Frequently asked Questions
And Tips for Writers – A Baker’s Dozen

What is the difference between an author’s point of view and a visual artist’s point of view?

“Point of view", whether that of a visual artist or a writer, is a term used to describe the author’s or artist’s way of viewing the world he or she wants to portray. It comes from a place, in terms of thought and feeling, that is uniquely inhabited by that person. A visual artist uses tools such as color and light to help project his or her unique way of seeing; an author uses words to convey to the reader his own and his character’s point of view, which are sometimes one and the same.

How do I decide on a point of view for a particular story?

Here it’s especially helpful to be well read and have a particular model in mind. If you want the piece to have a certain immediacy and intimacy, you might choose First Person. If you want some distance from your character while still maintaining the ability to see things through his or her eyes, Third Person might be the right choice. If you’d like your reader to see the story through many sets of eyes, the Omniscient is a good (but rather difficult) possibility.

How do I settle on the tense of a story I want to tell and the voice in which it will be told.

Here again, it is useful to have a successful model in mind. From what you have observed in your reading, will past tense work best for your historical novel or will present tense give the past a jarring immediacy that you may seek? There’s nothing to prevent you from trying your work in more than one tense and point of view. I once changed a 500 page manuscript from first person past to first person present. (It still isn’t finished.)

What makes for a compelling beginning?

A compelling beginning hooks us into the story immediately and makes the reader want to know more. Sometimes our true beginning will be found well into the text at a place where the action picks up significantly. We can’t know this, however, unless we take the plunge and just begin. Don’t worry that your beginning may feel inadequate at first. After you have developed more of the text, go in search of it within the opening paragraphs or even the first few chapters.

What needs to be included on the first page of a manuscript?

Besides a compelling beginning which makes the reader want to learn more, the first page should set the scene, begin to craft the tone, establish the time frame, introduce the protagonist, and pose some kind of situation to be solved or question to be answered. If other characters are mentioned, they should be described sufficiently so that we’ll recognize them when we meet them again.

What is a theme and how will I know it when I see it?

Theme can be defined as the overall topic of a piece. My Webster’s pocket dictionary describes it as the “main melody.”

Theme may be very clear to a composer when creating a musical composition, but my personal feeling is that the theme in a story or novel does not reveal itself immediately, and if you have a theme in mind from the beginning, it will be apt to change. Sometimes I haven’t really known what the theme of a book was until I’ve read a review of the published book and can see it through the eyes of the reviewer.

What is the difference between tension and suspense?

Tension is stress that is introduced into a manuscript at various points in the narrative to keep the reader intrigued. It takes many forms and comes and goes and is not constant. Suspense is a growing sense of uncertainty that keeps us on the edge of our seats and pervades the entire piece.

Are writing groups useful. Do writers outgrow them?

I find writing groups essential to my process and have belonged to one or more over the years, sometimes concurrently. It helps immensely to have other writers comment on your manuscript, either piecemeal or when it is completed. Sometimes I profit from a little of each method. It also helps to be in a group in which at least some members have expertise in your genre of concentration. It’s definitely important that everyone in a group is supportive of one another.

Why did you write “The Fattening Hut” in verse?

I did not intend to write “the Fattening Hut” in verse. I actually wrote the first three chapters in prose. But then it took on a life of its own and started setting itself up as a verse novel. One reviewer claimed the form softened a difficult message, and I believe that must have been part of my subconscious motive.

Where do your ideas come from?

Sometimes I don’t really know. Often something in the news will spark my interest; sometimes a place or historical detail will set me off. Many of my picture books have been inspired by something from my own childhood or that of one of my children.

How do we know when it’s time to end a story and how do we do it?

When you feel you may be nearing the end or have written what seems to you to be the ending, ask yourself some questions: 1) Have I come to this place logically and progressively? 2) Does it answer whatever question I asked at the beginning or complete what I have promised the reader? 3) Is everything tied up too neatly or have I left something to the reader’s imagination? 4) Does it convey a feeling of satisfaction and inevitability? Sometimes we write past our true ending and must go back into the text to discover it. To facilitate this search, a writing group is often especially helpful.

What is Pace?

In the field of writing, pace might be described as the rate of speed of a given segment, scene, or entire manuscript. Most writers use a varied pace that is dependent on the kind of story being told and the action and tension of a particular scene, and they shift the pace in order to maintain interest and suspense and provide variety. A book that is described as being slow-paced overall will still employ some very real but subdued changes of pace throughout.

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