Mood Board 101
Recently while querying, I've noticed more agents asking for optional things like links to mood boards, playlists, or Pinterest boards. There's even a whole pitch event on Twitter around mood boards. I thought I'd take some time to help anyone struggling to figure out what mood boards are in relation to writing projects and a couple (free!) resources to make them.
What is a mood board?
A mood board is a collage of images, which can include minimal punchy text, which conveys the mood (or as the youths say the vibes) of your story. This includes setting, tone, a sense of character(s), genre, and important visual elements/motifs. If including a quote, it should be short and encapsulate the theme of the novel. A mood board can be a Pinterest page, or you can arrange images into a collage that's a single JPEG using free sites like Canva.
Why make a mood board?
A mood board is good for more than just pitching on Twitter or sending to the rare agent who asks for it in their Query Manager form. The mood board can help you as the author get back into your story between writing sessions. The process of creating one also forces you to think about the important elements, characters, and places in your story. If you've never thought about tone or theme, it may even bring one out of your subconscious.
Where do images come from?
If you're making a mood board for just you, and never plan to use it for marketing (or perhaps even pitching) then don't worry too much about copy written images you find on google. Go ham. If you plan to use it for any type of marketing (or pitching) it's safer for you to stick to royalty free images. I like using Unspalsh, but there are other options as well.
If building your board in Pinterest, obviously you're only able to use that. The board then stays on Pinterest, which can be fine if using it only for yourself, but tough if your goal is to build one for a pitching event.
You can layer text over an image in an editing site like Canva to create a background to match your chosen quote.
It may be a struggle to find exactly what you're using for, so change up search terms and feel free to get creative in finding the right matches for your project. Collect more images than you plan to use, then select your final choices later.
How do I make them a collage?
If building a collage, you can use a free site like Canva. Choose a template that puts 5-9 images of various sizes together. Choose your template wisely, since it may dictate portrait vs landscape oriented images.
If you're not a fan of online graphic design options, there's always good old fashioned Microsoft Paint.
What are some tips and tricks?
One major trick to a mood board is keeping your eye on color. You don't want a ton of competition, and you want it to look cohesive, suggesting your story is cohesive. Choose no more then 3 main colors to include. Ideally, you'll have some muted tones and one that pops. The exception is if color is a huge part of your story, for example if it takes place during Holi, or if color is associated with specific nations (like Avatar: The Last Airbender.)
Another tip is to focus one the main character(s) or setting, don't try to include every subplot, side character, or place. You want someone to walk away from your board with a general impression of your story with minimal words. Confusion is killer.
Don't focus on finding perfect matches in the photos. You'll never find just the right stock model or angle or city for your fictional characters/world. Instead, go for the emotional impact of the image.
Have fun with it! Even if using it for a pitch event or in case an agent asks for one, the mood board's main audience is you.
Example Mood Board
Let's do an example for something everyone is familiar with: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (aka the original). I searched for images as if Star Wars doesn't already exist, so no cheating by searching for droids, stormtroopers, etc. Let's pretend this is a whole new concept and none of those are options so that you SFFH writers know how to get the concept of your vivid fictional creations across without having to do visual effects yourself. (Or you can commission an artist.)
Some stock images I searched for were: space, desert, red laser, hair buns, moon, explosion, black hallway, robotics, fighter plane. Many more terms generated nothing useful including glowstick, duel, robe, telekinesis, epic, hope, and hero.
Here's what I collected:
You can see there's a lot of red, blue, black, and white. Since the blues are pretty soft, I can get away with using all four colors if red is the one that pops. I wanted to make sure it's clear Star Wars is SciFi, so I kept the robot and stars, and lost the fighter plane. I kept the explosion to show action, and the guy looking up at the moon to show Luke's desire to go on an adventure--that's a mood right there. Either the hallway or the moon would be good to put a quote over, but I felt the moon a little more. I cut Leia's hair buns, because while accurate to the story, they didn't fit the adventure vibes of the other images. The red Star sign glows like a lightsaber, but it didn't get across the idea of a lightsaber, and the word star might be too on the nose. So it didn't make my final cut either.
I went to Canva and searched for collage templates. I chose one that had 7 images, uploaded my images, and arranged them. I decided to place my two red images in opposite corners, for balance. I also searched for iconic quotes from Episode IV, and chose "That's no moon..." because it had an ominous, dangerous, and clearly SciFi feel. The other images ended up where they did purely based on orientation that the template dictated, and I'm okay with that. Last, I changed the background to black, because it looked better to me. Your mood board is all about your taste, so follow your gut.
Here's my example mood board:
Does it convey Star Wars: A New Hope perfectly? No. It's missing a ton of characters, events, and technology. Does it capture the idea of a SciFi story about a guy wanting and then having an adventure, which includes some twists? I think so.
Obviously, this isn't something I was deeply invested in making perfect, so when I make one for my own stories, they tend to have a little more nuance/insight to them. However, I hope you found this mood board tutorial helpful or inspirational and maybe you're tempted to go make one for your own project.
Have you made a mood board for your writing? Was it helpful, or was it a major challenge? Do you have more resources for other writers making their own boards? Let's discuss in the comments!
When a Book Gets Your Job Wrong
Pipetting hand cramps are real. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash
Have you ever read a book that depicts someone with your job, or at least in your field, and the author gets it totally and completely wrong? That happened to me recently. I work in biotech, specifically we make proteins (for example antibodies) to treat disease. I picked up a book about a scientist who was studying a protein to treat a disease and I was excited. With a pub date this year, the book led me to expect the science would be up to date.
It wasn't even close.
The science in this scifi was more than a decade out of date. I was so thrown off because the other tech was clearly modern (with kids having iPads, hashtags and social media, etc.). The plot was entirely based on the scientist having to do their work the very very old fashioned way. Needless to say, I struggled to enjoy the book.
When I got to the end, I thought perhaps the author had never spoken to anyone about the science. However, the acknowledgement section was full of names--mostly doctors. I don't expect MDs to know HOW antibodies are produced industrially, but I do expect them to know that antibodies CAN be produced industrially. In the end, I suspect the author never spoke to anyone who actually works in biotech today. Or if she did, maybe she didn't want to change her entire plot.
But wait, you say, why didn't an editor intervene? This book was self-published and likely didn't employ the kind of editor who would take it upon themselves to fact check the science. Especially given the author talked to doctors, any line or copy editor wouldn't even think about changing that sort of thing.
So, what did I learn from this reading experience that I can apply to writing? If you're writing outside your familiarity zone, be it a job or another aspect of a person, be sure to speak with people who have the most direct experience with that thing. At the very least, Google recent headlines in that space. Technology, especially biotech, computer/software, and AI, have all exploded forward in the last decade. Even if you're familiar with something, reach out to an expert. Especially before pinning your entire plot on that thing!
Have you ever seen your job or a similar career in a book? Did the author nail it, or totally miss the mark? Let's discuss in the comments!
Wilbur mimicking the cover of The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Photo by Kate Ota 2022
I bought The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass because it’s one of those craft books you see recommended all over the place. That and the feedback I get is pretty consistent: I nail action and dialogue, but I need to add more emotions.
The book was $17.99 from Barnes and Noble. It covers the character’s emotional journey as well as the reader’s emotional journey, which is not necessarily the same. There were action points after each major topic (about 30 total) explaining where in your book to focus, what questions to ask, and therefore how to draw out that emotion.
I read this book in 5 days, which is about my normal pace. It’s 200 pages, and the pages are very thin (I saw the words on the other side of the paper), so it’s a thin book, but at what cost. I did a lot of highlighting, which says a lot about how useful I thought the information was, and I plan to go back when I have time and use those activity suggestions (called Emotional Mastery) to test the concepts in my current WIP. Generally, the suggestions really got my ideas flowing, so I think the inclusion of these in the book was very good.
One downside, despite the many examples for his points, a few went by at lightspeed without examples. The biggest I noted was the claim that words of Anglo-Saxon origin are considered stronger than those of Latin origin. Now, I’m big into etymology, I think the evolution of language is fascinating and I’m constantly googling word origins. However, without some examples, it’s hard to see if this claim holds any water. I found two examples myself: excite (Latin) and amaze (old English, which I guess is Anglo-Saxon) and you know what? They’re pretty similar word choices, arguably synonyms in many cases. Is amaze more specific? Yes. Excite could be interpreted in a few ways. Would I say amaze is stronger? Meh.
Is It Worth It?
For the specific, actionable activities that are listed after each major point is made, I’d say yes. Those will probably be very helpful in drawing out more emotion from me as a writer. Is every word of advice golden? Arguably not. I say, it’s worth buying it used (if you find a copy not highlighted by someone like me) and maybe new, if you receive consistent feedback that you need more emotion in your writing (like I do). If you’re buying it just for the sake of upping something you already feel confident about, I’d say used or ebook versions to save some cash. Overall though, I see why it’s so frequently recommended among writers, and am happy I have it in my stockpile of craft books.
Have you read The Emotional Craft of Fiction? What was your favorite piece of advice? Is there another book on improving emotions in your writing? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Trying a New Format: Screenwriting
Above: The main screen for WriterDuet, the online screenwriting website. I've been very happy with the free version.
Below: Several versions of The Screenwriter's Bible.
Readers of the blog may recall my short story The Undoing of Maggie Jinkowski, which won first place in the short story category at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference in 2019 and was recently included in the Kitsap Writers Group Anthology. I was recently asked if I'd be interested in adapting it into a screenplay format. Not a formal offer to produce it or anything, just gauging interest and seeing how it goes. I decided to give it a shot.
One of the resources recommended to me was WriterDuet, a website which already knows the right formatting for a screenplay and will help guide you in writing it. It made the basics super easy and you can use it for FREE. You can also export your project from the website to Word or a PDF. Highly recommend if you're looking to get your feet wet in screenwriting but worry about getting bogged down in formatting.
Another resource I tried out was the Screenwriter's Bible. It's a big book and has resources for almost any stage of screenwriting you're in. From format to best practices to story telling. It was very helpful in explaining to me how to do some of the more complex strategies I wanted to use, like flashbacks and voice over. There are many editions of this book out there, so don't feel pressure to buy the latest, an older edition will get you started just fine.
Between the site and the book, I have a pretty nice draft of my story that should work in a visual format. The hardest part was translating Maggie's thoughts to something an audience could see or hear. It helped a lot that I'd read some screenplays before, so I was familiar with what the final product needed to look like. Next step: sending the draft to my friend who showed interest and seeing what he has to say!
Wish me luck!
Have you ever adapted a story for the screen? Have you ever written an original screenplay? What resources helped you the most? Let's discuss in the comments!
NaNoWriMo Wrap Up
Clue is wrapped up in a blanket because December is cold! But also because this is a wrap up and I like puns. Photo by Kate Ota 2021.
After hitting my 30k goal during November, I decided to reflect on how well my prep in October helped with my writing process.
My project was an idea I’d had percolating on a back burner of my brain for a while. I kept little notes about it in a Word doc so I could keep track of what I’d thought about already. At the beginning of October, that Word doc was a mere two pages. I knew I needed to expand my idea into an outline, but was dissatisfied with 2020’s NaNo outline, which I had made using Save the Cat. That one had left me floating in Fun and Games (the bulk of Act 2 prior to the midpoint) and Bad Guys Close In (the bulk of Act 2 after the midpoint) with barely any idea of what was supposed to happen. I didn’t have time for that chaos this year, seeing as I was trying to do over half of the word count in under half the time.
So, in 2021, I used another approach. I started with Save the Cat as a basic structure. Then I used The Story Equation to nail down character arcs because that tends to be my weak spot. That helped fill out the outline a little more. Then I used The Anatomy of Story to get into the rest of that outline’s details. This bulked up my plan significantly, especially in those pesky catch-all categories from Save the Cat (Fun and Games and Bad Guys Close In.) I ended October with thirty specific scenes in my outline. I knew this was not going to be the whole story, but it left enough wiggle room in between scenes that I could pants a little here and there. Gotta leave room for organic story growth and new ideas.
As predicted, I ended up adding scene ideas as I went. Moments of “oh, he needs to be somewhere else, so let’s do a scene of where he went” and “gosh, I can’t believe I almost forgot this fun thing” got to be included while I also didn’t feel pressure to come up with something new on the spot each day. By the time I hit 30k (and ran out of time for NaNo) I hadn’t even gotten to the midpoint scenes!
I think my outline hit just the right note between structure and freedom. A bit like a playground that has some abstract climbing equipment, allowing my imagination to frolic while giving it a jumping off point so it didn’t get exhausted. A more stringent outline might have forced me into doing one thing, and the slightest inspiration toward a new scene would have thrown off the whole plan, forcing me to choose the plan (and save myself a lot of trouble the rest of the month) or leap down the new rabbit hole of creativity (which could have led to a better story, or could have led nowhere.)
Here are my tips for making your next NaNo (or drafting in any other month) more successful:
How did NaNo go for you? Did your prep help or hinder your final results? Let's discuss in the comments!
Clue did not think this book was thick enough to make a good pillow during his nap. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
Marcy Kennedy’s A Busy Writer’s Guide series has been on my radar for a while, though I wasn’t sure which one to read first. After getting some helpful feedback on my rejected Pitch Wars manuscript, I decided to read Deep Point of View.
All the Busy Writer’s Guides are short, and Deep Point of View (POV) is no exception, with the paperback clocking in at 150 pages. The book explains what deep POV is in a large sense, then chapters break down various specifics within the deep POV umbrella. The last section includes a step-by-step guide to check if your own writing is deep enough, including lists of words to search your document for that may indicate a shallower POV. The book also gives you access to a printable copy of the guide you can use again and again.
The book was a quick read. The downside is that I had already known most of it. There were a few sections where I highlighted some new info, but after going back through I see I only highlighted on five of the 100 pages prior to the step-by-step guide. Not great odds. Honestly, my writing groups talk about most of this stuff already. And yet, I’ve been told my POVs aren’t deep enough, so clearly, I needed the reminders.
Is It Worth It?
I think it is.
My paperback was $9.99 plus shipping, which seemed to be a consistent price across online indies and Amazon. There’s also an e-book option ($4.99) for those who don’t plan to highlight it or don’t want to wait for supply chain problems to resolve. I haven’t seen it in a physical bookstore anywhere (yet).
I think it contains good info, especially if you’re a writer who is new to deep POV, struggles with deep POV, or doesn’t have a writing group who can check your POV. The checklist at the end is a great resource as well, which stands out among other books who tell you what to do in theory and then just have you go try it solo.
It was an easy, quick read for—wait for it—busy writers. And there wasn’t a whole lot of fluff or padding, even in the examples. I appreciated that. I’ll probably check out other books in this Busy Writers series as well.
Have you read any of the Busy Writer’s Guides? Did you find them worth the price? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Is It Worth It? The Anatomy of Story
Wilbur loved The Anatomy of Story so much, he kept rubbing his face against the cover. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
I picked up a copy of The Anatomy of Story by John Truby months ago and let it languish on my shelf. I thought I’d read once I was done editing my current project or maybe when I started querying. However, as I started prepping for NaNoWriMo (during which beta readers will have my current project) I realized I should take a look to see if this book would influence my Preptober.
This approximately 400-page book is $18.99 for the paperback.
It’s like going from Save The Cat and The Story Equation and taking the next step in writing mastery. It includes character creation, setting, theme, and twenty-two story beats. There are numerous examples throughout as well as worksheets.
The story beats are a bit save-the-cat-ish, but those were hardly the best part of the book. I appreciated the analysis of character creation and scene setting that’s explained before plot gets brought up. The way different elements are discussed on a symbolic and thematic level was mind blowing. I even found I’d used some of the techniques on accident (probably from reading so much—hence why you need to read a lot!) and with some tweaking I could make it look very purposeful and deep.
I hadn’t seen many of the major examples (Tootsie, Casablanca, and The Godfather were most referred to, and I hadn’t seen The Verdict either) but they were clearly explained. I had seen some others (It’s a Wonderful Life) so it was helpful that most concepts were explained using multiple examples.
It’s a dense book. I tried to read it on my morning commute and fell asleep a couple times. You really need to be awake and committed to reading it. However, it’s dense with knowledge and supremely helpful.
Is It Worth It?
The price was great for the amount of information and length of the book, in my opinion. If you’re a person who likes to highlight and flag craft books, then the paperback is for you. If you aren’t a highlighting type of person, then go with the e-book version to save some money.
I recommend this book if you’re looking to up your plotting skills. If you aren’t a plotter, I recommend a little more clear-cut plotting book first (like Save The Cat). It’s also not about basic sentence mechanics (for that I recommend It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst of Sentences) and while it covers character, I think you need a baseline of character building first (such as understanding want vs need; I recommend The Story Equation).
I painted this wall during a mini-reno on my house. Why it's included will make sense by the end of the post. Photo by Kate Ota 2020
First drafts are often joked about and called things like dumpster fires or garbage drafts. They’re a way of getting ideas out of the writer’s head and onto the page. After all, you can’t edit something that doesn’t exist. First drafts will vary widely based on your writing methods. Plotters will have fewer problems than pantsers (usually), and some people would rather get it right on the first try than just get it down. However, with NaNoWriMo on the horizon, and many people about to write as many words as fast as they can, I thought I’d write about how I take problems spotted in the first draft and utilize them later.
A classic first draft problem, info dumps tell your reader all about the world or the character in one giant section. Not only is telling (vs showing) a potential issue, but info dumps ruin any tension that’s been built and slow the pace. Readers may end up skimming instead of absorbing the information. When you recognize an info dump as you edit, copy/paste it into another document where you keep your notes about the book (worldbuilding, names, etc.). I use Scrivener, so I have a whole folder where I keep this type of stuff. You can then bring back little chunks of info as they become relevant. I like to highlight sentences whose information I’ve added back, so I don’t accidentally repeat myself. Info dumps help you keep track of your world and get you into the mindset, so if you end up taking a break, you can read the info dump to get back into the manuscript.
Have you ever started a book with a cast of characters, but by the end you realize you haven’t mentioned one guy since chapter 4? Oops. It happens all the time. This means that character wasn’t as important as you initially thought. Maybe they aren’t needed at all, and you can take this mistake as a sign you should delete them all together. However, if they matter up front but clearly not later, you can also get rid of them in a way that adds to the story, such as acting as a red herring or increasing tension.
Much like pot holes, plot holes make for a bumpy ride in a book. You should try to fill as many as you spot in your edits. However, rather than just filling a hole with the first thing that comes to mind, or the easiest thing to write, take the opportunity to dig a little deeper and see how you can enrich your world, characters, or plot while also filling the hole. It’s like those home renovation shows where they discover bad pipes and they say, “we could just replace the pipes in this bathroom, but eventually the whole house will need to have it redone, and if we do that, it means tearing out all that ugly paneling to get to the pipes behind it.” The wise choice is to rip out the paneling and replace all the pipes, if they have the budget. Since enriching your writing doesn’t cost money, go ahead and rip out the paneling. And the shag carpet, while you’re at it.
Off Balance Scenes
Some scenes will have too much narration, others will have too much dialogue. This is something you’ll want to balance out, but worry not. This mistake has actually highlighted for you what matters in that scene. Is it all about the dialogue? Then the narration you add in the next draft should be focused on the characters reacting to the dialogue and be less about stage direction. Is it all about narration? Then the dialogue you add shouldn’t be distracting from that and should instead voice the most important internal realizations.
Perhaps your first draft clocked in at about 60% of the expected word count for your age group and genre. This tells you that something is missing; characters, sub plots, setting or other descriptions, internal narration, etc. It will vary for each writer, but once you notice a pattern in where you skimp, you’ll know what needs to be added. For example, my early drafts lack emotions and reactions, so now I automatically put that in my editing to-do list. It may take more than one book to recognize where you could use more words, but once you know your first draft skinny points, you won’t even need to look to know they’re there. These can then become strengths of your next draft, since you’ll be putting conscious effort into adding these items.
The opposite of the last problem, if you overshoot your genre and age group’s expected word count, you’ll need to do a little cutting. Ideally, you won’t just delete, but keep removed scenes/paragraphs/sentences in another file for later. You can always come back to these and bring back little pieces to supplement the next draft. It’s easier to squirrel a scene away than it is to delete it, and you may find this strategy makes it emotionally easier to cut words. Identifying what to cut is harder, but if you compare your story’s beats to an established beat sheet (ex Save the Cat) you may be able to identify plot elements that take longer than expected and start hunting for what to cut there. The main benefit of overwriting is that it’s faster to cut than add words.
Let's return to my home reno example from earlier. Basically, in a first draft you’re establishing what’s important. That’s setting the blueprint and foundation of the house. Building up the studs and deciding where walls go. First drafts are asking how big is the kitchen, how many beds and baths, is there a basement or a second floor. You don’t need to worry about which poster is going to hand above your desk in your home office. Sure, you can buy one if you see it and have it ready to hang, but the focus is going to be on bigger stuff first, by necessity. Yes, a home reno is messy with painter’s tape and loose nails and dust on everything. However, that’s because it’s not the final step yet. So don’t think of your first draft as garbage, think of it as the start of building a house.
How do your first drafts go? Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you over or under write? Let's discuss in the comments!
What's Up with Secret Identities?
Masks, but not those masks, are a staple of secret identities. (Photo from Unsplash by Julio Rionaldo)
It’s been a while since my last trope discussion, so I thought it was time for another! This week I researched a super popular trope, secret identities. Get it? Super. Like super heroes.
Where Did This Start?
I started by reading about secret identities on TV Tropes. There are about thirty-two related tropes, including someone falling in love with the hero identity, or loving the hero and hating the secret identity (or vice versa), and more. So many tropes that the original idea of secret identities must be incredibly old.
Indeed, it is. You can see secret identities in fairy tales, like Cinderella (at the ball, though in most versions this identity doesn't get a name) and Beauty and the Beast (the secretly beautiful witch who turns the prince into a beast), and Mulan (in the army). TV Tropes cited a medieval Scottish story, Roswall and Lillian, as an example in which a steward steals Prince Roswall’s identity and plans to marry Princess Lillian. Roswall, of course, succeeds in getting the Princess in the end when his secret identity (which is his original one: a prince) is revealed. Even in Greek myths, gods would hide their identities and interact with humans. Technically speaking, secret or hidden identities are such an old concept in storytelling that we can’t quite pinpoint a true origin.
What about a secret identity for unsanctioned acts of heroism? That’s more specific. One could argue Robin Hood was almost there, but since it was clear to everyone involved that he was Robin of Loxley, his identity doesn’t qualify as secret. Let’s look at some others:
Superman (aka Clark Kent) made his first appearance in a short story, The Reign of Superman, in 1933, published in a science fiction magazine. Most people know him better from his second appearance, which was in 1938 in Action Comics #1 from DC Comics.
Zorro (aka Diego Vega) made his first appearance in 1919 in a series of magazine instalments later brought together as the novel The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley. Zorro got his first movie in 1920 (a silent one, but it still counts!)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (aka Sir Percy Blakeney) appeared in a play named for the hero in 1903 (and novel in 1905) by Baroness Emma Orczy. The Scarlet Pimpernel saved aristocrats from being beheaded by mobs after the French Revolution made that seem pretty fashionable. His public persona is a rich, stylish, but seemingly useless man that no one would suspect of being a swordsman. Is saving rich people terribly heroic? I suppose it would be to the rich people. At least the concept is right for my purposes here.
At 1903, The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first clear example of a character consistently using a secret identity to perform acts that are heroic. I was surprised to learn this secret hero genre was pretty much solidified in the literary world by a woman author. Hats off to the Baroness!
Why Have Secret Identities?
After that deep dive, I asked myself why did these characters hide their identities? Modern heroes do it to avoid their enemies and/or protect their loved ones. Older heroes did this as well, though there was often an air of vigilantism to those stories, where the secret identity would suffer legal consequences if they were found out. Other, less vigilante-focused instances of secret identities also protected characters from social consequences (Cinderella, Mulan) or allowed more freedom (Mulan, Zeus). Still others weren’t the character’s choice (Roswall). Plenty of character motivations available to meld or co-opt for your own story.
Should Your Characters Have Secret Identities?
It’s all dependent on your plot with this one. A super hero book may obviously require a clear secret identity to be effective. However, going undercover in a crime novel, using a fake ID in a contemporary novel, or masquerading a monster as human in a horror could all also qualify as secret identities. The most important thing is to be sure your reader can follow with what’s going on. If you don’t clearly connect identity 1 to identity 2, your reader may not know who’s behind the metaphorical (or real) mask and get completely lost. While a TV or movie has the actor, or at least their voice, to help guide the audience, you have to be more deliberate. One trick is to ensure you don’t introduce an entire team at once, but build it slowly to allow the reader to remember who is who.
That’s it for this trope discussion. Who is your favorite hero with a secret identity? Have you written any secret or false identities in your work? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Here are some sources for more reading on this topic:
TV Tropes article about Secret Identities
Wikipedia article summarizing The Scarlet Pimpernel
Wikipedia article summarizing Zorro
Wikipedia article about Action Comics #1
More about Baroness Emma Orczy
Point of view? What about this stunning view! Banff, Canada. Photo by Kate Ota 2018
Remember last week how I ended by saying that my next post would be about trimming words? Well, despite deleting a chapter, I’ve managed to add 1000 words to my WIP. So, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m not qualified to write a word trimming post just yet.
It’s been a while since I added to my Easier Editing series, so I decided to write about one of the things my first round of beta readers said I did really well. Let’s talk about how to make different POVs in the same book feel like different people. They’ll all have your author voice naturally, so what you need to do is make them feel distinct from one another. The goal is that a reader should be able to put your book down, then come back and know who the POV character is without flipping back to the last chapter or scene break. (Need a refresher on POVs in general? I have a post for that!)
Here are the top things I do to accomplish unique POVs in a multi-POV book.
Once I build my characters and understand who they are, I decide what kinds of words they’ll use. A laboratory researcher might use precise and scientific language. Creative characters would use more colorful language. Someone really into trains might make analogies that always go back to trains. Also keep in mind what words your characters might not know. Think of Disney’s Ariel, who called forks dingle-hoppers because she’d understandably never heard the word fork. Perhaps you have an older character who wouldn't know teen slang, or a teenager who would be less likely to know name brands of alcohol.
Whatever is driving your character is bound to be on their mind. Think of a conversation between two characters. If told from one POV, the interaction may be boring pleasantries ending with a refusal to hang out. How rude! When told from the other POV, we might learn how this character is desperately avoiding anyone coming over and discovering the dead body in her basement. Something that urgent is going to color the narration significantly. Less urgent goals should still have an impact, too.
I tend to choose if my characters are overall optimistic or pessimistic, and then what mood they’re in for each scene. I end up with things like angry optimist, happy pessimist, irritated pessimist, etc. It’s much easier to write a specific voice knowing that combination of world view and mood.
It’s easier to have a very wild, quirky character voice if they don’t come up often. It’s harder to sustain and use that voice to convey complex plot points. You don’t want to get so niche that this character describes something and your reader is left with no understanding of what just happened. Let’s use an extreme example. Think about Shakespeare being read in modern classrooms. You read that aloud as a class and then the teacher had to explain what that entire scene meant. Yes, it’s in English, but man oh man is that Elizabethan voice difficult to decipher for modern audiences. If one of your POVs was written so uniquely, they’d stand out, but not in the way you want. However, if you toss in a relevant sonnet every now and then, you won’t lose your reader because they’ll trust you to lead them back to the more digestible story soon.
That’s my basic strategy for differentiating POVs in my multi-POV WIP. Do you have different strategies you use? Let’s discuss in the comments!