Friday, September 17, 2010

Making Choices

(I'm just realizing my post titles suck. Maybe I need to find a formula and go with it. Song titles seem fun, but my musical library may not be up to the task. Maybe I could go with book titles, or book quotes?)

I haven't posted much this week, even though I've had lots of free time. (Work has awesomely given me bereavement time for my ex-husband.)  However, today I am moved to write about writing choices. I have to admit, it was the present tense thing that started it. But it also goes to first person, second person, third person, etc.

I'm not a huge fan of first person. I can read it, and I don't hate it, but too often I think that writers pick it because it's easier for them. When I decided to write Troll Wife in first person, I sat down and thought about why. Was there a compelling reason for this story to be told in first person? Was there a compelling reason for it to be told in third person? Yes to the first, no to the second. Troll Wife is a solitary character, and misunderstood by her society. I also have a theme in my book about how outsiders view society. To show how Troll Wife feels and what she thinks, it had to be first person. It also gives a good platform to compare and contrast how Oubliette feels about society vs how Troll Wife does.

Now, present tense. I admit I hate it. I won't read it, except as an experiment to see if I still hate it. Nathan Bransford had a link to an article, which linked to an article about the upswing in the use of present tense. Philip Hensher is a former Booker prize judge and he thinks that present tense is being used to make writing sound more vivid.

The article is really good and doesn't strike me as knee jerk at all. I do think there are very few uses for present tense in a story. But I think you (as the writer) should be able to state what those reasons are. Does the character die before the story ends? That's a valid reason, in my world. A super popular book was written in present tense, so it must be good? Doesn't cut it for me.

If the reason is basically "peer pressure" then I think you need to review your reasons. Do you really want to write a book that's major trait is that you gave in to peer pressure?

I think it's not enough for writers to think about character, plot and themes. I think that tense and viewpoint also need to be made as conscious decisions, not just "it feels right". Figure out why it feels right. That will help you grow as a writer and make better choices. In my not so humble opinion.


  1. Hi Suzi,

    I'm right there with you on the not caring for present tense attitude. :) It usually feels like an affectation to me - something that the writer did to make their work *seem* more important than it is. I think you hit the nail on the head with your point that writers need to make sure that whatever they do - from character/plot/themes to POV/tense/rule-breaking should be done deliberately and consciously. Great post!

    And thanks for having my blog on your blogroll - I'm honored. :)

  2. Hi Jamie,

    Thank you for the compliment :) And I really enjoy your blog.


Thank you for posting a comment! I know that sounds a little needy, and maybe it is. I mean, I don't need comment validation to know that I exist, right? But I like to know that someone else (maybe you?) has read what I wrote and felt moved enough to reply. So, thank you.