Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Short Cycling

Thanks, Ana for sharing your experiences with us. I'm so out of touch with that market, I wouldn't know how to begin--but you gave us some great pointers.

Yesterday was one of very few wintery days we've had since moving up to the mountains. It looked like a drizzly day, except it was snow, not rain. Since I had nowhere to go more important than the mailbox, and since 90% of our mail is junk anyway, I saw no reason to leave the house. There was plenty to see from my window.

And, with the temperatures in the negatives and highs in the single digits, staying inside was definitely the way to go. Coming from a climate where air conditioning ran about 9 months out of the year, getting used to heat—and gas heat—is new for us. One thing we noticed when we first had to use the heat was that it didn't simply kick on in the morning (we run it much lower at night) and run until the house was at the daytime temperature. And, during the day, once it had reached our set temperature, it tended to cycle off and on after only a matter of minutes.

We called in the heating guy and he said, "Oh, you're short-cycling"—a new term for us. And as I was reviewing the revisions for my manuscript, I noticed something similar had happened when I considered Point of View.

I know I've discussed POV here before, and my preferences. I've always been a one scene per POV character, and I don't like a lot of characters commandeering the page when I read or write. In my romantic suspenses, I follow convention and have two POV characters—hero and heroine.

When I undertook this new project, the editor's vision had two main characters mentioned in the brief synopsis I'd been given. I asked if they were both POV characters, or if, like most mysteries, I should choose the one that seemed dominant according to the outline.

The response was to use two, and to write it in third person. Since I'm comfortable with that, I had no problem. I was also glad she didn't say to use as many POV characters as I wanted. There are many authors who can bounce between 5 or 6 POV characters, but I've never cared for writing that way. I like to believe that my readers are getting caught up in my characters, and every time there's a switch, it makes them stop and regroup.(Note: changing POV characters is not necessarily head-hopping. If your transitions are smooth and clear, you can move from one character to another. Sticking with one per scene is personal preference. Not. A. Rule.

My original submission of 3 chapters was about 35 pages. The revised version is 55 pages. Many of the changes involved adding preliminary scenes, introducing new characters, dropping hints of things to come. A lot of description that was in the old chapter 1 needed to be moved into the new opening.

It was important to make sure that I was in the right character's head when I started sticking in new bits and pieces. Tossing in a thought or internal reaction for Erica when it was Michelle's scene was something I had to be aware of.

The other challenge was trying to fit new information into the right POV character's scene. If the scene was in Michelle's POV, but the new event needed to be told from Erica's, then I had to decide whether to wait until it was Erica's "turn" or rewrite the scene from the other POV.

When I switch out POV characters, I'll mark scene breaks with ### headers.

(Note: Five Star, the publisher of my upcoming WHERE DANGER HIDES, wants five asterisks, each separated by a space, to mark scene breaks. However, when they publish the book, they take them all out, indicating breaks only by an extra blank line. I only mention this because a lot of writers who are writing their first manuscripts panic about formatting. If there are guidelines, follow them. If not, don't sweat the small stuff. You won't have a manuscript rejected for using asterisks instead of pound signs, or vice-versa.)

At any rate, checking my Document Map, I noticed that in the rewrite, instead of my usual 4-6 pages per scene, I had POV shifts after only one or two pages in spots. Is it wrong? No. But did I really need to pop back and forth that often in that chapter?

Editing and revising means more than looking at continuity (I had to readjust my timeline and make sure I didn't lose any days—or repeat them). It also means making sure you've got the right person telling the story. Do you change POV characters simply to get one plot point across? If so, you might want to take another look to see if there's a way to cover that piece of information without having to "short cycle."


Margaret Fieland said...

Terry, interesting post -- and very timely. I just started outlining a new novel, and it looks as if I may have as many as four POV characters.. {grimace}. I've never had more than one

Kim Bowman Author said...

I recently read a book that I would have loved, but the author took quite a few scenes and showed us from both the heroine and the hero's POV. It was so redundant and it totally took away from the book. I was so disappointed, and I vowed NEVER to do that in my books!

Lynn Chantale said...

One of my favorite authors, will tell the same thing from her main characters POV. I find it a little annoying and think, didn't I just read this. I would like to learn to better transition my POV characters, currently I'm down to the Hero and Heroine.

Sarah Grimm said...


Great post. I prefer only H/H point of view in a book, and 99% of the time I do a whole scene in one POV. However, I have successfully swapped in the middle of a scene if I felt it needed it. (and my editor agreed):)

Ann Yost said...

Great post, Terry. I'm trying first person for the first time and so nervous about it but I've been too "jumpy" in the past and thought this exercise my eliminate that kangaroo head-hopping!

Terry Odell said...

Margaret - I've done two manuscripts (not published yet) with 3 POV characters. In both cases, the story seemed to call for them.

Kim, wlynn -- sometimes, I think, authors like to show both POVs and think the repetition works. And for some readers, it might -- but not all of them, obviously! Check out my free read, WORDS (look in the short story tab above) to see what started out as a POV exercise. I think the switch works for this short piece.

Sarah - it's all about transitions!

Ann - first person is an excellent way to learn how to stay in one head. I did that for the police short stories that are supposed to come out in an anthology later this year.

L. K. Below/Lindsay Below said...


I think it depends on the book as to how many POV are in the story. Certainly more than two characters in the same scene would make it confusing, but I've found in reading (and writing) fantasy, for instance, some plots are so convoluted that you need to be in many characters' heads at once in order to know exactly what's going on. With just about any other genre, I can limit myself to one POV at a time, but sometimes fantasy calls to the writer of omniscient POV in me.

As you said, it's all in the transition.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Terry Odell said...

LK - I agree, the genre can make a difference. And then, there's the difference between hopping from POV character to POV character and true omniscient POV, where there's an external narrator offering insights that the POV character can't know. (Being a mystery lover, that's not my favorite!)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great points on an important topic, Terry! I'm tweeting. :)

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Elizabeth - and come back tomorrow for some more.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

POV is something new writers often struggle to master. It's no wonder since so many NYT best sellers hop heads in thier romances. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

Sharon Noble said...

Yes, the POV monster. I guess I'm an anomaly; I like to know what's going on in the minds of the people in a given scene. What I'm saying is I LIKE HEAD HOPPING!! It gives me full information. As a reader I don't follow the heroine or hero necessarily, and I don't identify with anyone; I remain a third party observer, taking in everything. So every editor beats me up about POV. This is good information. Thanks, Terry.

Ciara said...

POV can be a complete turn off in a book. I don't want a dozen scenes repeated by each Hero then Heroine, but I also don't want head hopping. I'm a POV per scene kind of reader, as long as the plot continues forward. Great post, Terry.

Terry Odell said...

Vonnie - "head hopping" isn't really the same as switching POV if you're doing clear transitions. And one big NYT romance author who's accused of frequent 'head hopping' actually writes in the omniscient POV.

Sharon - that's why there are no rules! I'm one who wants to get deep inside a character, so frequent shifts pull me away. But I'm only one reader.

Ciara - thanks - I try to follow the "Don't tell the reader something they already know unless it's adding critical information" convention.