Jordan Taylor

On Writing: Know the Reason for Your Perspective

Posted by on Jul 22 2017

Point of view, perspective, tense—the building blocks of fiction and the first things you need to know. Before the setting, before how the story starts, the time of day, or the action taking place, the writer must know how the story is told.

First person or third person? (Or you may have another choice, but we’re going to pretend no one raised a hand on that.) Present tense or past tense? (See last comment.)

And how is this story shaped, even beyond those considerations? Third and close, third and distant? Third with the narrator possessing a personality and knowledge which no character within the story has? (Unless you’re writing during the 1800s, please don’t do this.)

Anyone who reads novels knows that third person, past tense, and first person, past tense, are the most common styles for longer fiction written in English.

She opened the door just as the milkman upended a jog on her porch.

I opened the door just as the milkman upended a jog on my porch.

These are clear, classic, powerful tools to communicate the written word to any audience. Have you ever tried to read a 90,000-word novel written in second person present tense?

You open the door just as the milkman upends a jog on your porch.

This is a common style for songwriting, sometimes poetry. You can also find writing like this in short Choose Your Own Adventure type stories aimed at young readers.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been running across more and more contemporary novels for adults and young adults being written in what might be considered “non-standard” styles and perspectives. Even ten years ago, it was tough to find many first person present tense novels. Now it’s all the vogue in YA especially, and creeping into other outlets as well. Once-ruling literary styles, such as omniscient narration, also seem to be cropping up where they shouldn’t. Then there are those books in which the style of narration defies simple classification.

Why?

Have we grown tired of third person narratives staying with one or two POVs for a whole novel while using that simpleton of times; past tense? Are we weary of books that are clearly written and considerately presented in as coherent and readable style as the author can make them?

I don’t think so. I believe readers are smarter than that. We don’t actually like it when authors write nonsensically for no particular reason when the story could have been told smoothly and enjoyably with much less effort to the reader and much more emotional impact, involvement, and satisfaction.

I recently read half a book, then returned it to Overdrive. This statement lacks weight without context, but suffice it to say, once I’m already half through a novel, I finish it. Except for this one.

It’s a historical novel about a young woman breaking horses for several ranchers in the early 1900s. Personal interest in certain aspects of the time and place kept me pushing on for as long as I did, even as it seemed the author was trying to shut me out. The book was written in third person, past tense. A good start. After that, everything broke down. Many characters have their own POV, at least for a few pages, though it’s almost never clear why they should, and the reader is often taken aside by the author for a history lesson in which “back then” is compared to “today”—meaning no character has a POV and God is talking to us about time travel.

The style is so bizarre throughout the book—often reading as nonfiction, then returning to some random character’s head—yet so consistent, it was obviously deliberately done. The reason it was done this way, however, is still baffling me.

When you set out to write your novel, or even your script, short, or poem, make sure you understand not only how you are telling this story, but why you’re doing it that way.

Is your novel third person, single POV, past tense? Then please go on about your business. You’re doing good work and there’s no reason you should be reading this.

If your novel is anything else, please take a moment to consider why, and more important than that, ask yourself if the “why” will be apparent to your reader without any explanation.

The Time Traveler’s Wife had to be written from duel perspectives. The story could not otherwise have been told.

Black Beauty had to come from the first person point of view of the horse to express what the author was struggling to say about the treatment of animals in Victorian England.

Les Misérables is a massive biographical work of dozens of fictional people and could not have been told without a look inside seemingly endless lives and heads.

The Book Thief is a first person account from an all-knowing narrator about people other than the narrator. But this is an integral part of the whole story and one reason the novel works. You could not have The Book Thief without its style.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with alternate styles in fiction.

Many of my own novels are slightly unusual. Inconceivable, in particular, with several first person narrators and both past and present tense depending on the narrator, is unconventional. But it also could not have been any other way. The style in which this novel is written is part of the story itself—essentially an extra setting or character—and, in fact, foreshadows the course of events to the conclusion.

Just like we need diverse books, we need diverse writing. If there’s a reason, a message, and purpose behind it.

Don’t write in present tense unless you have a good enough reason that you could convince a jury.

Don’t write in multiple points of view unless your story would be impossible to tell without it. Even then, ask yourself who and why.

Don’t write omniscient. Please. Since only one in a hundred modern writers seems able to pull this off properly and elegantly, it’s also best left to the 1800s.

Do keep things simple, clear, and advantageous to the reader enjoying your novel.

Do understand the style you’re going for and stick with it throughout your manuscript.

Do embrace clarity and the power of your story, your characters, and your own voice over using obscure or trendy styles in the hopes that you will stand out.

When you first set out to write or revise a novel, you can give your reader no greater gift than a moment of your own time.

Stop, think, understand both how and why you’re telling this particular story in this particular way.

Make sure that style is so clear and so important to the story the reader will also understand why it had to be that way. The best you can do is to leave your reader with an experience in which they never thought much, if any, about POV, tense, or any other nuts and bolts of your writing—everything came together and made too much sense to question.

It is in this way that even readers who do not care for present tense, or readers preferring a single narrator, can lose themselves in a present tense book and fall in love with two, three, or ten different POV characters.

As a reader, it’s certainly happened to me. And I’m looking forward to it happening again. Just make sure you mean it when you write it. If you’re not quite sure, remember there’s a reason third person and past tense aren’t going out of style anytime soon.

At the end of the day, keep it simple. We, the fiction readers, are here first for an emotional ride. If you give us that, you’ve done your job.

*Thank you Pixabay artists for the photos.*

Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show 2017

Posted by on Mar 12 2017

At the Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show this weekend with a friend!

Here are some events and canine highlights:

Arrive early for plenty of open seating. :)

Main features include confirmation showing, obedience and rally, and agility.


There are also demos all weekend, such as canine freestyle (dancing dogs) and herding dogs from Ewe-Topia.


Then there are just all those dogs to meet in between events….

Prize for the best tricks goes to the Belgian Tervuren, one of my own favorite breeds.

And the prize for the longest tail in dogdom must go to the Irish Wolfhound.

A Denali look-alike from his younger days! There were dozens of Shiba Inus at the show, a far cry from when I first brought my Shiba home eighteen years ago and they were still considered a rare breed.

Points to the Basenji Club of America for allowing in native African dogs and not dwarfing your gene pool like almost all other purebred dogs.

My favorite hound (maybe tied with the Basenji), the Saluki.

Leonbergers.

Old English Sheepdog.

German Shepherd Dog. (Thanks, Kerry!)

Dachshund (wire and mini).

Berger Picard (or Picardy Shepherd).

Glen of Imaal Terriers.

Tibetan Mastiff.

Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever.

And goodbye with this handsome English Shepherd-ish? I was shocked since English Shepherds are not recognized by the AKC and are very rare in the U.S. One of my WWI novels in progress is about an English Shepherd, so I have a vested interest in the breed and had to ask when I saw him. His mom said they weren’t positive since he was a rescue dog. Maybe just a Rough Collie/Border Collie cross, or similar, but he looks so like my fictitious ES, it was a treat to see him!

An Abundance of Snow

Posted by on Feb 06 2017

Everything around home has come to at least a half-standstill today as we are engulfed in over six inches of snow. And still falling.

Firefly and I did our typical walk to the beach this morning, but it didn’t look all that typical today.

Someone was so sad and suffering, she had to be carried most of the time.

Until she was told we were going home. That made everything better.


Thank you for your beauty, snow. Even if I wouldn’t mind you sharing yourself with others instead.

Release Day!

Posted by on Feb 04 2017

Eagle’s Shadow, co-written with Aleksandr Voinov and part of his Witches of London series, is now available in ebook! Paperback later this year.

Want the next book of the Witches of London series free? Just be one of the first three people to leave an HONEST review of Eagle’s Shadow on Amazon.com! Doesn’t matter how long or how short, just tell us what you think. Then let me know (email here on this site, or get in touch on Twitter) and I will personally send you the next book on Kindle the day it comes out!

Happy reading!

On Writing: You Are Using Too Many Words

Posted by on Feb 01 2017

It’s a fact. You are. I am. We are all using too many words when we write.

Why not? Watching word counts climb as we type encourages us. Meeting word goals fulfills us. Commercialism in the book market, notably on Amazon.com, proves to us that more words equals more money—which means we are doing better as authors by typing more words. Even grammar tricks us into throwing in an unnecessary “that” or “and” because it is correct to do so.

Human beings are in love with words. We are addicted to language. Just try going without it for twenty-four hours. No speaking, no listening, no writing, texting, or reading. Not even the logo on your coffee cup.

Unless we live in isolation, most of us would find a single day without any exposure to human language impossible. Even in isolation, many of our brains (though not all) are wired to think in words. So it seems only natural that we are hooked.

I adore finding tips and ideas for creative writers; be they in the form of a new writing book, an author’s blog, or simply advice from a friend.

If I could give back only one thought in return, whether you’re working on short stories, poems, screenplays, essays, a memoir, your first novel or your fiftieth, this would be it:

We Are All Using Too Many Words.

Ways to Help

By your third or fourth draft, take your manuscript aside for a quiet read. Don’t worry about fixing the grammar. Don’t worry about the jerky plot, or if you still haven’t slipped in a description of a central character who was introduced on page three. Allow yourself to read with an eye toward excess.

Do you need five adverbs on one page, or will a single really punchy one suffice? Better yet, how about none?

Do you need to reiterate that your protagonist has lavender eyes sixty-eight times in your novel, or will one introduction and two or three reminders work?

Without even cutting a scene, you will be amazed how quickly your manuscript loses weight.

Is being grammatically correct making your prose hard to read?

Can you lose a word and maintain clarity and flow without confusing the meaning? For example, if you are finding it necessary to use “that” five times in one paragraph, consider dropping some. Is it “correct”? Possibly not. Does it read clearly and communicate your intended message more fluidly to your reader? Probably.

Is that conversation on page twelve longer than it needs to be?

Unless things like “Good morning!” and “How’s it going?” are shaping who your characters are for your reader, or advancing your story, we don’t need them in dialogue. Instead, consider telling us “They met for coffee” and only start your dialogue once someone is saying something that we need to know.

Does your writing ever stray toward “stage and screen”?

I do this often and have been slapped on the wrist for it by editors. Unless you are writing for the stage or screen, we don’t need every move spelled out.

Example:

Annabelle rolled onto her right side, gasping when she saw the time on the digital clock. She threw back the sheet, scrambled from bed, and dashed into the bathroom, where she slammed the door and turned on the shower.

Could be:

Annabelle rolled over and gasped at sight of the digital clock. She sprang from bed and dashed into the bathroom.

Are you telling something that you have already implied?

Example:

Mark had been bringing Annabelle roses each Tuesday morning for the past year. And, each Tuesday morning, Annabelle was up with the sparrows, glancing out the window as she dressed and fixed her hair. She would race to the front door with her heart in her throat the moment she saw Mark turn into the driveway. She couldn’t wait for Mark to bring those flowers every Tuesday.

Apparently, the impulse to add that last sentence is a powerful force.

This one is a tragedy for more than just too many words. Throwing in that last line tells your readers that you don’t suppose them to be a particularly bright bunch, so you’re adding that little cherry on top to make sure they understand the situation. When, as a matter of fact, most readers of both fiction and nonfiction are so intelligent they will soon become fed up with endless repetitions of situations like the one above and find another book to read.

Show it. Imply it. Show it more. Then also spell it out end the scene.

Be Inspired

If you are a creative writer of any kind who is looking to trim flab from your manuscript, you can do no better than looking to poetry for inspiration in clean wordage. I recommend Billy Collins and Shel Silverstein, but many poets have a deep understanding of brevity which many other authors lack.

Also, if you are a novelist, try reading a couple of screenplays. Note how much is shown to the reader while the words remain so sparse we see mostly white space.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain

So go through that draft. Cut words like “very”, “suddenly”, “overall”, “quite”, and “actually”. If it ends with an “ly” consider a quick death. If it’s multiple words that could be one (example: “in regard to” can be “about”), make the cut.

No need to fret over too many words in your first draft. That’s what first drafts are for—getting all those words down. But, in revisions, give yourself merit badges not for how many words you write, but for how many you can cut.