Connect With Readers–Without Breaking the (Time) Bank

In my last post, I bombarded you with examples of writing in second person–that bizarre voice where the narrative is about YOU, the reader, as a character in the story. Hopefully, I answered your questions about what second-person voice looks like. I may have even answered the all-important question of WHY you might want to experiment with something as funky as writing in second-person voice voice. That is, that second-person writing pulls readers into your story world, deepens audience engagement, and gives fans a richer, more enjoyable story experience.

Time and Quantum Physics

If you’re like most fiction writers I know, though, you probably have another crucial question: How can you provide your readers with MORE content when you’ve already got two books in the works, kids to pick up, a dog that need to get to the vet, DINNER TO COOK, GROCERIES TO BUY, AND

Get the idea?

If your days go anything like mine do, you’re probably in an ongoing battle with too-much-to-do-itis, but you CAN level-up your readers’ experience without breaking the “time bank.” The key is defining your project before you begin, tailoring it to fit your specific situation. In other words, writing MORE isn’t enough. You need to pick the RIGHT writing project–let’s call it your “value-adding” project, since it increases the value of your primary work–to fit your specific needs and resources.

Read on to learn how!

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Engage Readers: Make Them Part of Your Story

The Magic of Writing in Second Person

You probably know what second person voice sounds like. At least, in theory. If you’re writing a story in first person, you might say something like “I sipped my morning latte.” Change that to third person voice, and instead you write, “He sipped his morning latte.” By extension, writing in second person changes the sentence to, “You sipped your morning latte.” It’s not a very common form of writing. Most of us only use it when writing informal nonfiction — like this blog post.

However, as any childhood fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series will tell you, there’s a certain magic in reading fiction written in second person voice. It’s an invitation to the reader: Let’s play pretend…

Mid-Atlantic_Center_for_the_KidsDay-framed2

Photo: Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities

Stories that place the reader in the role of the main character can intensify reader engagement, drawing your audience deeper into the story and blurring the lines between fiction and reality. They give readers a feeling of control, let them feel like they’re participating in story events. In the case of a “choose your own adventure” type tale, the reader influences the story’s outcome.

But, you say, I don’t really want to write a choose-your-own-adventure book.

Don’t stop reading!

Opportunities abound for using this tool to engage and connect with your readers. That’s because modern entertainment has become more and more interactive. A decade ago, second person voice used outside of a choose-your-own-adventure book would have been considered an artistic statement at best and, at worst, simply confusing.

Today’s audiences recognize the invitation posed by a second-person narrative–the author’s invitation to enter the story and play. They’re ready to play along!

This post is the first in a 3-part series. In Part 1 (this post), we’ll take a look at the three most common ways writer use second-person voice. More importantly, we’ll look at how these three different approaches affect your readers’ ability to suspend disbelief and enter into your story world.

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Writing from Your Character’s Point of View: 5 Guidelines

In my current work-in-progress, I’m writing from the POV of a 12-year-old boy. As I wrote earlier, finding his voice has been a challenge! And since I’m writing in first person, I have to stay in that voice ALL THE TIME—when he speaks, when he thinks, even in the details I include when describing setting and other characters.

squirrel*Photo courtesy of exfordy on Flickr Creative Commons

Despite my love of writing flowery description, 12-year-old Elliot probably won’t think about the way light reflects golden from the many-paned window, and even he does happen to notice flowers growing alongside the path, he certainly won’t know that they’re tiger lilies unless I’ve already shown him to have a love of horticulture. (He doesn’t. He loves squirrels.)

I never get voice perfect on a first draft, but keeping the following guidelines in mind can help me get closer. On a rewrite, these guidelines help me analyze whether the voice is consistent and believable—or whether it strays into author-speak.

Five Guidelines for Writing Character’s POV

  1. What does your character TYPE notice? A typical 12-year-old’s attention can be captured by friends, games, food, and, occasionally, school. On the other hand, he probably won’t notice his sister’s new hairstyle, the wrinkles on his t-shirt, or the school books scattered across the living room floor.
  2. What does your SPECIFIC character notice—what sets him apart? One way to bring setting detail into your writing without sacrificing voice is to explore the things that will interest your character. For instance, my 12-year-old, squirrel-loving protagonist notices trees and the creatures that live in them. He could point out a squirrel nest and would know when a pair of starlings were harrying a squirrel. This sort of detail brings the scene to life as well as providing insight into your character.
  3. How do your character’s opinions reflect in his observations? Description from a character’s POV is a great way to show attitude and bias. Does he like his math teacher? If so, he’s more likely to notice pleasant details like a smile, twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks. If he hates the teacher, he’s more likely to notice negative details—greasy hair, a lined face, boots that look like they could break fingers. Even a neutral detail—the teacher’s habit of humming under his breath—can be described as endearing or annoying.
  4. What’s your character’s emotional state? We’ve all experienced it: grumpy people tend to notice the negative whereas happy people tend to notice the positive. Frightened people are more likely to jump at shadows and creaking floorboards. Portray your character’s emotional state both by what he notices and by his interpretation.
  5. How does your character use language? Now that you’ve figured out WHAT your character would notice, how his pre-existing OPINIONS and biases would impact his observations, and how his EMOTIONAL STATE affects his interpretations, you’re ready to think about how he would EXPRESS what he notices. Let him draw on his experience for analogies. Incorporate characteristic phrases, gestures, and speech rhythms (yep, I’m talking about voice again!) not just into his speech and thoughts—incorporate them into the narrative itself.

What about you? How do you stay in your characters’ POV?

:) Cheryl