand the context. And we need something other than visual images (I think this is one way narrative has been badly influenced by movies/television; writers tend to think primarily about what they “see” as they imagine their stories).

      The point about being “in” the character’s perspective versus just writing “about” the character is excellent. That latter is what an omniscient narrator does.

    • #105402
      Brittany McIntosh
      Participant

      1. What are some common flaws you’ve noticed in how authors do world-building/describe setting?

      As Misha said, I would have to agree that there’s a fine line between too much or too little information. Too much and it’s overwhelming for the reader, too little and the reader is left feeling like the story is floating in a world they can’t quite grasp. With romances in particular, I feel that authors put such an emphasis on the relationship between characters (which they should), but they often neglect the setting. I like to feel grounded in the place and time where the story occurs. Also, a pet peeve of mine is when authors provide a physical description of their MC that reads like a bulleted checklist. It’s possible to integrate these details in a more subtle way that doesn’t feel so forced.

      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.

      For me, the connection between setting and plot is most evident when thinking about fantasy/sci-fi novels because the author gets to create an imagined world that isn’t subject to the same boundaries and expectations as our own. And not just in regards to the physical environment, but also in terms of social norms/expectations, politics, culture, economics, etc. For example, in a fantasy novel I read many years ago, the story took place in a world where the societal structure was matriarchal rather than patriarchal, based on the fact that women were stronger, magically, than men. This influenced the goals/motivations of the characters and thus, the plot.

      3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?

      Encourage them to use internal monologue effectively to dig deep into the character’s head. I would also advise them to not have more than 1-2 POVs in the story, especially if they are an inexperienced author. It’s not impossible to do – one author, who’s books I read, actually does a great job at executing an ensemble cast of POVs- but in general, I think these are difficult to pull off. Also, I would strongly suggest that the author take advantage of dialogue and action scenes to show character emotions, rather than tell them in exposition. For example, rather than tell the reader that Katie has a crush on her co-worker, Mike, write a scene where she becomes extremely flustered when he surprises her at her desk — she spills coffee all over her white shirt and struggles to form a coherent sentence. Her internal monologue, during said event, would be quite entertaining, but it would also have more emotional impact than if the author had merely written, “Katie has had a crush on Mike for a very long time.”

      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?

      The best thing to do as an editor is to start pointing out the instances of head-hopping to the author. If they are struggling with executing this concept I think putting it in simple terms helps – if it’s written in character X’s POV, you can only write what character X knows. I would also encourage them to only shift POVs at the start of a new scene or chapter.

      5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?

      Firstly, I would suggest that the author seek advice and feedback from friends/family who are the opposite sex. Run some chapters by them and see what they think. And interview them about specific issues or situations where they are finding it difficult to understand their character’s reactions and perceptions. I would also recommend reading novels where the author is of the opposite sex and so is that author’s main character (i.e., a male author writes a male MC). Of course, they would need to be wary of making sweeping generalizations about the gender and mindful that the author may be using cliches and stereotypes, but I think it could be enlightening, nonetheless.

      • #106140
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Brittany, you’re so right about the bulleted checklist! I’ve seen that used before: he had brown hair with a slight curl, brown eyes, and a square chin. He was a little over six feet tall. He had broad shoulders.

        Bored now.

        I agree about limiting the number of POV characters, particularly with newer authors who are likely to struggle with handling character development anyway! The more characters competing for POV time, the easier it is to make readers not care about any of them. It seems a little counterintuitive, that if you want readers to care about your characters you can’t make them all the focal point, but it’s true!

        The idea of asking family/friends for feedback on writing the opposite sex is a good one; I think as DEs we tend to underutilize the suggestion of finding betas for various dev problems.

    • #105714
      Molly Rookwood
      Participant

      1. What are some common flaws you’ve noticed in how authors do world-building/describe setting?
      I find that authors sometimes either do too little worldbuilding or far too much. Both this week’s assignment and last week’s struggled from too little worldbuilding. In last week’s assignment, we didn’t get any context–when in feudal England was it set? What was going on outside of the immediate story? In this week’s assignment, we learn that Marcus is a biological computer, but don’t get any explanation of how that works or why. If the story is set anywhere besides the present, some explanation will be needed to situate the reader.

      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 book I’m working with for the assignments, The Night Mark, most of the story is set at a South Carolina lighthouse in 1921. The time period is important because it’s a time travel story, and Faye, the main character, has to adjust to living in a different time. The location is important because the lighthouse is secluded from society and the MCs’ relationship has to remain a secret to protect Faye’s identity. The ocean is also extremely important to the plot; it’s the way that the characters travel between 1921 and the present, and is the scene of a pivotal boat accident.

      3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?
      Emotions are central to effective romance, and incorporating thoughts and emotions is an easy way to get into a character’s perspective. Some important aspects of this are including what the character thinks, even if what the character thinks is incorrect, as well as excluding things that the character doesn’t know or notice. By making sure that the narration excludes anything the character doesn’t know or wouldn’t be thinking, the author can also eliminate a lot of unnecessary exposition, which will help both the perspective and the flow of the story.

      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?
      I think that the easiest way to fix this is to focus on one character and question, sentence by sentence, whether that character would know or think that thing. Tension and conflict build beautifully when one character doesn’t know something central about another character. In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy doesn’t know the truth about Darcy and Wickham’s past, and this allows the conflict and drama to keep them apart for most of the book. Because we experience the book through Lizzy’s point of view (mostly; regency writing was its own thing when it came to perspective and POV), we don’t learn this until the reveal, and thus the drama and tension are heightened. Sticking to what only one character knows prevents head-hopping, heightens drama and tension, and makes for good conflict that can be resolved later!

      5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?
      My biggest issue is when writers go too far into the archetypal male/female characters. Male or female, your characters are still human, and most of their thoughts will not be Man Thoughts or Woman Thoughts. When writers rely too heavily on Man Thoughts, we wind up with characters who are not believable, and who often could be featured on the Men Writing Women twitter page. While male and female perspectives will be different (especially if the story is set in a different time period), they are not SO different. Focus on the character’s goals, motivations, and identity in society, and these things should lead to realistic perspectives more than simply using “This is the man’s voice because he is a man.”

      • #106141
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Molly, “Man Thoughts” made me laugh! Yes, part of the problem with writing the opposite sex comes from trying too hard to “sound” like a man or a woman rather than embodying the voice of this particular character. Getting deeper into POV is a great way to write more realistic characters of whatever gender. As you say, focusing only on what this one character is thinking, doing, experiencing, not only eliminates unnecessary exposition, it also helps prevent head-hopping, and makes it likelier that the author won’t end up with unfortunate stereotypes!

    • #105778
      Sabrina Young
      Participant

      1. What are some common flaws you’ve noticed in how authors do world-building/describe setting?

      Either not enough detail or so much detail that it overwhelms the main characters and plot. It’s important to give enough detail that the reader can visualize the character within the setting in a way that informs the character actions, reactions, and motivations within that setting.

      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.

      Setting affects plots in a number of ways. If there character is traveling across time, then the setting becomes part of the plot and the author will need to show how the new setting creates conflict for the character. For example, in Outlander, the heroine must navigate the changes and challenges between 1946 Scotland and the same location in 1743.

      3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?

      Show what the character thinks about the setting, the other characters around them, and about their own actions and reactions within the story. Rather than telling the reader someone is scared, show their clenched fists, pale face, and wide eyes. Then show the character’s internal thoughts: what exactly is it that they fear or that makes them afraid? Are their physical reactions and thought unconsciously triggered by something in their past? I think that asking the “why” about what a character is doing, saying, or thinking helps deepen their POV.

      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?

      Inserting suggested chapter breaks to better separate and assign POVs or adding asterisks to delineate different POVs with a chapter. If the head-hopping feels omniscient, then I might suggest a different tense or changing the POV perspective all together. For example, Casey McQuiston uses second person present tense in Red, White, and Royal Blue for an omniscient perspective of all characters while still retaining deep POV of the main character.

      5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?

      Advise the author to find a beta reader of the sex or gender that is being portrayed (almost like a sensitivity read). Suggest romances that portray these character well and detail why they do so. Look at the author you admire and write note the details that show deep understanding of the opposite sex.

      • #106142
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Sabrina, I mentioned in my response above that we DEs tend not to recommend beta readers as much as we should; we also don’t recommend the practice of investigating how other authors do it often enough. That’s a great idea; if the author literally takes notes about how their favorites authors present various characters, they are likely to learn something useful! Often authors as readers are passive consumers, so being more active/critical about what they’re reading is one way to learn craft.

        I like how you connect show v tell to deep perspective. The POV character can’t know what other characters are thinking and feeling but they can notice what the other characters are doing! They can interpret these actions correctly or incorrectly but they can’t know for sure.

    • #106189
      Miranda Darrow
      Participant

      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?

      Some authors want to set their contemporary romances in a generic city that doesn’t have any defining characteristics. I think this is a missed opportunity, as setting can add character to any story.

      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 Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, the characters are in NYC, and the heroine is a calligrapher who is doing an art project of taking pictures of old signage in historic neighborhoods. She loves living in the city, around all the older buildings with their history and their signs. The hero hates living in the city and wants to leave.

      3. How can you help the author create a sense of deep perspective?

      When describing the setting in any scene, rather than giving generic descriptions that any person would notice, focus on the details that would be important or noticeable to this POV character. I.e. a police officer would notice the locks on the doors, a firefighter would notice whether an exit was blocked, an interior designer would notice the dated wallpaper, etc. If the person is describing their own living space, they likely wouldn’t discuss general information, but instead would focus on something new or changed or broken. If an ex-boyfriend or roommate has taken their tv or music collection or favorite chair, that detail draws setting and POV together.

      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?

      Try to flag the instance when the second POV in a scene comes into place, pointing out, for example, that MC doesn’t have a basis to know that other character believes or doesn’t believe what MC is saying, unless that character makes a face that MC interprets to mean something.

      5. What can editors do when authors have trouble realistically conveying the perspective of the opposite sex?

      Encourage them to read more books in the romance genre to see how other writers have addressed opposite sex POV. It’s not the same voice as many writers in other genres, such as thrillers and mysteries, as romance male leads are because of the genre requirements more introspective and in their heads, sharing their feelings and emotions more than most genres, but still in the language of a man.

      • #106604
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Miranda, yes! The setting that is relayed should be meaningful to the POV character. An architecture student is going to notice something different from a cop.

        I love the idea of setting being a source of conflict (heroine loves living in the city, hero hates it). Location plays a huge role in our happiness! What a great idea.

        Important to note that male leads in romance are expected to be more introspective/aware of feelings than we might expect in other genres. Excellent point!

    • #106746
      Shelley Egan
      Participant

      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).

      How to Write From the Opposite Gender’s Point Of View

      On Writing the Opposite Gender

      Fast and Easy Guide to Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender

      Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex


      https://helpmenaomi.com/write-from-the-perspective-of-another-gender/
      http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/02/gender-bending-writing-different-gender.html

      • #106758
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Shelley, thanks for the great links! It’s always good to keep a file of resources on hand for these types of situations.

        Two things I thought especially interesting in your remarks were the comment about distant versus up-close setting; an author should use both so that we have a sense of context. We do tend to focus on what the character is directly experiencing when we talk about setting (the sun beating down on their neck) but the overall world matters, too. When I look down Venice Boulevard here in LA I see the San Gabriel mountains framed by palm trees, which is not what I saw when I looked down the main drag in Lawrence, Kansas. It is a very different experience.

        The other is the importance of treating characters as characters first; what would the character do in this situation versus “What would a man do in this situation?” This connects to the question of POV; we have to be able to imagine what this character, with all their history (not just gender), would do in this moment.

        Thanks for chiming in!

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