Fiction, Novel, Writing

How am I going to tell this story?

povTwo of the decisions a writer has to make are which point of view and tense to use in telling their story. I’ve written short stories in third-person past tense, first past, first present, first past, and once in second present. I’ve written two novels in third-person past and one in first present. What? No third-person present or second-person past stories? Hmmm …

Anyway, I’ve begun work on my next novel, and though I love editing to refine syntax and word choice, I can’t say the same about revision. I love the result, of course, just not the process. So, I’d like to settle on point of view and tense before I write any more, to avoid the chore of changing those two elements in a completed book.

I’ve experimented with a few sentences, adapted from one of the stories, to evaluate which produces the most compelling voice.

1. [First-person present tense]

  • The night touches me with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. I breathe it in and exhale pain and fear. I rise and enter the house, fumbling for the door lock. I smile at myself. In this place, I have no need to lock anyone out.

2. [Third-person present tense]

  • The night touches her with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. She breathes it in and exhales pain and fear. She rises and enters the house, fumbling for the door lock. She smiles at herself. In this place, she has no need to lock anyone out.

3. [First-person past tense]

  • The night touched me with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. I breathed it in and exhaled pain and fear. I rose and entered the house, fumbling for the door lock. I smiled at myself. In that place, she had no need to lock anyone out.

4. [Third-person past tense]

  • The night touched her with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. She breathed it in and exhaled pain and fear. She rose and entered the house, fumbling for the door lock. She smiled at herself. In that place, she had no need to lock anyone out.

Does one of those stand out to you? I’m favoring first present, but maybe that’s only because I used that for my last novel. But here’s another problem. This novel began life as two short stories, and those stories are told from two different characters’ viewpoints—one in present tense, the other in past.

I believe An Illusion of Trust worked told in first-person present tense, but I wrote it from only one viewpoint. I don’t know if that would hold true using first present for two characters throughout a whole novel. And both viewpoints do have to be in the same tense, right? Right? Shoot. Now, I’m confusing and confounding myself.

Any thoughts you’d like to share on choosing viewpoint and tense?


Characters, Doubt, Fiction, Novel, Voice, Writing

My decision to quit writing

Last week, I had lunch with two other writers and came home totally depressed. I don’t blame them. They didn’t do or say anything directly to bottom me out. As I listened to them speak, I realized I felt disconnected from their world. That night I told my husband I’d decided to quit writing. He told me to sleep on it.

For four days I didn’t write a word, not even a blog post. Instead, I read. And I played a lot of games on Facebook. At first, that felt weird. I was anxious. By the end of the second day, I relaxed. It felt right not to be writing. I could just walk away. Let it go.

On the third day, I realized I’d returned to the way I’d told stories for most of my life— in my head. I continued with the story I’d been trying to force into a novel for months. It flowed without effort. I enjoyed it. But not until late on the fourth day did I actually “hear” the story, and when I did, I knew why I’d quit working on the version for publication.

Let’s back up a bit.

I’d been writing that novel in my head for months before I sat down to begin entering it into a Word file, so I wrote the first few chapters quickly. I opened with a short chapter in third person past tense  and then moved to first person present tense (FPPT) for the next chapters because that was the way I “heard” the main character’s voice. I would use three short third-past chapters spaced throughout the book, but the bulk would be in first-present.

Then I read that most current novels for the adult market are written in third-past, and a first person novel is hard to write well, and present tense is tiring or boring or some other negative for the reader. I questioned my wisdom. I revised. I changed all the chapters to the “best” person and tense. I pushed on.

I wrote a couple of chapters more, and then got distracted by other projects. I wrote another chapter of the novel, and then I worked on something more pressing. I wrote a paragraph or two for the novel, and then I got this great idea and worked it into a short story. I wrote a few words on the novel, and then … and then … and then I gave up on it.

I stopped writing the novel. I stopped writing. Period.

Why? Well, it seems if you stop listening to your character’s voice, eventually that character stops speaking to you. She says, “You don’t like the way I’m telling this story? Fine. Tell it without me.”

Silly me.

Do over. Stop being a sheep. Revise the revision. Start listening again. Write.

Craft, Fiction, Novel, Writing

Who’s telling your story … and when?

In my last post, I said it was time to write my next book. Some of you may have noticed a post or two in the last few weeks indicating I’d already started that book. If you go back a few months, I talked about another book I’d started. Yeah, I’m having problems making a decision and sticking to it.

Last night, I opened one of the books and read the opening. I liked it, but something was off. I felt distanced. So, I closed the file and went to bed. Of course, I couldn’t fall asleep because I kept trying to figure out how to fix the problem. I finally drifted off considering a change in point of view.

Most of the time, I write in close third. That I recall, I’ve never written in second, but for certain pieces, I’ve used first person. This morning, I opened a copy of my new manuscript and started changing the POV to first. After a few paragraphs, I stopped to listen to the reader in my head and discovered she was proposing another change.

Without looking through dozens of files to tally them, I think I’m safe in saying I usually write in past tense, but my inner reader suggested present tense for this novel. I haven’t studied point of view and tense. I mean, I know the differences, but I’ve read only a little about how the various combinations affect the story—or rather the reading of the story.

Fortunately, I hadn’t written very far into the book, so I don’t have to change much. I’m enjoying the challenge, but will the changes work? I don’t know. The short opening scene will probably need to be moved further into the book. Maybe I’ll substitute a new one. I may have to break my vow and seek feedback from a writer friend or two at this early stage.

I hope you’ll share your wisdom on tense and point of view with me. I know I have writing books on the shelf that would help, but I also know if I open them, I’ll be distracted for days. So …

Discuss, please:  Do you have a favorite POV or tense to write in? If so, why do you favor it? Have you ever forced yourself to try a new tense or viewpoint? Is there a certain type story you think works best in first person present tense? Is there a type you’d hate to read in that POV and tense?