Author Archives: Jace Killan

Showing through Point of View

peepIn my early writing I struggled with Point of View. I recently reread one of the first chapters I had written where I switched point of view seven times. I improved to the point where POV wasn’t my main fault, instead it was telling the story rather than showing it.

I’ve since learned that POV can be an extremely effective tool to help show the story. Allowing our characters to experience and react to the circumstances in which we place them, helps to endear the reader, reinforce the scene, and establish conflict.

Junic sat beside his friend facing the numerous rows of bottles and tins, the best the seven galaxies had to offer. His mouth watered. He hadn’t tasted liquor since the invasion of Gareth, four years earlier.

Hopefully in the few sentences above, the reader gets a glimpse at the premise of the story based on the prompt “two aliens walked into a bar.” 

In developing my main character, Junic, I assigned him a foreign sounding name to help with the suggestion that he isn’t from modern day USA. From his point of view we see that he is sitting next to a friend, and there are rows of bottles, perhaps in a cellar, maybe a bar, but then tins doesn’t quite work with that image so it adds to the foreignism of the scene.

Junic obviously knows what’s in the bottles and the scene isn’t foreign to him at all. I can use that to invite the reader to trust me as I create and show them a world.

The term seven galaxies might reinforces the alien setting, while adding an element to the world. I indicate here that there is a social structure, a system of which Junic is a part. I could let him react to that structure at some point, maybe identify his place in the caste system or have him react to authority. I can use adjectives to indicate his mood or elaborate on his thoughts. Such as the “blasted” seven galaxies or magnificent, or heathen, or doomed. Each could indicate more of the world and setting and any would give us further insight into our character.

“His mouth watered.” A human response, if Junic is human or humanlike, I really hadn’t thought that far ahead, however his response is relatable. Often with physical reactions like a tear, a yawn, a scratch of the head, and so on, a memory is provoked. The scene causes Junic’s mouth to water and he thinks of the last time he tasted what was in those bottles.

SecretIn the Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Mary Lennox (a proper British name) is introduced in a scene given from her point of view.

‘“Why did you come?” she said to the strange woman. “I will not let you stay. Send my Ayah to me.”’

From this short dialogue we learn a bit about Mary and her world. Adjectives should be representative of the point of view. The woman was strange to Mary, unknown. She wanted to see her Ayah. At this point I’m not sure if that is a person or a position. Either way, Mary seems to want Ayah, and by her demanding response to this woman gives the sense that Mary is or at least thinks she is in charge.

Later it reads

“There was something mysterious in the air that morning. Nothing was done in its regular order and several of the native servants seemed missing, while those whom Mary saw slunk or hurried about with ashy and scared faces. But no one would tell her anything and her Ayah did not come.”

I get the sense that tragedy has occurred, though I’m not sure yet what it is. By now in the story I can tell that I’m seeing the world from the eyes of young girl, and discovering the tragedy with her. Another adjective, “scared” sticks out to me. Children can perceive fear. She’s observing them, trying to figure out what’s going on by gauging their reactions. I gain a sense that the young girl is spoiled and depends greatly on her Ayah, that I suspect as being some sort of nanny. My opinion of Mary develops and adds to the conflict. Her attitude is reflected in the point of view, in her dialogue and in her actions.

hungerThe following is a piece of dialogue from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:

‘”You look beautiful,” says Prim in a hushed voice.

‘”And nothing like myself,” I say. I hug her, because I know these next few hours will be terrible for her. Her first reaping. She’s about as safe as you can get since she’s only entered once. I wouldn’t let her take out any tesserae. But she’s worried about me. That the unthinkable might happen.’

In just a few sentences I’m introduced to two characters, I gain a sense of their feelings, I am shown a glimpse into their society, and am invited into a world, foreign to me, but known to them.

Being in first person, I’m drawn to the mind and feelings of Katniss the main character. Be careful in first person to not be too revealing and telling.

Through dialogue I gather that Katniss is beautiful, but is out of her element from being prettied up. Maybe she’s a tomboy. I also sense that there is apprehension in the scene. The adjective hushed suggests a somberness to the ambiance. And a hug for comfort suggests something bad is about to happen.

I’m curious about the reaping. I know what it means in english, but have never heard it referred to as a repeated event, so it must be a part of their culture, perhaps a rite of passage. Reading this I’m not sure what tesserae is, but Katniss does. I don’t need to know what it is right this minute. In my earlier writing I would feel the need to explain a new term (tell) rather than let it be discovered as its mentioned in certain contexts and reinforced (show). I assume that the reaping is some custom of their system with negative consequences. Using these terms helps show me Katniss’ world.

Whatever story you’re reading, take note how the author uses point of view to invite you into the world, develop the setting, and endear the reader. And for some practice,  try your hand at the prompt, “two aliens walk into a bar.” Feel free to share it with us in the comments.


My friend said to get an LLC

19389749In my work, I’ve helped many people set up new business ventures. Proper entity structure is extremely important as it will have liability and tax implications. When discussing a new entity structure, I often hear, “My friend said to get an LLC.”

Regardless of the reasons we write, money will come if we’re good. As in any venture, those that make money need concern themselves with two things:  Liability and Taxes.

Someone whose interviews were used in the novel Memoirs of a Geisha sued the author for $10M. Another author sued Dan Brown for stealing his ideas and using them in the Da Vinci Code. Penguin Publishing sued a group of authors who failed to produce anticipated manuscripts even though they had cashed their advances. Liability can exist anywhere a contract exists.  And unfortunately, lawsuits seem to follow fame and fortune.

In the US, income taxes can claim more than 50% of an author’s earnings and in certain circumstances estate taxes can claim upwards to 50% of an author’s legacy when he/she dies. Taxes were discussed earlier this month here and here so I will only touch on them briefly.

Proper entity structuring can help with both liability protection and minimizing income taxes, and can be used extensively in good estate planning (though I won’t be discussing estate planning here).

There are a few different entity structures to consider. Each has pluses and minuses, its just a matter of finding what works best for your situation.

A sole proprietorship is the simplest of entities, it basically means that the company is you and you are the company. The work could be done under your name, or maybe a DBA (doing business as). 

According to the Small Business Association, a sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common structure chosen to start a business. It is an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual with no distinction between the business and you, the owner. You are entitled to all profits and are responsible for all your business’s debts, losses and liabilities.

From a liability standpoint there is no protective veil between your business and your personal assets in a sole prop, meaning, if you are found liable in your business, anything you own personally can be used to satisfy that liability.

From a tax standpoint, any earnings of a sole prop are typically recognized as earned income so they are taxed at the standard income tax rates and typically require some self-employment tax as well.

A partnership is a business owned by two or more people. Often these have agreements dictating the cooperation of the partners and the shared liabilities.  I have seen businesses where a partner was held liable for the actions of another partner, however if the documents are structured appropriately, a veil can exist between the business and the individual partner. Taxes in a partnership are most often treated as they are in a sole prop.

There are a couple different types of corporations we will discuss here. A C Corporation is probably the most common. A clear veil exists between the company and the individual, though a lot of paperwork and documentation go into maintaining this veil. A downside for the C-Corp is the tax structure. A C-Corp’s earnings are taxed first at corporate income tax rates, then as the earnings are passed on to the company owners, they are taxed again at the individual level as dividends.

An S Corporation is a type of corporation designed to avoid the double taxation feature of a C-Corp. Earnings of the S-Corp are not taxed at the corporate level, instead passed on to the individual and recognized as either earned income or a combination of earned and ordinary income. An S-Corp structure may help minimize taxes when compared to a sole proprietorship or C corporation. A corporate veil exists between an S-Corp and the individual as long as proper accounting, governance, and documentation exist.

So what is an LLC? LLC stands for “limited liability company.” Each state (in the US) has its own laws regarding LLCs and how they ought to operate.

An LLC is designed to fortify the corporate veil between individual and business liabilities. The owners of an LLC are called Members, and those individuals that run the LLC business are called Managers. An LLC’s operating agreement usually limits the liabilities of the Members and the Managers, creating a shield to protect any of the individuals from being held personally liable for the company’s liabilities.

Of course in order to maintain this shield of protection, certain practices must be maintained like those discussed earlier this month here and here.

The beauty of the LLC and probably why your friend suggested to get one is that along with the liability protection, you can elect to be taxed as Sole Proprietorship, a Partnership, a C Corporation, or an S Corporation based on how the entity is established. 

In an interest of self preservation let me just add a final note. The information contained herein is for informational purposes and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. IRS CIRCULAR DISCLOSURE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication, unless expressly stated otherwise, was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related matter(s) addressed herein.

Editorial Comment:

The Fictorians are aware that many of our readers are not United States citizens, and consequently conduct their lives and businesses under statutes and regulations that are markedly different from those in the U.S.A. Most of our posters for this month are American, and the few who aren’t are Canadian, so the perspective in this month’s posts will of necessity be somewhat limited. Nonetheless, if you are one of those readers from somewhere other than North America, as you read of issues in our laws and practices, perhaps they will make you mindful of things you should be aware of in your situations as well.

Writing in Color

Black and White Rainbow

My writing started to get good when I learned how to write in color.

As children we are concrete thinkers; we see the world in absolutes, black and white, good and bad, likes and dislikes, right and wrong. As we grow and develop we begin to comprehend abstract thought, such as, just because Jonny does something bad doesn’t necessarily mean he is bad, and just because Sally does something good doesn’t necessarily mean she is good. Abstract thought leads us into a new world of judgment and emotion. As we try to understand our existence and reality, abstract thought helps us wrap our head around those complicated, even contradictory themes life presents.

My early writing portrayed much of this concrete thought. My protagonists were all good, and my antagonists were all bad, right and wrong, loved and hated. I soon discovered that my stories lacked conflict. Oh, there was plenty of opposition between the good guys and the bad guys, but real life conflict isn’t so easily defined and identified. My writing in black and white created predictable plots, boring dialogue, and failed to solicit an emotional response. In short, my writing was forgettable.

As I struggled to understand why, I thought back to all of the stories (written and film) that I remembered from my youth. Stories like “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs and “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury caused my mind to stretch, mainly because there wasn’t a happy ending, a resolution that I could forget. My mind continued to replay the plots, over and over, thinking of alternative actions, alternative endings in search of resolution.

Movies like “Old Yeller” and “Against a Crooked Sky” provoked me the same way. I found myself days, weeks, even months after watching the films, trying to rewrite the plots for better, happier endings. If only the protagonist could go back in time and do it right, then the ending could be different.

A couple of years ago, I attended a workshop where I read a short story I had written.  I was complimented for my fine piece of horror. Shocked at the assertion, I argued that my story couldn’t possibly be considered part of that genre. The instructor smiled and said, “You are definitely a horror writer.”

I decided to read some horror to prove her wrong, and sure enough, I am a horror writer. I enjoy reading it, and love to create it.

As a horror writer, I take the reader to an uncomfortable place. Instead of forgettable, happy-ever-after-type endings, my writing allows me to dwell in the horrific, the sad, the hard, the pain, and the unthinkable. Through that experience, I invite the reader to return to the story in search of a better resolution.

Character development is a crucial part of unforgettable writing for it is their choices that often create the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves. Nathan Barra wrote something to the effect that a good character is someone that you’d like to sit down and have a drink with but you’d also like to punch in the face. Great characters like Javert and Gollum won’t fit into good and bad molds, they do good things for the wrong reasons, and bad things for righteous reasons, and do terrible things for terrible reasons. To err is human. I love experiencing such characters and their choices as they create worlds of desperation, loneliness, bitterness, and fear allowing me as the reader to feel, empathize, pity, and relate, all along searching for resolution whether it comes or not.

For a story to truly be unforgettable, it needs to be written in color.




Vision & Work

clear sight, hard workIn 1997, during some volunteer work in Argentina, my supervisor, Carlos Monroy taught me a truth that has had a profound effect on who I am today.

He drew on a chalkboard a graph similar to the one below, though I’ve translated the words from Spanish.

The graph is made up by two components, Vision along the y-axis and Work along the x-axis.

  • Vision is measured by one’s ability to plan, prepare, visualize, envision, project, dream, and anticipate possibilities.
  • Work is measured by the amount of effort put forward, dedicated or otherwise spent.

Within the graph, Monroy drew four quadrants with the (translated) titles below.

Vision Work

  1. Victim: Low Vision, Low Work. A Victim is someone who feels that the world is constantly dumping on them. Often they are waiting for their lives to get better though they generally feel that any good or bad that may happen to them is outside their control. For example a victim will blame those around him or her for how he or she feels. Victims aren’t very fun to be around. Friends and family that try and support, encourage positive results often find their advice disregarded or twisted to the point where they are seen as part of the victim’s problems.
  2. Dreamer:High Vision, Low Work. A Dreamer is someone who usually exhibits positive energy (though they may slip into victim mode when their plans fall through). They frequently speak of the possibilities that await them and often have many plans for greatness in the works. Dreamers are full of lofty, grandiose ideas.  However, they tend to lack the ability to finish goals that they have set. They struggle with meeting deadlines or objectives. Many of the lofty goals lack the careful planned-out structure of getting from point A to point B, and when those deadlines pass, the dreamer typically lapses into victim mode, blaming people and events around them for impeding their success. While vision is a crucial element of success, without work, the world will never know of the dreamer’s existence.
  3. Laborer: Low Vision, High Work. The laborer is a great person to have on any team. Generally, they know how to work and they don’t shy away from it. They put forth the effort. Laborers usually burn the candle at both ends, willing to dedicate time and energy to given tasks. Their lack of vision may create situations where efforts are misguided. They might get down the road a ways on a project before they realize that they’ve wasted time producing something different than expected or desired. Workers typically believe that their happiness is within their control and is directly tied to their efforts. They are self-reliant and very dependable.
  4. Leader: High Vision, High Work. When applying as much vision as the dreamer, with the ability and willingness to work as hard as the laborer, great things happen. These are the people that change the world. They know that their destiny isn’t left to chance, but is within their control. Their happiness is not based on anyone else’s actions. Leaders know how to inspire the masses by sharing their vision and then empower the same by actually following through with the goals they’ve set. Through ample vision, Leaders recognize and harvest the talents of those around them and through example, work to accomplish dreams.

Monroy told a story of a man who raced a team of horses pulling a cart.  After winning event after event the man and his horses gained a bit of notoriety. He was asked what he fed his horses to help them perform so well.  The man replied that he fed them grains like everyone else.  He was then asked if the horses had been bred from a special lineage.  He smiled and shook his head. “The secret,” he said, “is to start the team at exactly the same time.”  When the team was in step with one another, they didn’t fight each other’s efforts, the load was shared and they travelled faster.  A leader has the ability to inspire each individual to contribute and function in his or her unique capacity for the betterment of the team, in step with the other members, a concept known as synergy.

The first two quadrants, Victims and Dreamers, are selfish in nature.  The vision of Victims and Dreamers is fogged by their motivation of fear and greed.  They are incapable of seeing anything greater than themselves, primarily because there is much effort required in selfless causes. The effort to succeed is not seen inside them so they fail.

The second two quadrants are opposite.  Leaders and Laborers by nature are not selfish.  They put their heart and soul into greater causes than self but they see that success comes from within them.

What does this have to do with writing? Hopefully we are not Victims, blaming our inadequate word count on events and people around us. Hopefully we are not Dreamers, expecting to write many novels in our lifetime, but not writing anything today. Even though they are great, hopefully we are not Laborers, generating significant word counts, but failing to say anything.

Let us be Leaders in writing. Let us use our talents and craft to inspire the masses. Let us change the world.