Did you know I originally wrote a different prologue for The Covenant Sacrifice, set in 1979? During revision and editing, I replaced it with the current prologue in the book, set in 1996.first prologue to The Covenant Sacrifice
But I like the original prologue, and I’m sharing it here as a prequel to the novel, which I’m billing as LGBTQ horror, cult horror, religious horror, and gay romance. Here it is…
I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for another. I’d love your comments. Feel free to share this post on social media. And you’re invited to subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. Keep it creepy, folks!
New LGBTQ horror/gay romance novel available now for purchase
Today’s the day! I just released my latest LGBTQ horror novel, The Covenant Sacrifice, into the world like the winged beast that haunts the cover!
I’m excited about and grateful for the journey it took me on as a writer and as a human being. The Covenant Sacrifice was a long time coming. Here’s the story—and my thoughts on the book.
Developing the idea for The Covenant Sacrifice
I first got the idea about a “dead cemetery”—one whose available plots are all filled and from which the dead return to abduct the living—back in 2008. It took me five years to fully develop many disparate scraps of ideas and reach the point where I could begin plotting. (Here’s my plotting spreadsheet from 2013.)
I had a positive character arc—a hero’s journey structure—already planned, so I needed to come up with a ghost of and old wound from the past for my protagonist, Jarod Huntingdon, to overcome. I chose a traumatic experience of homophobia that broke Jarod’s relationship with his childhood best friend, Scotty. Story circumstances would wedge Jarod between a rock and a hard place in resolving this festering issue at the climax of the tale.
And, I thought, what better way to raise the stakes for Jarod if I threatened his primary desire to start a family by endangering his identity, as well as people he loves? This situation would force him to make an impossible choice: a choice between giving up what he wants most in life in order to spare a loved one from a terrible, deadly fate.
Jarod’s character arc, then, would involve repairing a romance gone wrong. Not his relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly, but with another gay man. Yet, my work on the book stalled.
I was ecstatic when Obama took office in 2009 but because the political climate had changed for the better toward LGBTQs (I ain’t complaining, I assure you), making (I thought) Jarod’s struggle with his orientation and coming out less relevant. So, I back-burnered The Covenant Sacrifice for years—until Trump came to power. Relevancy returned. I resurrected the book and began working on it diligently again.
Drafting and editing The Covenant Sacrifice
In 2019, I made a draft available for beta reading and got feedback from readers and an editor. I incorporated all this, worked on the manuscript a few more years, and sent it off for developmental editing in 2022.
That led to a lot of work that I didn’t relish doing—rewriting and adding scenes. I thought all my revisions were complete but, in reality, they were only beginning. However, all that heavy lifting made for a better book. I upped the wordcount by 10,000 words to the final 81,600 (392 pages in trade paperback).
Readying the book for publication
Next came the nitty-gritty of line editing and copy editing. After I finished making my editor’s suggested changes, I went over the manuscript again (for about the twenty-fifth time, and I’m not exaggerating the number of drafts I ultimately produced).
I finally laid out the book in Adobe InDesign, using 12.5-point type—big enough for geezers like me to read. Fans over forty will appreciate this, I hope. I think the book looks beautiful. Let me knopw what you think in a comment below.
I thought I was done with the book. I wanted to be done with the book. Apparently not. Things I’d missed in countless manuscript printouts seemed to jump out at me. I corrected the errors in both the paperback source files and ePUB versions.
I ordered another proof, and found more freaking problems! I wanted to scream and tear my hair out.
Marketing and promotion are the least favorite aspects of my novel-writing process. But they’re essential if you want to sell books as an independent author–publisher. (I do, I do!)
I submitted the novel for book tours and social media promotion, wrote press releases (here, I made the The Bradford Era), and made a virtual whore and general nuisance of myself, posting links and sending emails everywhere I could think. I’m still beating the promotional bushes and will continue into the fall.
Now, it’s release day. I can take a little breather (but not much of one because I still have much left to do) to consider how far I’ve come with the book.
Horror and gay romance share the spotlight in The Covenant Sacrifice
In early reviews, some readers shared that they didn’t care for the romance in it. (When it’s clearly marketed as #LGBTQhorror and #GayRomance, I wonder why they would read it in the first place, but…)
In short, the romance in TCS isn’t a subplot, but rather a dual plot, along with the horror spine. That’s the way it turned out. The resolution of the horror plot depended on protagonist Jarod Huntingdon making his impossible choice and accepting himself as a gay man. It definitely upped the stakes for him to resolve the issue in order to find a chance at ultimate happiness.
There isn’t much hardcore horror in the book. It’s a bit tame according to current standards. (But things could get much worse in a sequel…).
And I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t exactly push the bounds of horror with this story or take new ground for the genre. But the subject matter was sentimental and the writing style nostalgic for me. Let me explain.
Written for sentimental reasons
Considering when I first got the idea for The Covenant Sacrifice—two years after I came out as gay—the book deals with a young man from a conservative Christian background who wants to start a family of his own. But he can’t connect with his girlfriend and finally discovers why.
This situation is decidedly biographical. But I think it will speak to many who have been in (or are still in) similar circumstances. I want to encourage LGBTQ readers to come out and remain true to themselves as unique human beings, loved and accepted by God.
I wrote this story to process my life change and memorialize where I’ve come from, with marrying a woman, divorcing amicably, and coming out. Although it’s way too late for me to start a family, I always wanted children. So I put much of myself into the development of Jarod Huntingdon and his struggle.
Written with a nostalgic style
At one point, when I was proofing the printed copy of the novel, it struck me that the POV, the voice, the narration I adopted in the book was different from what I’d written before (except for maybe Death Perception), and different from how I write today. It was like I was reading someone else’s work. (If any other writers have experienced this, please start a discussion with me in a comment.)
I was going for third-person limited POV, but at times I rose to a distant height that verges on omniscience. I’m still studying omniscient POV, so I hope what I accomplished in The Covenant Sacrifice works for readers.
In no way am I trying to brag here, but over the years, more than one reviewer has remarked that my writing reminds them of Stephen King’s (see the comments in Praise for The Covenant Sacrifice).
I don’t know whether everyone who reads the book would say this about my writing (I doubt it, truthfully), but I took it as an enormous compliment, and I do feel my writing style in The Covenant Sacrifice harks back to the horror fiction published in the 1970s and 80s.
This book, then, is my love letter to King and all the writers who were published during the first explosion of horror back in those days, when I fell in love with the genre. Some won’t like my book because it doesn’t push the envelope or accomplish anything especially new or daring in the horror universe.
But I like The Covenant Sacrifice for the simple things it is—spooky, romantic, sentimental, and nostalgic. I hope you do too.
If you’re interested, get the book
Okay, I’ve blathered long enough. If you want to know more about The Covenant Sacrifice, visit the book page and click the links beneath the cover image.
If you’re interested in LGBTQ horror, creature horror, supernatural horror, cult horror, folk horror, religious horror, occult horror—with an equal helping of gay romance—check out The Covenant Sacrifice. You can read a brief excerpt here.
Thank you much. I appreciate all my readers more than you know.
Could I ask one more favor? Scroll down and share this post on social media or email. And, while you’re at it, why not subscribe to my monthly email newsletter to stay abreast of future book news? Thanks again.
You’ve drafted a piece of dark fiction, but you’re not sure whether it’s ready for editing. Are the plot and structure as effective as they could be? Are your characters fully developed and believable, or do they come off as flat? Did you pick the best POV—and execute it correctly? What could you do to improve your story before you revise and polish? A skilled editor can answer these questions through manuscript evaluation.
What is manuscript evaluation?
Manuscript evaluation, or critique, is a high-level overview and comprehensive assessment of your work, whether it be a short story, novella, or novel.
After you’ve finished a draft, you naturally need to revise it but often don’t know how to approach such a formidable task. Manuscript evaluation by a qualified story editor provides a workable process toward “re-vision”—seeing with fresh eyes—what you’ve put on paper. It analyzes what is and isn’t working, and develops a plan to implement improvements.
Manuscript evaluation offers an educated opinion, in writing, about how your draft stacks up to published fiction standards. The editor evaluates and reports on such elements as structure, plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, description, setting, and more. Most importantly, a professional critique includes what you could do to sharpen these elements and make your story better.
Why and when should you request a manuscript evaluation?
The next step beyond story coaching (link coming soon), manuscript evaluation is an entry-level edit for when you’ve completed some actual writing.
You might seek critique and feedback when you’ve finished your first (or second or subsequent) draft. Or after you’ve submitted the work to beta readers and made your own preparatory revisions.
A note about beta reading: A seasoned story editor’s manuscript evaluation goes far beyond a beta read. Beta readers can give you feedback based on their personal experience as readers in your genre. But manuscript evaluation is a deepwater analysis from an editorial professional who can can envision how to develop your story’s full potential. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?
You could even opt for manuscript evaluation after you’ve self-published a book that’s received less than stellar reviews. Manuscript critique will assess what’s going on—or not going on that should be—with your manuscript. Editor feedback will suggest how to fix problems identified.
Although developmental editing is a story-level edit designed to reshape fiction early in the revision process, your manuscript may not be ready for it. Manuscript evaluation is an introductory step that identifies the structural strengths and weaknesses of your work. Based on the editor’s guidance, you get a second go at revising your dark fiction before submitting it for developmental editing.
Part of manuscript evaluation is determining whether further editing would benefit your work. As a developmental editor, I not only review and evaluate your manuscript but will let you know if I recommend further editing. (The next step in the process (X Spectrum) is most likely developmental editing.)
What an editor does during manuscript evaluation—and how long it takes
How much time a manuscript evaluation takes depends on the size of your manuscript. I can critique a short story in a week. Novellas in three to four weeks. Novels may take six to eight weeks.
Here are the fundamentals that I review and assess during manuscript evaluation:
Word count for your genre (dark fiction only)
Plot, story structure, and pacing
Conflict and tension
Characterization and character development
Point of view, narration, and narrative voice
Narrative consistency and continuity
Setting and description
I don’t do the following in manuscript evaluation:
Correct grammar, spelling, or word choice
Edit at the paragraph or sentence level
Fix dialogue problems
The result of manuscript evaluation: the editorial report
An editorial report (also called an editorial letter or memo) is what an editor returns after thoroughly reviewing a manuscript. The report provides the valuable feedback you’re looking for as a writer of dark fiction.
In my editorial reports, I begin with a general statement about your work, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Then I delve into specific critiques of the core narrative elements listed in the previous section. These assessments include advice about how to improve your story with actionable steps for revision, such as:
Evaluation of your story’s premise
Information you could cut—or add, if it’s missing
Whether your word count is appropriate for your particular dark fiction market
Ways to solidify story structure, reconstruct your plot, and avoid clichés
Recommendations on how to heighten conflict and tension
How you might fix instances of inconsistent pacing
Suggestions to deepen character development and make your story people more authentic
How to strengthen your chosen point of view, narration, and narrative voice
Any narrative inconsistencies
Better ways to describe characters and action grounded in your story setting
Tips to underscore your theme
The editorial report contains information and instruction that could lead you to make substantial changes to your manuscript. Toward this end, my guidance will help you develop a revision strategy that, if implemented, will improve your story.
Finally, the editorial report concludes with any suggestions for further editing, such as developmental editing.
Your job after manuscript evaluation
You may have questions after you’ve had time to read and digest my editorial report. If so, you’re welcome to email me back for any necessary clarification about my comments and suggestions. If you’d like to conference with me to receive further advice, I offer 50% off a thirty-minute video consultation (link coming soon).
If you submit an early draft, my editorial direction may prompt a significant rewrite. If you send a polished draft after several rounds of your own revision, my comments might focus instead on deepening character development or nuancing your story’s themes.
In either case, when you receive the editorial report, you may spend a few weeks incorporating my feedback or otherwise rewriting portions of your manuscript. Rest assured, this work will strengthen your story structure and improve its content, moving you closer to the possibility of publication.
How manuscript evaluation leads to developmental editing
If you’re still in the drafting stage and aren’t sure what level of editing you need, it can’t hurt to start with manuscript evaluation. Critique identifies big-picture story issues and suggests how to fix them. You then can do your own revision (a great exercise for developing writers) and submit the revised manuscript afterward for developmental editing.
When you follow the staged editorial process in the Fiction Editing Spectrum and begin with manuscript evaluation, you’ll save money in the long run when you move on to developmental editing; I provide a discount for both services.
I typically recommend you submit your dark fiction for manuscript evaluation first. By making your own changes based on my feedback, you’ll learn how to revise your own work. And your story will be more cohesive moving forward.
With developmental editing, I also provide an editorial report. However, the information and suggestions will be more in-depth and include inline comments. Since you will have addressed structural and other overarching issues during your revision following manuscript evaluation, I’ll be able to focus on finessing your story into something even more powerful and compelling.
Reedsy averages the cost of an editorial assessment at $0.0197 cents per word ($0.02). This means that, for an 80,000-word book, the average quote would be $1520.
My rate for manuscript evaluation is $2.95 per 250-word page, which comes out to $0.0118 per word. For more information about my editing rates, see Dark Fiction Editing Rates.
How you can start the process of manuscript evaluation
If you’re thinking about submitting your latest work (or a previously shelved manuscript) for evaluation, I’ll need you to do something important for me. (And, by the way, I’m not the only editor who may request what I’m about to ask you.)
Write me the back cover description for your book. This text of around 100 words lets me know what your story is about and what you intended to accomplish in writing it. I’ll use this summary as a basis to evaluate the whole manuscript.
Book descriptions communicate what your story’s about through three simple elements:
Who your main character is
Your character’s story problem and goal
The conflict arrayed against them (what’s at stake)
In describing what your story’s about, provide the premise without giving away any twists or the ending. These few sentences are what you’re promising to those who risk buying your work. I need this information so that I can evaluate whether your manuscript delivers on what you’ve promised.
How to write your book description
The protagonist is a character whose life is upended by a problem and who therefore pursues a goal to resolve that problem. During this process, they encounter conflict that threatens what’s most important to them—the stakes of the story.
Here’s my 94-word book description for Death Perception, a supernatural thriller:
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.
Let’s analyze this:
Who’s the protagonist?
Young Kennet Singleton is a crematory operator with a mediumistic ability.
What’s his problem and story goal?
He wants to escape the personal care home where he lives with his mother and get a place of his own. But his ability to discern the cause of death of those he cremates entangles him with murderers.
What’s at stake in the conflict?
In his desire to save the care home residents and avenge the murdered dead, Kennet must stay alive to expose the killers and bring them to justice.
It takes a little doing, but see if you can write a 100-word book description for your story, novella, or novel. Then you’ll be ready to contact me about manuscript evaluation.
If you’re looking for a high-level assessment of the narrative elements in a work of dark fiction, an analysis that will guide you into a more effective revision process, consider manuscript evaluation. Drop me a line about your project soon, and let’s explore how to make your work more publishable.
Good dark fiction isn’t just about story. Equally important are the clarity, readability, and style of your writing. After finishing a work of dark fiction, if you want to improve it, you need to concentrate on how you communicate your ideas. That’s where line editing comes in.
Can you do it all?
Examine how well your paragraphs and sentences fit together. Do they flow from one to the next? Do your words successfully evoke the tone you’re going for? Is your language precise and understandable, easy to read? Have you executed point of view consistently? Can you cut extraneous words and phrases? And catch those wrong words, overused words, junk words? Did you—?
Whew! Can you do all this—and a hundred other things to simplify and streamline your manuscript? If not, a line editor can.
What does line editing accomplish?
A line edit evaluates and enhances your writing style at the paragraph and sentence level. Line editors don’t scour your manuscript for mechanical errors like copy editors do. Rather, they focus on how you use language to tell your story.
Line editors analyze your writing line by line. They examine the building blocks of your story—chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences, clauses—to ensure these components work together.
During this stage, a line editor’s mission is to make your writing as clear as possible by looking at the content, style, tone, and consistency of your prose. Line editing is also called stylistic editing because it focuses specifically on your individual writing style.
The goal of a skilled line editor is to tighten your writing and make it sing.
What’s the difference between line editing and copy editing?
Line editors share certain attributes with copy editors: attention to detail and interest in how language works at the sentence level. But their tasks differ.
Although both line editors and copy editors work line by line, they look for different issues. Line editing focuses on your writing style; copy editing concentrates on the nitty-gritty of mechanics—spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation.
When you should hire a line editor
Line editing should take place after your story draft is complete. In fact, line editors prefer that you’ve done everything you can yourself and see no further way to improve your writing before you share it with them. (I’m one of them.)
If your manuscript has gone through developmental editing, line editing is the next step in the editing spectrum (link coming soon).
Tasks of a line editor
Line editors tackle many issues to make your manuscript better. Here are a few of them.
Restructure paragraphs and sentences to maximize comprehension, simplicity, and flow
Break up long paragraphs
Fix run-on sentences or incomplete sentences
Revise awkward sentences, split long sentences, streamline sentences with clauses and parentheticals
Catch misspellings, wrong words, double words, overused words
Flag POV errors and explain why and how they need to be rectified
Tighten dialogue and mend faulty attributions
What I typically do during line editing
During the course of a line edit, I may:
Point out inconsistencies in the story line
Flag scenes where the action is confusing or your meaning unclear
Query you in a manuscript comment about whether you’ve requested and received permission to include those song lyrics in your epigraph (you can’t use them for free, and if you use them without permission, you can be sued for copyright infringement)
Correct the spelling and capitalization of 7-Eleven and all trademarked names to protect you from legal action
Recast sentences that begin with There are and It is (no-nos, by the way)
Mark redundancies that repeat the same information in different ways
Indicate where tonal shifts occur
Eliminate confusing or unnecessary narrative digressions
Suggest changes you could make to improve pacing
Flag clichés and prompt you to use fresh phrasing
Vary sentence lengths
I also check for any discrepancies in your setting, plot, and character traits to ensure internal consistency. For example, if you wrote on page 29: “Derek scrubbed a hand over his blondcrewcut,” but on page 74 you wrote, “Derek tore at his long, brown hair,” I’ll bring it to your attention. Why?
Because readers hate such gaffes and will drop stars off their reviews of your book. As a writer striving for excellence, you don’t need that.
The cost of line editing
How much does third-party line editing cost?
Editing businesses usually advertise set per-word rates, sometimes with different prices based on turnaround time. On average, expect to pay $0.02–$0.04 per word (around $5.00–$10.00 per page).
The editing and proofreading service, Scribendi, lets you calculate the cost of editing based on your word count. (They lump line and copy editing together.) For example, an 80,000-word novel takes two weeks and costs $1602.86 (as of the date of this post). That comes out to $0.02 per word, or $5.01 per 250-word page. A 4000-word short story with one-week turnaround time costs $129.33 ($0.032 per word, $8.08 per page). With 24-hour turnaround, cost increases to $163.17 ($0.041 per word, $10.20 per page).
With Reedsy, line editing is lumped in with copy editing and costs about $0.02 per word, or $5.00 per page.
I line-edit for $0.02 per word, or $5.00 per page. If you contract for both line and copy editing or line, copy, and proofreading, I offer a discount. See Current dark fiction editing rates.
How we can work together
In addition to doing the edits, I will, if you want, talk through my edits and answer any questions you may have. See video consultation (link coming soon).
If you submit a clean, well-written manuscript, I may be able to do line editing in a single pass; but it will more likely involve two rounds between us. Editing, like writing, is an iterative process.
Need a line editor?
If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, I’m here to support your goals.
If you need any kind of editing for your dark fiction manuscript, including line editing, check out The Editing Spectrum (link coming soon) and Dark Fiction Editing. I have decades of experience and can help you improve your writing. Then drop me a line about your current project. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Developmental editing, also called substantive or content editing, focuses on improving big-picture narrative elements in your writing. This kind of editing occurs early in the writing process. For fiction, developmental editing considers these aspects:
Characters and characterization
Narration, point of view, and use of narrative modes
Plot and pace
Mood and tone
Style and voice
Examples of developmental editing
As a developmental editor, I give your manuscript a careful reading to evaluate the previously listed elements. Here are examples of the primary ones.
When I analyze the structure of your story, I look for, at minimum, a clear beginning, middle, and ending. For longer works (novelettes, novellas, and novels), I check for scaffolding such as three-act, hero’s journey, or eight-stage organization. (These are just a few; there are others.) Are all signposts in place and connecting material in proper proportion?
Plot and pacing
With plot, I check for a clear cause-and-effect chain from beginning to end, keeping an eye out for possible contrivances. Does the protagonist (and other important characters) have a clear story goal? Sub-goals?
While pursuing those goals, your main character must encounter meaningful conflict based on significant stakes. In your protagonist’s monumental effort to resolve conflict and attain their story goal, are the climax and resolution logical yet satisfying?
The pace between major plot events should vary yet steadily mount toward the conclusion.
Characters and characterization
Evaluating characters and characterization asks if the protagonist, antagonist, and secondary characters are well-drawn for their purpose. Are they believable and consistent, properly motivated to pursue their story goals through heightening conflict?
Does the main character learn and change through the course of the work, demonstrating their ability to resolve the conflict?
Narration, point of view, and narrative modes
Have you chosen the most effective narrator for your story (external or internal)? How about the most effective point of view for the narrator to relate the story events and action? I have an eagle eye for catching and correcting POV errors, mistakes that can distance readers from your story or prompt them to quit reading altogether.
Line editing more fully evaluates your use of narrative modes—dialogue, internalization (character thoughts and feelings), action, description, and exposition. But during developmental editing, I suggest how best to use these modes to narrate or dramatize particular passages.
Setting includes geographic location and time.
You should set your story in the only place it could happen.
Its sub-settings, such as your protagonist’s home or a dark alley where significant action takes place, should contribute to conflict by threatening your characters or constraining them from reaching their goals.
Time in setting refers to the time period during which your story events take place (past, present, future) as well as the time of each scene. To evaluate your story’s use of time, I ask questions such as:
Does your story adhere to the limitations of the time period in which it’s set?
Does your narrative progress along a defined timeline or, if told out of chronological order, are the time points for each scene clear and understandable?
Is time revealed at the beginning of each scene so that readers understand the progression of scenes or any skips in time?
The cost of developmental editing
How much does third-party developmental editing cost?
Editing businesses usually advertise set per-word rates, sometimes with different prices based on turnaround time. On average, expect to pay $0.02–$0.04 per word (around $5.00–$10.00 per page).
The editing and proofreading service, Scribendi, does not offer developmental editing, only line/copy editing.
With Reedsy, developmental editing for an 80,000-word novel costs about $0.0252 per word, or $6.30 per page.
The goal of developmental editing is to ensure your work is sound on a structural and storytelling level. As a developmental editor, I analyze the previous aspects of your story to identify missing elements or, if present, to determine whether they’re working.
A developmental edit may require you to restructure your manuscript. Usually, you will need to rewrite to address issues identified and resubmit for a second evaluation.
What I do as a developmental editor of dark fiction
When a writer of dark fiction sends me their manuscript for development editing, I make notes as I read carefully. I evaluate and comment on most of the above elements and suggest options and improvements. I return the commented manuscript (change-tracked Microsoft Word) with a cover email that discusses my findings and summarizes my recommendations.
As a developmental editor, I will evaluate, critique, guide, and help you shape your work—even if you’re still writing it. After you produce a strong story, I’m available to further refine your writing with line editing and copy editing. Each step will bring you closer to the possibility of publication.
Since reading Jordan Rosenfeld’s Writing the Intimate Character(Writer’s Digest Books, 2016), my eyes have been opened to recognize omniscient POV and its techniques. We’re seven for eight with omniscient novels for my MFA Readings in the Genre: The Haunted class. Of all the books I’ve read, Stephen King’s The Shining is my favorite execution of the external narrator. King manages to employ the best techniques of greater omniscience as well as close third, executing both perfectly.
With his first line, King establishes third-person POV with the filtered yet italicized thought of the protagonist/antagonist: “Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick” (3). More narrated interior monologue appears on page 6. The final paragraph of chapter one ends with summary and comment: “…he was glad Ullman didn’t offer to shake hands. There were hard feelings. All kinds of them” (14).
In chapter two, King brings Wendy’s POV on stage. Chapter three moves back to Jack’s. And four introduces five-year-old Danny. King represents a young but bright boy adequately without being literarily strangled by the constraints of internal close third.
Chapter five starts in Jack’s POV, then offers a paragraph of Danny’s on page 51, and reverts to Jack inside the Rexall drugstore. Here’s something that a writer can do in omniscient third but not in internal third: “Jack felt a wave of nearly desperate love for the boy. The emotion showed on his face as a stony grimness” (52, emphasis mine). King weaves inner monologue and flashback, follows with a paragraph of Danny’s POV on 64, then closes with Jack.
POV hops from Danny to Wendy and back in chapter eleven (114). Dick Hallorann shares a private moment with Danny, who pitches his powerful psychic fastball at Dick. The chapter closes in Dick’s POV (127).
Another touch unique to omniscient is: “Jack and Wendy… didn’t look down at Danny, who was staring” (133). If they weren’t looking, who noticed the boy staring? The omniscient external narrator. He/she sees what even the characters don’t or can’t.
The first paragraph of chapter thirteen presents the Torrance family portrait before things get rough:
The Torrance family stood together on the long front porch of the Overlook Hotel as if posing for a family portrait, Danny in the middle, zippered into last year’s fall jacket…, Wendy behind him with one hand on his shoulder, and Jack to his left, his own hand resting lightly on his son’s head. (143)
Can you picture this from the narrating global consciousness hovering before the front steps? I can. The writing is so simple, yet King is masterful at painting pictures and making characters come alive in readers’ minds.
On page 193 there’s a time jump to the future and back when Danny is stung by wasps: “Oh Danny… oh, your poor hand.!” / “Later, the doctor would count eleven separate stings. Now all they saw…” (emphasis mine).
Part 4 is introduced omnisciently with “Her hands grew slower and slower, and at the time her son was making the acquaintance of Room 217’s long-term resident, Wendy was asleep with her knitting on her lap” (325). An internal narrator cannot see another character on a different floor nor report any actions or perceptions while asleep. But it works with omniscient.
At the beginning of chapter twenty-seven King performs more sleight of hand: “She didn’t look up…, but if she had, she would have seen Danny…” (336).
POV switches from Jack to Wendy on 358–359 and back over the next few pages, then to Danny on 366. King references Shirley Jackson’s Hill House on page 414. And summarizes that autumn at the Overlook starting on 417.
Danny’s face is described externally at the bottom of 423, and Jack’s POV mentions his “sore-looking lips” (431)—both no-no’s in internal third.
I think I found a mistake (subject/verb agreement) on page 442: “There was three splotches of blood….”
The narrator takes a high-level view of the Overlook, telling its history over time, 447–448.
Dick Hallorann is introduced omnisciently in chapter forty-seven (457). When Dick is reeling from Danny’s psychic cry for help and swerving all over a Florida highway, the POV impressively head-hops in a lane-switch from Hallorann to the Pinto driver, 461–462.
The narrator forecasts the future here: “There would be little sleep for them that night…” Then shares Danny’s and Wendy’s thoughts from bed, finally moving outside: “The hotel creaked around them. Outside the snow had begun to spit down from a sky like lead” (482–483).
Omniscient can get away with filtering the perceptions of two (or more) characters at a time: “And they both heard the vicious, descending swing of the invisible club…” (496, emphasis mine). There’s a jump from Hallorann outside the hotel to Jack inside on 613.
The omniscience overhead camera swoops all over the place with the explosion of the hotel, 640–641.
If I’ve learned anything from this course, it’s that omniscient is a good choice for tales of hauntings, the spirit realm, psychic gifts, and tragic protagonists who perish before the book ends. The Shining was a good novel, one of King’s best, and I recommend it even if you don’t give a fig about external omniscient POV.
This post is part of class requirements for a “Readings in the Genre” (RIG) course I’m taking toward my MFA from Seton Hill University. This RIG is subtitled “The Haunted,” taught by Scott A. Johnson, MFA. This term, I’m expanding my knowledge and practice of POV, especially omniscient. So, as long as my assignments include books written in omniscient, I’ll blog about it here.
Richard Matheson’s 1971 novel, Hell House, is a nasty little haunted house story. It’s a harrowing, action-filled tale stuffed with debauchery and sex about “the Mt. Everest of haunted houses” (Matheson Hell House 17).
Like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Hell House is written in third person omniscient. Unlike Jackson’s book, which is limited third omniscient, focusing on protagonist Eleanor Vance, Matheson encompasses all the characters with third person omniscient.
The subjective omniscient narrator
The primary difference between omniscient and other POVs (first or close/intimate third) has to do with the narrator.
Every story has a narrator, but with first and close third, the narrator is one of the characters in the story. With omniscient, the “narrator is not a character within the story but is positioned as an all-knowing… external narrative voice that provides a ‘god-like’ or ‘birds eye view’ perspective of the events within the story” (Cabal How to Write in Third Person Omniscient PoV, emphasis mine).
An objective omniscient narrator reports only what characters do but never what they think or feel. A subjective omniscient narrator can report both what characters think and feel, as well as what they do. Matheson’s omniscient narrator is subjective; we get the thoughts and feelings of all the characters.
Reading to discover POV
How an author handles POV isn’t always readily apparent. Sometimes, you must read a few chapters to fully discover the approach and techniques the author is using.
In the opening scene of Hell House, Matheson’s first line could belong to several POVs: “It had been raining hard since five o’clock that morning” (9). The second sentence provides the first real POV clue: “Brontean weather, Dr. Barrett thought” (9). In omniscient, character thoughts are usually presented indirectly, with a tag. (“Filtering” is acceptable in omniscient and actually necessary from an external viewpoint.) But we can’t be certain of the POV until we read further.
By the end of the first page, Matheson reveals another hint: “[Barrett] was a tall, slightly overweight man in his middle fifties, his thinning blond hair unchanged in color…” (9). We know the author is writing in third person. However, this outsider’s description of the doctor indicates that the narrator is telling the story from an external perspective.
Another clue on page 12 tells us, “Barrett looked appalled.” A close-third character/internal narrator would not describe himself in these ways. After a few scenes, the writing confirms that Barrett’s actions, thoughts, and feelings are reported externally.
As we read through the chapter dated December 20, 1970, we find Florence Tanner introduced in third person (20). Edith Barrett is introduced next with third person that seems closer than the previous two characters’ POVs. Fischer follows with another third person POV (23). By now, we’re able to determine that Matheson’s use of POV is subjective third person omniscient, which he applies to multiple characters.
Techniques belonging to omniscient POV
Omniscient is confirmed on page 27 with a description of multiple character action: “All of them gazed at the hill-ringed valley lying ahead…” (emphasis mine). This is direct reporting from an external narrator. On 29: “The cold was numbing, a clammy chill that seemed to dew itself around their bones (emphasis mine).”
In the December 21 chapter, the scene headed “2:21 p.m.,” the internal thoughts of Fischer (43) and Barrett show up in the same scene (44). At this scene’s end, Edith reads a list of psychic phenomena observed in the house, and the narrator expresses her thoughts (46). Here, we have the POVs of three characters shared in the same scene. This can only be done with subjective omniscient.
“Head-hopping,” as it’s called in literary circles, continues in many scenes (81). (And, contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing wrong with head-hopping—if it’s done right.) Matheson pulls it off skillfully. He even enters three heads in the same short paragraph: “Barrett… had not been aware… Florence sat stricken… Edith felt a rush of pity for her” (228).
Florence tells Fischer “the secret of Hell House”: “Controlled, multiple haunting” (174). Perhaps this is why Matheson used controlled third person omniscient POV to tell this ghostly tale…
I’ll be looking for more contemporary novels to study omniscient POV. I’ve included a short list at the end of this post.
As I read Hell House, I was impressed with Matheson’s knowledge of parapsychology and Spiritualism. His mention and portrayal of mental and physical mediumship; the use of a cabinet (an enclosed space to keep light out and energy in); Florence’s devotion, beliefs, and practices; and Fischer’s description of his boyhood abilities all rang true to my studies.
Other practices Matheson accurately mentioned include: psychometry with Daniel Belasco’s ring (130), Florence’s funeral prayer (129), her mention of guides and spirit doctors (131–132), the renowned physical mediums Daniel Dunglas Home and Eusapia Palladino (136), physical phenomena such as ectoplasmic masking (162ff), the difference between mental and physical mediums, and, sadly, Florence’s channeling of Red Cloud (64ff).
Matheson’s research on Spiritualism and the afterlife in Hell House was probably a carryover from his 1978 novel, What Dreams May Come, which I recommend for a Spiritualist portrayal of “life on the other side.”
I just spent the past five days at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to get “F”ed. Or to start getting “F”ed. Let me explain…
Back in 2006, I completed SHU’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program to earn a Master of Arts in genre fiction writing. Death Perception (my fourth novel) was my thesis. SHU since upgraded the program to an Master of Fine Arts (a terminal degree), so I applied again last fall and was accepted. So I’m going back for the F.
The extra 27 credits will center on the teaching of creative writing and writing about popular fiction—something I want to do more of in the coming years. I’d also like to teach at the university level when I retire from technical writing.
The program consists of three week-long residencies, one in January and the other in June, graduating the following January. I’ll be working on another novel, tentatively titled Elder-Feral. My faculty mentor is Scott A. Johnson, author of Shy Grove: A Ghost Story and Cane River: A Ghost Story.