Just Another Writing Book – Chapter 3 – Thinking about writing – Part 01

Moby Dick
Moby Dick

Thinking about what you are doing, is important. It doesn’t matter whether you fly by the seat of your pants, or plot like a maniac, knowing what you are doing matters. Take Point of View…

Point of View

You’ve probably heard of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. If you haven’t, I strongly suggest you read it, and read the Wikipedia article about it. In many ways, it is one of the most influential novels written in English. It has been cited as the basis of a Star Trek episode, and other stories, movies, etc.

Let’s look at the first sentence of the novel.

Call me Ishmael.

Wow. Sounds like this Ishmael is a major character. But…

Really he doesn’t do that much. A number of critics, think that Melville could have written a far better novel by leaving Ishmael out. Ishmael serves as a method of passing information along to the reader. That really is his only function.

As someone who believes in William Strunk’s book, The Elements of Style, I don’t see why he’s needed. In fact I think he is a distraction, pulling the reader’s viewpoint away from the real major characters.

Sometimes this sort of thing works. Doctor Watson acts both as a foil for Sherlock Holmes, and as narrator. Having more than one function, Second Person worked very well for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Sometimes, it just gets in the way.

From a personal point of view, one short story I wrote just wouldn’t work. I sat back, thought about it, and realized that I was using the wrong character as narrator, at least for the story I wanted to tell.

Is your POV character the right person? That’s something you’ll need to figure out yourself, but it’s always a good idea to ask the question. You might find out that someone else would work better, or that two different points of view will make for a better story, or that one point of view is better than several. It all depends upon the story you are trying to tell.

Point of View may not make a difference to your story. But it might, and changing the POV you are using isn’t all that hard.

Character Errors

This is not meant to be a criticism of the writers I’m going to mention. It’s actually a complement. I read their stuff, because I really enjoy what these people write.

That doesn’t mean that they haven’t tripped over their typewriters though.

How about Glen Cook? Ever hear of ‘Lurking Felhske’? He’s a minor character, who appears in the Garrett PI books Cruel Zinc Melodies, Gilded Latten Bones, and Wicked Bronze Ambition.

But there’s also a minor character called ‘Felske’ in the Instrumentalities of the Night series. Slightly different spelling, but close, and to me it looks like the same pronunciation.

Problem is, things like this can be confusing. You’ve read one book, and remember a character (or place, or thing, or whatever). In another book by the same writer, you see the same character (or place, or thing, or whatever). But he/she/it isn’t the same.

This is what you call bad planning, and why we need to think really hard before we get to writing.

Let’s take John Ringo. John’s a pretty decent writer. He has a ‘Poertana’ in his Empire of Man series written with David Weber. There’s also a ‘Portana’ in his Looking Glass series. Both men have the same position (unit armorer) and both have similar personalities. But they aren’t the same.

One suggestion is that you keep a record of names that you’d used, so you can avoid reusing names. You should also keep a good record of your characters anyway. For every character, I write up a page or more of notes. Age, description, personality, history, and everything else I can think of. For the novel that I’ve got 80% finished, I have about 30,000 words of character notes!

Yes, you can work without notes, but working with notes is a lot easier.


Wayne Borean

Sunday July 27, 2014


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    1. It could have been a nod, but since it was the same writer, I don’t think so. I think it was either a minor error which got through the writer, editor, and readers, or it was a Tuckerization.


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