Friday, April 15, 2011

Is Something Missing?

© Marilyn Meredith 2011 all rights reserved

Lately, I’ve been reading books I’ve been sent to review and I’ve noticed some problems.

One of the biggies is with the point-of-view. In a romance, the head-hopping almost made me dizzy. I know that romance writers do a lot more changing of viewpoint in a scene than any other writers—but I wonder if they realize how disconcerting it is to the reader. Any story, no matter the genre, is stronger if the POV stays with the person who has the most at risk in a scene.

Another problem I’ve been noticing is characters that have very little description or even a descriptive tag for me to be able to keep track of who is who. I don’t need to know every little detail about how someone looks, and I certainly don’t want it given to me all in one lump, but I would like to have some clues as to whether the person is young or old, tall or short, skinny, dumpy or downright fat, along with the color of the hair, eyes, and some identifying tags such as limping, polishing a bald spot, picking at his cuticles, a nervous twitch, flipping of long hair, running fingers through already messed hair (a good time to give the color), always checking cell-phones and on-and-on. That way, when the character’s name pops up, I know who he or she is.

What about the five senses?

Of course the seeing will be what the POV characters sees and notices all during whatever is happening. This includes color—another thing I’ve noticed that is often missing.

Feeling, in this case means when the POV character touches something and describing what it feels like: silky, rough, damp, wet, hot, cold, etc. Also feeling clammy air on the skin, hot air that feels like stepping into an oven, icy wind sneaking under clothing. Rain drops on his or her nose.

Hearing. What’s going on around the POV character that he or she hears? The church bells chiming the hour? The wind rushing through the eucalyptus trees? Stealthy footsteps behind him? Floorboards creaking? A train whistle off in the distance?

Smells. This gets left out a lot. In mysteries dead bodies smell. If it’s fresh kill not only blood but bowels and bladders release. If it’s a body that’s been dead for awhile, especially cooped up inside, it’s going to smell putrid. People have odors: perspiration, deodorant, strong perfume, shampoo in hair, talcum powder on babies and the elderly. Buildings have their own identifying odors. Hospitals, sometimes sterile smells, sometimes odors like bleach and Lysol. Funeral parlors and mortuaries, the sickening sweet smell of too many flowers. People’s homes have individual odors: cooking smells: Refried beans on the stove, tortillas, cabbage, chicken soup, etc.; dogs and cats, freshness from open windows, dirty diapers, garbage.

Taste. When you talk about a character eating food, be sure and include how it tastes: to hot, too cold, salty, sweet, and any way you can think of to describe it. You may make the reader hungry, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes a character might taste the salt on the air when near the ocean. I’m sure you get the idea.

And last, but certainly not least, I’ve read a couple of books with really good dialogue but there was no indication as to where the conversation was taking place. The reader always needs to know where the characters are—and that brings me to the sense of place. Location can be as important to the story as the characters.

Each of these topics could be expanded, but it gives you an idea of what I’ve noticed missing in too many of the books I’ve read lately.

About the author

F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of nearly thirty published novels. Her latest in the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, from Oak Tree Press, is Angel Lost. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter , Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Her blog is at

Angel Lost Blurb

As plans for her perfect wedding fill her mind, Officer Stacey Wilbur is sent out to trap a flasher, the new hire realizes Rocky Bluff P.D. is not the answer to his problems, Abel Navarro’s can’t concentrate on the job because of worry about his mother, Officer Gordon Butler has his usual upsets, the sudden appearance of an angel in the window of a furniture store captures everyone’s imagination and causes problems for RBPD, and then the worst possible happens—will Stacey and Doug’s wedding take place?


Anonymous said...

Super writing tips, Marilyn.

I agree with you about head-hopping, one POV per scene, please!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marilyn, excellent advice. I'm with you on all of these topics! I love the cover of your new book, it is stunning! Thanks for joining us here today and come back soon. ;o)

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Someone just pointed out I have a typo, to where it should be too.

Head hopping drives me bonkers.

Thanks for having me here today.


K. M. Springsteen said...

As a reader, published writer of contemporary romance, and editor for two small romance publishers, I completely 100% agree with you.

WS Gager said...

Marilyn you are amazing! Short, succinct and oh so correct. I'm pretty good with POV because it's first person but I don't do enough of the others. Thanks for the wake up call. Need to add more senses and location. I hate large dumps of location so try to do small bits but don't do enough.
Thank you and thank you Aaron for hosting.
W.S. Gager

Marta Stephens said...

Welcome back, Marilyn! As usual, you're right on the mark!

Thanks so much for sharing.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hi, K. M. thank you for agreeing about POV.

Wendy, I'm so glad you stopped by.

Marta, thank you for having me again. This is one of my favorite blogs.


Barbara M. Hodges said...

Thanks Marilyn, it's always good to be reminded.

Marja said...

Marilyn, Sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in the story that we forget the reader doesn't know what we know, this is what's in our mind. This is a great reminder. Thanks!