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Lesson Plans by Cole Parker


Nigel Gordon

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Part one of this has just gone up and it is well worth reading. It will be interesting to see where this story is going to go, but knowing Cole it will probably not be where one expects. What one can be sure of is that wherever it goes it is going to be worth following.

Cole is a remarkable writer in that he is able to give you a strong feel for a place without having to provide a lot of description. I definitely have strong impression of the church described here, and I am quite certain it is a place I would rather not visit.

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You might be surprised by how many people in Mississippi are Swedish by ancestry.

In my fathers home county, the 3rd most common surname was Yelverton and it sported the oldest Lutheran church in the state.

That's what they got for buying their maps from New York street vendors- they thought they were going to Minnesota! :laugh:

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Cole has taught me something this year...don't jump to conclusions. Now I read his stories more carefully and perhaps I should keep a score sheet of salient points. Hmm, blue eyes on that character, how with that impact....see what I mean? I could go nuts trying to figure out how the story will run when I should just let it go and wait for the ending to slam me upside the head. Thanks for the concussion, Cole.

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I still have reservations about the shifting POV, and I had to go back to the first group of chapters to keep straight who was who when the second batch started. But I note that not only does the character with the POV shift, but also the type of POV shifts. Neil's version is given in first person, whereas Tory's version is given in third person. Once I figured that out it made things a bit easier to follow.

There is much charm in the story, and the reader also feels great sadness for these kids having to grow up in such a stifling and restrictive environment. It seems like they are going to muddle through.

I found myself wondering whether kissing would have been the first thing I would have picked to try at that age . . . I'm almost certain I would have picked something less "dangerous." But it makes for a great story.

Meanwhile, the story also illustrates the foolishness and ultimate ineffectiveness of trying to force religion down someone else's throat. Someone who is truly in Christ shares that by how they live and serve others, not by browbeating others with their doctrines. People like the fathers in this story are no better than the legalistic Pharisees that Jesus condemned. I don't blame the boys for rejecting that.

R

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I'm surprised it wasn't noticed immediately that the chapters alternated: third person, written in limited POV, only Tory's, and first person, giving Neil's POV directly to the reader. I didn't think there would be any question about how that worked. But that's why I try things, to see how they work and are received. I had several reasons for presenting this story this way, and think, basically, it worked.

I have trouble writing in third person limited. I've been told it's the favorite style of most writers. I agree that third person is, but I'm not sure I agree with the limited part. I know it's much easier to describe everyone's feelings if you use universal POV instead. Supposedly, that's confusing, but I don't think so if you do a satisfactory job of saying who's thinking what.

C

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Third person universal or omniscient puts the storyteller (the writer) most clearly in charge and the reader knows that he will be finding out all that the writer wants him to find out. Third person limited leaves the reader uneasy, for he will learn only what the narrative character learns, and there is always more going on that will be out of reach of the reader except by conjecture. This voice does have the advantage of allowing for more in the way of twists and turns, in the form of revelations and discoveries by the narrative character as the story goes along. Telling the story in first person also offers this advantage, though it has the limitation for the writer that a distinct personality must be assumed and that character's voice must be absolutely consistent.

I prefer third person omniscient because it allows for asides to the reader and the introduction of information that the characters may not know. I think it provides the reader with a fuller storyline.

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Guest Dabeagle

I'm surprised it wasn't noticed immediately that the chapters alternated: third person, written in limited POV, only Tory's, and first person, giving Neil's POV directly to the reader. I didn't think there would be any question about how that worked. But that's why I try things, to see how they work and are received. I had several reasons for presenting this story this way, and think, basically, it worked.

I have trouble writing in third person limited. I've been told it's the favorite style of most writers. I agree that third person is, but I'm not sure I agree with the limited part. I know it's much easier to describe everyone's feelings if you use universal POV instead. Supposedly, that's confusing, but I don't think so if you do a satisfactory job of saying who's thinking what.

C

Cole, we know my issues with tense, don't we? This is why I knew something was off but couldn't put my finger on it until you said, ' I was wondering if the shift in tense would throw people off...' and I didn't pick up on it right away.

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I find that I most prefer a single viewpoint, whether it's coming from a first-person narrator or from the story-teller using a single-viewpoint third-person approach. I think it's probably because of identification with the viewpoint characters experience of the story world. We, the readers, find things unfolding in the same manner that the viewpoint character does, and that seems more comfortable.

Of course, there are enough exceptions to nearly swallow that rule. We may be marching along in a third-person limited world when the author tosses in a bit of information that the viewpoint character does NOT know (at least not yet). Now we are in suspense, wondering when and how that piece of information will have an effect.

And then there are the anthology-type stories that were Arthur Hailey's specialty, where a number of different story lines move ahead in parallel and occasionally meet. Even then, however, as best I can remember there would be a principal viewpoint character in each setting.

What disappoints me most with simultaneous multi-viewpoint narrative is that it takes away part of the reader experience that I value and replaces it with something I find less valuable. We don't have to guess or speculate what's going on in the characters' minds because we are told. Or the multi-viewpoint is used as a mechanism to dump blocks of exposition on the reader as each character introduces himself or reminisces. Unless something really surprising emerges from the viewpoint of one of the characters, I'm not sure what the benefit of it is. If there are two characters who are bashful and insecure young teenagers nervous about how they relate to each other, I'm not sure it adds much for each one to reveal this in the first person -- we already figured it out.

A couple of decades ago the American television program "Columbo" illustrated an aspect of what I'm talking about. Unlike the typical murder mystery, this show followed a very predictable format where the first 15 or so minutes of the program showed the setup for the crime and then showed the perpetrator committing the crime, using clever means to disguise whodunit and perhaps throw suspicion on someone else. We see the whole thing in detail -- nothing is hidden. Then the crime is discovered and Columbo is called in. The entire remainder of the show is devoted to us trying to figure out whether Columbo will twig to the true facts and identify the actual murderer. In other words, will the clever steps the bad guy used to cover his tracks be sufficient to avoid discovery?

This format kept Columbo on the air for a number of seasons, but it's noteworthy that the format has not really caught on elsewhere. I think audiences generally prefer not to be told everything up front and then wait to see whether the characters themselves figure out what the audience already knows. I think audiences like to be doing some of that figuring out themselves as the story progresses.

So I guess I just prefer the non-Columbo experience.

R

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I find that I most prefer a single viewpoint, whether it's coming from a first-person narrator or from the story-teller using a single-viewpoint third-person approach. I think it's probably because of identification with the viewpoint characters experience of the story world. We, the readers, find things unfolding in the same manner that the viewpoint character does, and that seems more comfortable.

For every statement like this, there of course are arguments. This is what makes a writer work, deciding the best way to tell his story, accounting for the tastes and viewpoints and intellect of his audience. When I think, let the reader find things out for himself, I also think of everything that he misses. If a character has a reason for raising his brow when he hears something, sometimes that reason is important, or at least interesting, and if we glide over it because that character's POV isn't voiced, then the reader is missing something. So, what to do? Should we let a lot of stuff slip past, or should we flesh out the story with information that will make it a fuller and more satisfying read?

Of course, there are enough exceptions to nearly swallow that rule. We may be marching along in a third-person limited world when the author tosses in a bit of information that the viewpoint character does NOT know (at least not yet). Now we are in suspense, wondering when and how that piece of information will have an effect.

That trick does have great effect. Foreshadowing is an artform, I believe. And don't you hate it when they do that and then it comes to nothing later on?

And then there are the anthology-type stories that were Arthur Hailey's specialty, where a number of different story lines move ahead in parallel and occasionally meet. Even then, however, as best I can remember there would be a principal viewpoint character in each setting.

There was a principal character, certainly. I don't remember if he was writing in universal or limited voice.

What disappoints me most with simultaneous multi-viewpoint narrative is that it takes away part of the reader experience that I value and replaces it with something I find less valuable. We don't have to guess or speculate what's going on in the characters' minds because we are told. Or the multi-viewpoint is used as a mechanism to dump blocks of exposition on the reader as each character introduces himself or reminisces. Unless something really surprising emerges from the viewpoint of one of the characters, I'm not sure what the benefit of it is. If there are two characters who are bashful and insecure young teenagers nervous about how they relate to each other, I'm not sure it adds much for each one to reveal this in the first person -- we already figured it out.

I suppose this to some degree depends on the talent of the writer. If we learn what's going on in the characters' minds, we're getting character development. If we don't know, then perhaps later we'll never know, and certainly won't know what they were thinking at that time. Is knowing important to the story? This is where the skill comes in. If it isn't important, if it's merely filler to get word count up, then it shouldn't be there. It's amazing to me how many published writers seem to fill their pages with so much tripe that doesn't forward the story at all. I always wonder if they are being paid by the word.

A couple of decades ago the American television program "Columbo" illustrated an aspect of what I'm talking about. Unless the typical murder mystery, this show followed a very predictable format where the first 15 or so minutes of the program showed the setup for the crime and then showed the perpetrator committing the crime, using clever means to disguise whodunit and perhaps throw suspicion on someone else. We see the whole thing in detail -- nothing is hidden. Then the crime is discovered and Columbo is called in. The entire remainder of the show is devoted to us trying to figure out whether Columbo will twig to the true facts and identify the actual murderer. In other words, will the clever steps the bad guy used to cover his tracks be sufficient to avoid discovery?

This format kept Columbo on the air for a number of seasons, but it's noteworthy that the format has not really caught on elsewhere. I think audiences generally prefer not to be told everything up front and then wait to see whether the characters themselves figure out what the audience already knows. I think audiences like to be doing some of that figuring out themselves as the story progresses.

So I guess I just prefer the non-Columbo experience.

Not everyone can figure everything out as well as others. And you certainly can't read characters' minds. But you're right, many authors write in a way that you need to be actively trying to figure every detail out for yourself and the story line tends toward the cryptic. PD James comes to mind, and even Sue Grafton. As a result, I don't find those authors as good a read as more straightforward ones. C

R

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As one of Cole's editors, I try to make sure where the reader is geographically and within the story. The changing point of views of any story is a reader's and writers's challenge, but Cole's writing is good enough to keep the reader quickly apprised of whose point of view is being represented -- quickly being the operative word. I've seen other stories -- not his -- that are confusing as they change points of view.

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A pox on all writers, I say. They are nothing but trouble for hardworking cleaning crews. Only books without anything scribbled in them are good grammatically, in regard to points of view, and spelling. Admittedly though, they are boring as hell.

Most usually I apologize to authors for pointing out problem areas, assuming, for the most par,t that I'm not reading things correctly...it sounds as if not all proofers or editors are that 'nice'. (Not that I'm nice)

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