The Fictorians

Second Person? Yes, You Can

17 March 2015 | No Comments » | Colette

SojournerOne of the infallible rules that I’ve always been told is that you can never write a good story in second person. First person stories let us see the character in depth from a single person’s point of view. Third person, while not quite as personal, allows us to easily switch viewpoint characters and see the world from multiple points of view. But second person? Who wants to read a fiction story that keeps taking the reader out of the story by insisting that they are the character. “You went to the store. You bought a gallon of milk. You chugged it down so fast you made yourself sick.” Nope. Doesn’t work. But can it?

There are two scenarios in which I think second person works beautifully. First, is the choose-your-own-story scenario. These are books, sometimes online and sometimes sold in stores, where the storyline can change according to the choices the reader makes. I haven’t read many of these. Okay, maybe only one, but I’ve seen calls for them. One online publisher in particular–I can’t remember the name–wanted stories for YA girls. It seems that many of these girls enjoyed a second-person story with a bit of romance and adventure, where they could decide how their story progressed and how it ended. I think there’s some value in this. Just as first person, present-tense, makes a story more immediate, second-person can make it more personal. There’s a unique opportunity to entertain while teaching about the inevitable consequences to our choices, especially if the story is done realistically well.

Another scenario, my current favorite, is writing for games. After struggling for over a year with the technicalities of creating a story for the board game, Sojourner Tales, I finished the module, The Hologames. It’s a take off my Mankind’s Redemption series, going back to the early years of one of the side characters, and introducing the inception of one of the series’ fun elements, the hologames and hololympics. The story modules are written in second person, present tense, and like a choose-your-own-story, the players select the direction in which the story proceeds. There are a lot of great reasons to present the story modules this way:Hologames (2)_smaller

Second person makes the game feel like a personal adventure. In A Knight’s Tale, you are the one trying to find the princess. Will you find the clues, get lost in a dungeon, eaten by a dragon…? In The Hologames, you’re trying to win prizes and glory along with your chosen partner. Will you pick human or alien, which species, what battle themes, and will you select the right environments to win? Second person increases the fun of the scenarios.

In a board game scenario, having the story in second person coordinates with moving tokens, having unexpected events, and the eventual closing chapter and game conclusion. They integrate well.

By putting a tell-your-own story with a board game, Tracy Hickman has brilliantly made a game that can be played multiple times for each story module and the players will have a slightly different game each time. It may not be strategy with the complexity of Twilight Imperium, but the inherent variety is an interesting twist on traditional board games. It’s a lot of fun.

So, never write in second person? Generally, no, but when given a chance to take a risk and step outside the box, I took it. It’s been a great ride.

Bio: Colette BlackAuthor Pic
Colette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance.

Authorial Foreshadowing

16 March 2015 | 3 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Lou Berger.

As Emily Godhand’s post Friday discussed, writers are, in the course of their tutelage, exhorted to show their story, not tell it. As you read this post, however, you‘ll learn a specialized form of how to break this rule and do it well.

See what I did there? I gave you some insight about what’s to come! If you were paying attention, Gentle Reader, you’ll be able to guess the rule I’m about to teach you how to break. And that’s exactly the point.

Authors, including Stephen King and Jane Austen, make frequent use of the literary device known as authorial foreshadowing. Thing are bopping along, you’re getting great dialogue, great scene descriptions and a general, friendly backstory of the folks you’re about to spend time with in the story you are reading. Then, ruining your day, the author intrudes on all this happiness and beauty with a huge revelation.

“Little did Jimmy know that this was his last morning of sunshine. A late-model Buick with fishhooks welded to the grill barreled down the interstate, driven by an unshaven man hunching forward to peer through the cloudy windshield.”

Gives you shivers, don’t it? And the unshaven man probably won’t, prior to his smashing into poor little Jimmy and his friends at the bus stop, pull over and shave or, God forbid, clean the damn windshield.

The author has interrupted the story to tell you that something dire is approaching. Now you can’t see Jimmy in quite the same way, can you? You’re already discounting what he says and does because he’s gonna die. Oh, it will be a splendid death, for sure, with young bodies cartwheeling through the air, perhaps a mangling or two, maybe even a severed head bouncing through the school zone, coming to rest against the curb, eyes clouding over as the mouth works soundlessly.

But I digress. That’s coming up. Right now, Jimmy and his cohorts are sniggering about something the teacher said. “The beauty of art,” she announced, but the boys can only parse that she said “The beauty, uh, fart.”

Boys, right?

Authors foreshadow to build tension, to keep you engaged in the story.

Also, if they know that something unbelievable is about to happen, a good author will break the “show, don’t tell” rule with authorial foreshadowing to get your mind working on what is about to take place. Call it, if you are so inclined, a way to get you thinking about something improbable way ahead of time, so that when it comes up, you were expecting it and you’re not so unwilling to believe that it is possible.

“When Georgette woke up that morning and stretched in the early Kansas sunshine, she had no idea that she’d be barreling toward Pluto in a stolen alien spacecraft by mid-afternoon.”

See? Now she can munch Wheaties, dress for school in a smock and Mary Janes, then skip her way to the bus stop where Janice is waiting with the latest dirt on the new boy that moved into the Johnson house. WE know that aliens are a’comin’. So we mentally prepare for that and anxiously await learning how the author will make it happen.

Georgette, on the other hand, is clueless.

And we turn the pages rapidly, racing toward the abduction . . .

There. I told you you’d learn something!

 

About Lou Berger:Lou Berger small

Lou Berger is a Denver-based writer. He’s published several short stories in magazines and anthologies, and is a member of SFWA. He’s currently working on a middle-grade novel set in 1978’s Franklin, North Carolina. His website is www.LouJBerger.com.

 

TELL Me a Story

13 March 2015 | 4 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Emily Godhand.

Oh sure, give Friday the 13th to the horror writer. I see how it is. Two can play this game.

friday13th

I apologize for nothing.

It seems a bit blasphemous (Hi! I’m Godhand) to call out one of the first rules I ever heard when writing stories: Show, don’t tell.

This quickly became the only rule I ever heard, as it seemed the easiest way for anyone who had ever put pen to paper to become a critic and ‘help’ me with my story. (Even you, Ms. High School English Teacher! For shame.)

But the problem was, as well-intentioned as everyone was, there was never enough ‘showing’ and any sort of ‘telling’ was immediately reprimanded with that ‘rule’. They were taking it as an axiom, and weren’t looking at context, style, pacing or point of view. They weren’t listening to it as a story, as an oral narration passed from person to person.

Oh, no.

It was just “you’re directly telling me something and there’s a RULE against that and therefore that’s bad.”

Sure, they wanted to be helpful, but they didn’t have or didn’t know how to deliver constructive feedback, so by God, they were going to keep repeating that suggestion no matter how minutely I described every mundane detail of every person my protagonist encountered. It wasn’t enough to just say he was “fair, fit, and flawless”; they wanted every last detail of this man’s physical description until I had spent a page non-ironically devoted to the magnificence of his beard.

Bearded Guy

When really, there are no words.

I mean, it was a well-intentioned enough rule meant to draw out vivid descriptions and immersive, flavorful text that evoked cinematic images from the effective use of word-play. It was meant to avoid mundane descriptions and narrations. But…in the process, describing every last little thing in an attempt to ‘show and not tell’ creates mundane descriptions and narrations.

Smiling_bob

“Bob was happy. He drank his coffee. Then he went to work.”

Some have taken it so far as to be interpreted as “Don’t tell ANYTHING”, as if the story is some sort of well-kept secret only to be ascertained by the finest of reader-sleuths.
…After they dredge through a purple sea of descriptions, that is.

Snitches Get Stitches

“The Writer’s Motto!” …wait…

The other extreme being, of course, is to show EVERYTHING. Which isn’t much better.

Let’s go back to Bob.

Smiling_bob

“Bob picked up his yellow mug with a bright smile. He took a sip then set it down. His lips puckered at the taste and twisted his face into a scowl. He took another sip. The metallic toaster popped up golden brown toast. His stomach growled. He left the toast in the toaster and took another sip….”

Do I care that the mug is yellow? Is there something special about the toaster that I need to describe it as ‘metallic’? Is toast anything but golden brown? Does all that description even matter? Bob’s having breakfast. Tell me he’s having breakfast and then Cut. End scene.

You could tell me he got ready for work “with his usual breakfast of black coffee laced with self-loathing”, but to tell me anything more implies there is something important within the context of the breakfast itself. If there isn’t, you’re just slowing down the pacing. Giving attention to something tells the reader ‘this is important!’

But you can mix showing with telling. You can do that. You’re the writer. You’re a God with a pen in your hand; there are no rules, only suggestions.

Smiling_bob

“Bob was happy.

At least, that’s what he told himself as he poured a large mug of black coffee. He had a good home, a good wife, a good job. He plastered on a smile and chugged down the burning liquid, still ignoring the toast that popped up behind him minutes ago.

What good was his home to him when he was never there?
What good was having a wife when she hated him?
What good was having a job if he couldn’t bring himself to go in?

He hung his head in utter shame.
No, Bob was miserable, and he knew it.”

Ask yourself:
Is this adding to the texture and flavor of the story?
Is it appropriate for the current pacing? (description slows things down)
Is this most effective way of delivering important (or at the very least, interesting) information in your style?

If not, get on with it already! There’s an antagonist to face and obstacles to overcome and you’re here writing something that could be summarized as “Bob had his normal breakfast of black coffee and self-hatred before heading into work.”

But that would be story-telling.

So what is a writer to do?

*Keep point of view in mind-
Who is telling this story and who are they telling it to?
Would you say it this way when telling the story to someone else?

*Keep pacing in mind-
What information do they need to know right now, and is it worth slowing the story down to show this information?

*Keep in mind this is a narrative medium, not a visual one-
You can hand over information freely in a narrative medium. You are conveying information; give the information the reader needs to, or should, know, in order to enjoy the experience.

Then again, there’s a lot to be said about straight up telling information to your readers without ever showing them anything.

As it is Friday 13th, there’s always the classic horror tactic of telling the reader just how indescribable something was, because, My God, it works.

Horrible Alien Thing

Look at this lucky bastard with no eyes.

“My dearest reader,

I cannot even begin to describe the horror, the insanity, that this beast invoked within the depths of my jaded soul.

I cannot — WILL NOT — describe this evil nightmare, as you and this .45 are my only friends left, and I fear if I even began to describe a fraction of the terror I’ve witnessed, your eyes would burst within their sockets and your mind would shatter into a thousand pieces.

They would lock you away in a quiet room at the furthest reach of Arkham’s towers because you’d do nothing but scream,
and scream,
and scream.

The image of this grotesque monstrosity would be forever seared into your mind. Never again in your short, miserable life, (if God is merciful), would you ever know any rest or peace again.”
-Lovecraft possessing Godhand

And it’s like, well, Mr. Narrator- writing-in-second-person, you’ve done a lot of telling for sure, but, you’ve also shown me what this thing looks like as well, and …you know what, Man? Maybe…maybe I don’t wanna see it.

tumblr_n1f7jqN0CI1qcf5bvo2_r1_500

That’s how it’s done. Ladies? Call me.

My friend and mentor Bruce Elgin gave me only two rules for writing:
1) Be Clear
2) Don’t be boring

If you can do both these things, your writing works. You can do what you want.

So go on and tell me a story.

Disregard the Constabulary

About Emily Godhand:Emily Godhand Headshot

Emily Godhand is a cross-genre author who lives in a book fort in Denver, CO, with nine rats who revere her as their Queen.

As former psychiatric technician, she draws her inspirations from her work and the constant nightmares she’s had for 13 years. As such, her works tend to focus on an exploration of trauma, immortality, and human consciousness.

Read her latest work on Wattpad, where she is an Ambassador.

To Tech or Not to Tech?

12 March 2015 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Susan Little.

Disclaimer: I am not a writer. Would I like to be a writer? Yes, but I lack the imagination needed to write fiction. I do so admire all you writers and wish I could do the same. I, however, am a reader and a librarian so I do know books and I have a sense of what works and what doesn’t and of some of the rules of writing that great writers can oftentimes successfully break.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about one rule with which I wholeheartedly agree: Do not overwhelm your story with too much technical detail. You know what I mean–the detail that threatens to swamp the narrative and slow down the progress of the story. One author that springs to mind is Tom Clancy. I’ve read one of his novels but had no desire to read more because I felt slogged down by all the technical detail about military weapons and procedure. (If you love Tom Clancy and many people certainly do, forget what I just said.) This rule applies to all realistic fiction, where explaining current or past technologies in excruciating detail can leave the reader wanting less tech and more story.

As far as I’m concerned, though, Patrick O’Brian proves the exception to this unofficial “rule.” I first read his historical Aubrey/Maturin series about 20 years ago, and fell in love with his books. I read them for the characters. I think that Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin may have the greatest friendship in all of literature. There are scenes between those two characters that bring me to tears every time I read them. I defy anyone who reads the end of The Reverse of the Medal to come away unaffected.

I’m not, however, a sailor. When Jack says, “Surge the hawser and lower away,” I understand that something is being lowered but have no idea what. The first time I read the series, I began by skipping all the technical ship stuff, just wanting to get to the story. But, magically, as I continued to read, I actually began to see how brilliant Mr. O’Brian was in including technical details. I now see how those details complement the story telling. Because of the description of the ship and sails and because of all the technical lingo, I actually feel as if I’m on a sailing ship. I can feel the wind in the sails and the roll of the deck. In the heat of a battle, as the cannon and carronades are fired (and also described in great detail), I’m there tamping the powder and cannon ball into the cannon. I wouldn’t know a “Fore topgallant” from a “mizzen,” but I’ve become quite adept at using the picture at the front of the book which labels the sails of a square-rigged ship because O’Brian’s stories have made me want to learn more about sailing ships in all their glory.

And how does Patrick O’Brian accomplish this? One of his many ways is to have a main character who is as “lubberish” as I am. Stephen Maturin may be a brilliant surgeon, naturalist and deadly spy, but he doesn’t know larboard from starboard even after sailing for years with Jack. The seamen are ever patient with him and try, in loving and sometimes very humorous detail to explain what exactly is happening on the ship. This device allows the reader to also get the benefit of their expertise, and hence all the technical explanations meld seamlessly into the story. You will agree with Stephen when he says, “It’s a pleasure to hear a man who thoroughly understands his profession. You are very exact, sir.” Stephen is hopeless, though, at remembering all this seafaring so he requires constant help, and thus, we readers get to learn all about sailing ships in the Napoleonic Era. You could do worse than learn the technical details of that era from Patrick O’Brian’s marvelous novels.

 

About Susan Little:IMG_0662a

Susan Little is a recently retired high school librarian and English teacher, two professions where reading is mandatory. In her case reading is also a joy, although she is currently taking a short break from reading young adult literature after having to read so much of it for her job. When reading for pleasure, she is partial to mysteries and historical fiction. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she pursues her other passion, oil painting, and helps out in the family accounting business.

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