Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Text, Art and the Virtual World--new directions in novels

Graphic novels, manga and video games have infused popular culture so completely that kids today are born making the connection between text, images and the virtual world.

This does not make them “bad” readers, nor should one assume that kids are any less literate or have shorter attention spans. These are the sort of paranoid, knee-jerk assumptions that the older set has, those of us who have vivid memories as a kid of going to the library to pick out summer books for vacation reading. When the Commodore 64 was too coded for anyone but programmers to figure out, the only sanctuaries for those hungry for story were libraries and "ye olde" neighborhood bookstores.

Kids have more options now. This is a good thing. They are adapting very quickly to eBooks as they will to interactive and enhanced eBooks—those with embedded online links and video. As I said, the younger-than-twenty-set were practically born with keyboards in their paws. Authors, rather than fear the new technology, think of the many opportunities it presents for us to create content: enhanced eBooks, interactive eBooks, such as my recently penned A Girl’s Best Friend, from American Girl for the Innerstar University series, which has an online gaming component. Or the 39 Clues series from Scholastic (various authors), where a child goes from book to online game, and back to the book to solve the mystery.

In a similar vein, until recently, including pictures with text was a no-no with any fiction above a chapter book. Not any longer! In addition to the straight-on graphic novel, we now have the pleasure of reading all stripes of art-text hybrids. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick was among these first wave of hybrids. It caused a major stir in 2007 with its innovative drawings that oozed from one page to the next, and peeped out from corners, only to explode into full-blown drawings on the next page. Scott Westerfield’s YA steampunk series Leviathan and Behemoth is another example of this growing trend of art/text hybrids in fiction, in this case for teens.

Why not infuse YA and even adult fiction with brilliant, color-saturated illustrations? Why should the chapter book set have all the fun? I am thrilled, especially as an illustrator, to know that we can look forward to more and more novels, rich with illustration on the level of a Gustave Doré or an N.C. Wyeth.

Have you stumbled upon any new YA that’s filled with gorgeous illustration? A middle-grade fantasia of art and text? Tell us all about it! What do you think about these growing trends?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pros & Cons of the Omniscient POV

How many of you have tried omniscient point of view? That’s when the author can write how any of the characters are feeling, and what they are observing. Unlike first person POV, where the narration stems from one person, or third person limited, where the “I” becomes “he” or “she”, but is still limited to one POV, omniscient can wander, from one person’s POV to another, but also in camera scope, from an extreme close up to a cinematic long shot, which describes the action from a distance.

The omniscient POV, or OPV, was out of favor for a very long time, especially in young adult literature, which favored extremely close first person POV, in the style of Catcher in the Rye’s stream of consciousness rants. OPV is hard to write well, because in fiction for kids and teens you still have to make sure you are telling a story with a main character, who will remain the focus. Thus, you have to have a strong editorial sense of when to go into another character’s head—it must be crucial to the forward action, not simply because you want to “head-jump” as some editors derisively call OPV.

So, why use OPV at all if it’s so tricky? Will it ever shake its bad reputation? Or, on the other hand, is it coming back in favor? More and more YA books seem to be in OPV. Ursula K. Le Guin, a well-known fantasy writer defends the OPV when she says, “the voice of the narrator who knows the whole story, tells it because it is important, and is profoundly involved with all the characters. It cannot be dismissed as old-fashioned or uncool.” Why then, has it been so discouraged in writing workshops, and even in MFA creative writing programs? Perhaps, because it is so easy to do badly! The downside is that we limit our options from our automatic negativity and fear of it. As Gwenda Bond says in her excellent Vermont College MFA thesis, “By rejecting the storyteller's (OPV) voice, we lose far more than we gain… The omniscient narrator is no more intrinsically artificial than a first-person narrator telling the tale, or of a third person limited perspective that comes from a vaporous invisible teller.”

Some authors swear by the OPV when writing multilayered fantasy, or where it adds to the story to have a scene, let’s say, in a wizard’s den where one has access to his plotting and planning, independent of the hero being there. Again, think of it as using three or four cameras in various locations, instead of being limited to one camera angle—the eye of the hero or heroine. OPV is also a way to delve deeply and quickly into the characters’ motivations, and bring out historic information.

More and more authors are using OPV, to great effect! A favorite of mine is Nancy Werlin’s Impossible. She exhibits masterful control over when and where she switches viewpoint, doing so only when it is crucial to the plot. Other examples are Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy and Marcus Zusaks’ The Book Thief.

For more information on this subject, check out Gwenda Bond’s thesis, Eye for a God’s Eye: The Bold Choice of the Omniscient Point of View in Fiction for Young Adults:

For another good post on OPV visit Justine Larbalestier’s blog:

Or this helpful post from Five Editors & You:

Have you ever tried to write in OPV? Do you see evidence that it’s coming back in fashion? Any OPV novels you would recommend? What's your favorite POV to write in?