Today we’re going to re-cap the basic craft topics. Some of these you already know, and this just a reminder.
Some of these may be new ideas to you.
The final authority on craft is your favorite author. Look at these subjects and see how your favorite writers handle them. If you like the way they deal with this type of problem then copy them.
You don’t want to copy their actual words, but copying the style choices of the virtuosos is a long established tradition of learning to write––or learning just about anything.
Point of View, usually known as POV.
Let’s begin by conjugating the verb ‘to love.’
First person: amo. First person: amamus
Second Person: amas Second Person: amatis
Third Person: amat Third Person: amant.
Or in English
First person: I love. First person: We love
Second Person: You love Second Person: You Love
Third Person: He/She loves. Third Person: They love.
Hence the most frequently-used POVs:
First Person POV: I walked into a bar…
Very simple. This POV (usually) gives the effect that narrator is the main character in the story, and the illusion that the author and the narrator are the same person. This POV gives a straightforward, commanding and confident narrative. It’s as if the author is saying: “These things actually happened to me, so I know whereof I speak…”
Ironically First Person can be great for the unreliable narrator.
Third Person Limited POV: She walked into a bar…
Similar to first person POV. The story is revealed through the thoughts of only one character. The narrator of the story is no longer a character in the story and, in fiction––as Elmore Leonard suggests––should strive to be invisible, or at least to make only minimal authorial intrusions.
At first sight this might seem to create distance between the reader and the main character, but in fact third person can be extremely intimate, and is sometimes even known as ‘third-person-intimate.’
Alternating Point of View:
The story is revealed through the thoughts of several characters in the story, with the point of view usually shifting with chapter breaks. A good example is Eleanor and Park in which the narrative is revealed in alternating chapters between the eponymous characters.
In spite of being called ‘alternating’ the technique can use multiple voices as in George RR Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire.’
Less frequently used these days:
Third Person Omniscient: He thought he was being reasonable. She thought otherwise…
In omniscient, the story is revealed through the thoughts of several characters in the story, with the point of view shifting within chapters, and even within paragraphs. Great for war stories, as the reader can be with the attacking army one moment, and the defenders the next…
Tolstoy was the master of omniscient (War and Peace), and used a kind of Grand Narrator who guides the reader from the thoughts of one character to the next. Tolstoy’s voice has been described as ‘almost like the voice of god himself.’
Grand narrators usually have a personality, such as Tolstoy’s which seems to have low expectations of humanity.
Or the narrator of the Lemony Snicket/ Series of Unfortunate Events series who seems to be dyspeptic.
Omniscient tends to make for long books.
Second Person or Epistolatory: This is really first person, but with the narrative directed towards a specific character who may or may not be in the story, hence the use of second person.
Often these narratives take the form of a letter, hence Epistolatory.
You’re probably going to use present: “The past, the present, and the future walk into a bar…” or simple past: “The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar…”
Whether you choose present or past stick with it. Nothing spoils the effects you’re working so hard to achieve than slipping tenses.
You can shift tenses where it makes sense (When we were kids my brother was smaller than me, now he’s six inches taller…), but mostly try not to shift tenses unless you absolutely have to.
You’ll probably need past perfect now and again: the picture had been hanging above the bar, but now it was in the restroom.
Try to avoid progressive tenses: present progressive: I am walking into a bar…; past progressive: I was walking into a bar…; future progressive: I will be walking into a bar…:
Sometimes they sound right, but mostly they sound …kind of…tentative. If you need one then use it, otherwise tighten them up into simple present and past verbs.
Try to avoid using the participle (…ing verbs): “Walking into the bar Jane noticed John slumped over the counter…”
Sometimes nothing else sounds quite right…but not often.
Most of what you write creatively will be sense impressions, but sense verbs themselves can create a kind of barrier between the reader and the characters. This is authorial intrusion of the kind Elmore Leonard talks about.
If we have a narrative where Jane is the main character, and we get a line: Jane saw John walk into a bar…, then the words ‘Jane saw’ are are at best redundant, and at worst an authorial intrusion. If Jane is the main character then she is the only character in the book who can actually ‘see’ anything. Other characters can appear to ‘see’ John, or more likely they can watch him, but they can’t see him.
Finally it’s about active and passive writing. In ‘Jane saw John walk into a bar’ John is the active character.
It would be better to write: John walked into a bar.
‘Jane heard John order a beer’ becomes ‘John ordered a beer.’
‘Jane was afraid John would get drunk’ becomes ‘The slob was probably going to get drunk again…’
Just say no. You know they’re wrong.
It’s difficult to write without them, but try to avoid double adjectives, and especially avoid using more than one instance of a double adjective in one paragraph.
Use every opportunity for a paragraph break. Makes the page look more inviting to the reader.
Indent your paragraphs, it really helps with clarity, especially in dialogue sequences.
Summary to scene.
Flashback: an embedded scene showing action that occurred before the main action of the story. Make sure the reader will know when you’re going into––and out of––flashbacks.
Backstory: a summary rather than a scene.
Just be aware of transitions. You probably should avoid too many transitions in a piece. You shouldn’t jump back and forth between scene and summary, or the present and the past.
Okay, that’s enough craft. Now for some Micro Fiction.