Space opera. It’s a real thing.

Space opera is a real subset of science fiction. According to sciencefiction.com, “Space opera is a genre of science fiction literature, and the term can also be applied to movies and TV programs. The genre has almost no relationship to the opera music form, except for the similarity of grand scope and dramatic intensity. Typically, space opera occurs on a galactic scale, has multiple types of spacecraft, from speedy corvettes to battleships capable of destroying planets. There is plenty of action and adventure in space opera.”

Well-known Space operas include Doctor Who, The Foundation series, and the Ancillary Justice series (which I just read and would highly recommend).

Free Indirect Style (a la James Wood)

In his book How Fiction Works, James Wood states “omniscience is almost impossible.” The point of this post isn’t to argue with Wood, but rather to understand his point of view on point of view. I’m drafting my first novel and am curious how writers such as James Joyce, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf, to paraphrase Wood, bend the narrative around a character.

“Omniscience,” Wood writes, “becomes a kind of secret sharing.” He calls the term “free indirect style,” which is also known as close third person POV.

Here’s an example from How Fiction Works: “He looked at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, almost sick. What the hell should he say?” According to Wood, the above is an example of free indirect speech or style, because the husband’s internal speech or thought is free of “he wondered” or “he thought” or other authorial tags. The effect is the character appears to own the words.

According to Wood, free indirect style:

  • Is the most powerful when hardly visible or audible
  • Allows words to belong to both the character and the author
  • Empowers readers to see through the character’s eyes and language and also through the author’s eyes and language
  • Bridges the gap between author and character, while drawing attention to the gap’s distance

Here’s another example Wood uses: “Ted watched the orchestra through stupid tears.” According to Wood, the word “stupid” is what makes this sentence written in free indirect style. The author wouldn’t likely call his or her character stupid. If the author wrote this sentence in first person, the sentence would be longer and would’ve lost “the complicated presence of the author.” Free indirect style allows the word “stupid” to belong to the author and the character, enabling readers to “inhabit omniscience and partiality at once.”

This is heady stuff. Yet I feel compelled to try free indirect style as I write my second novel draft.

Third Person POV, a Camera, an Intermediary

I’ve been reading about third person narrative theory while drafting my novel. I’ve found this article to be helpful, because it explains the differences between the author, narrator, protagonist, and viewpoint character. The author must slip into the narrator’s skin and also that of the viewpoint character (and the protagonist or multiple viewpoint characters…but I’ll save that discussion for another time).

How does a writer treat the narrator? More often than not creative writing teachers will recommend treating the narrator like a movie camera that can hear and record the thoughts and feelings of the viewpoint character. A camera is a great analogy, because everyone knows cameras don’t have feelings. Thus, a camera will help aspiring authors resist the urge to interject their thoughts and opinions onto the text, avoiding authorial intrusion.

How do you control the camera? Great question (and the purpose of today’s post). This article gives a great explanation and example, “Movie scenes often begin with an establishing shot, one which shows the viewer the bigger picture, as it were, before honing-in on the specific location where the action is about to take place.” Writers can start broad and explain the scene, but once they slip inside the viewpoint character’s head they can’t come out until the scene finishes. They can never return to the narrator’s neutral voice until the next scene or chapter. I believe authors should vary how early they slip into their characters’ heads for each scene and chapter. Sometimes they should do so immediately, while other times they should take their time to set the scene. Doing so will add texture to their work.

A Horror Story That Reminds Me of Me

Have you ever written a story only to realize another writer published something similar? The Great God Pan, published in 1890, is a horror novella that has inspired in me the cathartic déjà vu experience described above. If you’re like me, you’re currently mashing up literary, horror, and fabulism fiction for your debut novel, in which the demigod Dionysus (with the help of other Greek figures) resurrects a cult of followers through moonshine. Ring any bells? No? Maybe it’s just me then.

I recently discovered the novella The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. In this story, Dr. Raymond wants to devise a way to open the mind of men so all can experience what the world has to offer, but his experiment cripples or kills his patients. There is more to the story, but I won’t spoil it for you (I’d recommend you read it). The text’s premise surprised (and delighted) me. While the two works have similarities, both are unique. All of the other plot elements, the characters, the form, and my prose differentiate my book from Machen’s (plus, I focus on Dionysus and not Pan).

I’m exited my story is akin to a novella Stephen King hailed as one of the best horror tales ever written. I hope he’ll have something comparable to say about my novel.

(Photo via greyfaced)

A Study in Cups and Chairs

Writing is so much more than sitting at your computer, waiting for the words to come. It’s also paying attention to the world around you.

I’ve had a productive writing week, but today I felt dry, used up, and tired. So I put into action advice that I got from Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing. I went to a coffee shop, Cups and Chairs, to record what was in front of me without subjectivity or interpretation. For twenty minutes, I wrote in a small red moleskin notebook, recording what I heard, saw, smelled, and tasted.

Here’s just a snippet of what I wrote:

There was a bug on the wall. I turned my head to sip my latte. When I looked again, the bug was gone.

Christmas ornaments hung on the light switches: blue, green, and red balls with glittery accents.

A woman, dressed in all black, delivered a steaming teapot and green mug to a college student sitting on the sofa, fussing with his laptop. The sofa had a linen cover. The walls were painted muted earth tones, grassy greens and brownish-reds. Old pictures, faded and some torn at the edges, of Philadelphia’s monuments hung on the wall. A bullet board hung over a cream and sugar station. Someone had shaped the tacks into a smiley face.

A woman in an Argyle sweater talked on her phone. It took me a few minutes to realize that she had a faint Irish accent. It was only noticeable when she pronounced long vowels like “good day” and “thank you.” After she hung up, she ate soup and crunched on a sliver of crusty bread.

A policeman walked into the cafe. “Did someone call?” he said. His radio was on.

“I did,” the barista said. She was the one dressed in black. “Someone called and said they were from PECO and that we owned them thousands of dollars. They said if we didn’t pay, they’d come turn off our electricity today.”

“Did you pay them?” the policeman said.

“We didn’t,” the barista said. We got their number and said we’d call them back. When we couldn’t reach them, we figured out it was a scam.”

“Did someone come in with a video to tell you it was a joke?” The policeman laughed.

The barista didn’t sound amused, but rather stern. “No sir. Would you like some tea?”

The woman in the Argyle sweater started talking on the phone, and I was cut off from the conversation.

I hope to use this exercise to cultivate specificity in my fiction, which I think is one key to great writing.

cuppainting