Characters, On Research, On Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense

In January, I knuckled down and managed to write the sequel to The Dragons We Hunt. Next up? A sequel to that sequel to write – the final book in a trilogy written entirely in first person, present tense.

In honour of squeezing out book number two, I have compiled a list and entitled it: ‘The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense’.

(I’m sure you’ll agree that is a very imaginative title).

(a few of) The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense

Pros:

– You are given the ability to plunge into the mind of the Main Character – what they are thinking, how they think and what makes them tick.

– You look at the world through their eyes. Some characters, for instance, are dreamers, and as such, they look at the world with slightly more imaginative eyes. Others are very matter of fact and a sunset is simply that – a sunset.

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*sniff*

– The reader is more involved in the character and everything happens right. now. (The mouse is nibbling away at the cheese. Dawwww!¬† So cute. It’s so adorable. It does my soul such goo- OHMYWORD A CAT JUST ATE IT! Blood! Guts! Gore! Oh the horror. Quick, let me Instagram it).

– There is the interesting challenge of portraying other characters through the MC’s own, biased eyes.

Cons:

– Writing in first person, present tense is constrictive. You can’t soar over the mountains and show that Tom the Shepherd has lost his first sheep while the Hero/Heroine is attempting to swim in the ocean. You can’t dive into other people’s minds.

– If the reader doesn’t get the MC then the rest of the book will be awful, for the POV (in this case) never changes from the MC.

– In real life, many things happen that we simply don’t understand. Usually, when this happens, we google it. However, in my Viking/Mongolian world, Google doesn’t exist, so tough luck for the MC – you’re just going to have to deal with it. (Or, I’ll write a sequel from someone else’s POV explaining it all … yep, that could work).

Have a great week!

and

No mice or sheep were injured in the writing of this post. Honest.

Books, Characters, On Writing

It is a good day to live – A Study of Points of View

I’m afraid I must be a rather morbid person as for the example in this little study of mine, I have a man who- well, read on and you will hear his tale told not once, not twice, but four times.

via Pinterest

Third Person, Subjective, Present tense:

He sits on the bench and crosses his ankles, leaning back he looks upwards at the lime tree’s green leaves. The sky is blue and the sun shines brilliantly. He lets out a peaceful sigh – it is a good day to live.

There is a crack, breath is snatched from his body as it shudders just once. He looks down and sees the red which grows on his white shirt like an ink stain. He frowns. His body slumps.

His eyes close.

Third Person, Omnipresent, Present Tense:

He sits down on the bench. Crosses his ankles. Doesn’t know what is going to happen. He doesn’t see gun raised as he leans back and admires the day. It is a good day to live, he thinks. But then there is a crack and blood stains his shirt and he doesn’t see the irony of his thought as he slumps on the bench.

A dog-walker finds him fifteen minutes later, and screams.

First Person, Present Tense:

I sit down on the bench and cross my ankles, lean back and look upwards at the heavens – the branches of the lime tree sway slightly in the breeze and frame a blue sky, whilst the sun shines brilliantly, highlighting the leaves. Ah – it is a good day to live.

A crack and my body shudders. Winded, breathing is difficult.

I look down and frown. What is this? Red is growing, growing, growin- gro-

Second Person:

You sit down on the bench and cross your ankles. Upwards you look and the beauty of the day causes a small sigh. It is a good day to live, you think. You hear a crack and your body shudders. Breathing is elusive – it’s been knocked out of you. You look down and frown at the red which spoils the whiteness of your shirt.

The red spreads.

Your head lolls now and your body has slumped; you aren’t there to hold it up.

A dog-walker finds your hollow frame fifteen minutes later, and screams.

 Please Note: No dog walkers were traumatized or men were shot in the writing of this post. The sanctity of life is still firmly upheld.

Characters, On Research, On Writing

The Masks We Wear

At the moment, I have two projects that I am working on. One has multiple points of view, the other a single one. Both have their advantages. With the single point of view, there is the challenge to subtly show other characters’ emotions/thoughts without stating facts that the POV character doesn’t have a clue about – after all, we are stuck in his/her head and can’t reveal things to the reader that the Main Character doesn’t know.

For example, here is a character who has no idea of the true, deadly identity of the man in the room with her. Writing the following is blatantly wrong – because, unless she suddenly developes an improbable case of telepathy, the truth is hidden from her:

‘He was angry with Anne and gave her a chilling smile – the sort a snake would give if it possessed the ability to smile. Because he was the murderer and she had just laid open a vital clue like a monkey peeling a banana.’

Yes, the man may be a murderer, and yes, the clue may be vital … but the POV character doesn’t know it. The truth is there, but it’s hidden. All she is seeing is a man smiling a little unpleasantly after she has told him a theory of hers.

John smiled slowly and it felt like someone had left the door open, allowing the cold air in. Anne shivered and gave him a weak grin.

It is almost like playing a game of hide and seek – I, the writer, am in possession of all the facts, but my character isn’t. It is up to me to show the facts through the character’s eyes – but quietly, not in your face. It would be cheating to have someone come up to the Main Character and say, “Well, I dislike you immensely and am planning to poison you tomorrow.”

Who does that? No – the MC would pick it up through the little things – a sneer here, a scoff there. A cold word or a disdainful look. Or maybe the villain hides his hatred and tiny, hints have to be dropped; a brief, frozen look before the welcoming smile drops in place. Perhaps the MC remains oblivous to all this – perhaps because of her background – and maybe it is the readers who must pick up the hints alone.

click to return to the previous pageIn a way, it is a little like a masquerade – the POV character has her mask in place, and both she and we know what lies beneath it (though sometimes the POV character can wear a mask to the readers – which of course is another layer of subtlety). Everyone else, however, has their masks on. Thoughts, ambitions, feelings all run beneath their masks but she and the reader cannot see it – and must endeavor to peek beneath the masks through observations and conversation.

It’s fascinating.

Characters, On Writing

Perspective.

Know what I’m finding interesting?

Characters. And their perspectives.

For instance, an Advisor – one who has lived his life with logic and reason, who excels in politics and wisdom, and is perhaps a little timid, faced with a situation – say a madman coming into a room with a knife – would respond differently to the Captain of the Guard whose life is not so much based upon his brain, but rather his speed, brawn and bravery:

The Advisor:

Shock, that was the first feeling. The second was the urge to take several paces backwards. The third was his hoarse cry (or was it a shriek? He didn’t know and couldn’t care) for the guards. The man – his eyes crazed and wild – began walking towards him, knife raised. He saw the knife glint in the candlelight – so small an object in so big a room; yet, at this moment, by far the most deadly. He backed away, unaware of how clammy his hands were or the erratic beating of his heart. The madman picked up his pace, a smile spreading across his face. The Advisor screamed.

The Captain:

Upon hearing the scream, Roderick – Captain of the Guard and Hero of the Crown, Bravest of the Brave and King of the Hunt, burst through the side door and into the room. He understood the situation in a moment and felt the thrill of the chase fill his veins. Within the blinking of an eye he threw his spear, in a heartbeat he was standing over his felled prey, a grin upon his lips. But then he saw the terrified Advisor and hastily assumed a solemn expression, “You are safe now, my lord.”

See how differently they react? Different personalities, different backgrounds, different fears, different reactions.

Fascinating, no?

Window
this picture is supposed to have something vaguely to do with perspective …

PS: You may have noticed that the blog has changed names. Yes, it has. Lettuce Write, people! Okay, maybe that’s a terrible pun …