10 Tips to Dynamic Dialogue

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Sure, you find yourself talking to your characters. That’s not a bad thing at all, really. In the first place, you can use your dialogue with your characters in your stories. The downside is, you have to be about a dozen different people for each novel–a lot less for shorter fiction. If anyone accuses you of being schizophrenic or having a multiple personalitydisorder, tell them you’re an author. They’ll understand.

Here’s another big downside to creating dialogue and pretending to be different characters in your book: they start sounding like you. Yup. Every single one of them. Same pauses, same expressions, same intonation, same vocabulary, same expletives.  You might get your main characters right and give them a couple of unique identities with unique dialogue, but the rest of your characters could be a whole cast of mini-yous. That could be a real complication if you want to create spin-offs or create a sequel or worse, a series. The other major complication is when your dialogue is just a conversation that doesn’t really go anywhere, pretty much like your daily conversations about what you had for breakfast/dinner/supper, how your day went, what’s on TV, what you’re reading, what’s on the news, etc. This kind of dialogue is mundane and can just drag on forever, boring you readers, and getting your story nowhere.

The big question is: How do you get great dialogue and avoid the pitfalls? Here are 10 tips to improving dialogue in your stories.
1. Model your dialogue on different people. If your character is a cop, go watch a cop and listen to him speak. If he’s a detective, he’ll speak differently from a beat cop. If your character is a doctor, observe how doctors speak. Find a doctor to listen to so your character sounds like a real doctor.
2. Consult experts to test read your dialogue. If your character is in a highly specialized field such as law, consult a lawyer to make sure your dialogue sounds like a lawyer is speaking, especially in workplace scenarios, i.e., courtroom dramas.
3. Watch a lot of good TV or movies. It’s the next best thing to finding a real live expert to follow, model your characters after, and check your writing for authenticity.
4. Drop all the expletives, especially if they’re your favorite bad words. You can convey ideas effectively with accurate, precise language without having to pepper your writing with cursing. In the first place, it’s distasteful. In the second place, it’s weak, especially if you use it all the time. In the third place, it makes for difficult reading. Finally, it’s really pointless. It doesn’t do anything except make your characters a little more colorful, but if you need to resort to expletives to liven up your writing, then you simply are not a good writer.
5. Drop the foul language. As in real life, foul language is a major turn-off. Even if you have a character with the tendency to speak foul language because they never got their mouths washed out with soap, it doesn’t mean you have to fill your story with the same language. There are milder, more socially acceptable alternatives for all expressions, no matter how crude or foul. There are also more creative words that can be just as effective. Of course there are advocates of stark realism who will insist that it is part of the character. Challenge your vocabulary and skill by learning how to suggest or imply the foul or crude language. That way, each reader can supply their favorite bad words according to their tolerance or culture levels. Furthermore, see #5.
6. Drop all the filler words such as er, hm, mm, um, uh, unless they accurately represent what the character is saying at the moment. If you happen to have a character who stammers, it’s enough to show the stammer in a single conversational line and limit it to the occasional word spoken nervously. In some cases, punctuation is effective enough–or more effective. Use ellipses, hyphens, and dashes to indicate pauses or breaks in speech, or use a dialogue tag.
7. Drop word mannerisms such as now, so, like, well, and, and whatever other word mannerisms you find appearing at the start or end of most sentences. This works not only for dialogue but for the rest of your writing as well.
8. Drop the small talk. Unless it is extremely necessary to show small talk, skip it and go straight to the meat of the matter. In the first place, it distracts the reader. In the second place, it often digresses from the important topics. In the third place, it wastes time and ruins the pace of your story.
9. Drop the pleasantries. This is also small talk. You don’t need to talk about the weather or ask how everyone else is before getting to the point. Just get straight to the point. In the same way, you can dispense with long drawn-out goodbyes unless you’re trying to make a point or that’s what the story is about or it’s an important part of the story. In most cases, it probably won’t be.
10. Limit some word use. Dedicate a few words or phrases to specific characters. This usually becomes a character’s signature phrase. However, don’t have your character saying that signature phrase all the time. You don’t need to remind your readers that’s what a particular character says all the time, all the time.

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Show, not Tell, with Dialogue

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Many of my writing students avoid dialogue because they struggle with it, and rightly so. Creating convincing, concise dialogue is a challenge that compounds writing stories. What they do not realize is that dialogue helps writers show rather than tell.

Consider the effect, for instance, of writing:

She wore an attractive, brightly-colored dress.

This is you, the author via your narrator, telling your reader what she wore.

Compare that to the effect achieved by the following:

“Do you like my dress?” Darlene said as she twirled in a full circle, flouncing the skirt as she did. “I think yellow looks good on me,” she smiled.

In the first example, your writing presents the reader with adjectives for a dress, but does not provide any action. The reader will either gloss over the sentence or, if imaginative, create an image of “she” in the dress, which could be yellow, orange, red, yellow-green, or some other bright color or a mixture of colors. Neither does the reader have the vaguest idea what the dress looks like. Is it long or short? Loose or fitting? Straight or flouncy? Unless you elaborate on that sentence by adding more descriptions, there will always be a lot of room for interpretation—sometimes more than you want.

In the second example, we know who “she” is—Darlene. We know she’s wearing a dress and it has a skirt that flounces as she twirls. We know the dress is yellow. More than that, we know Darlene likes the yellow dress and is light-hearted, expressive, and in a good mood. How can we tell? Because someone in a bad mood wouldn’t care much about wearing a bright, cheerful yellow; a more serious person would not be caught twirling to show off a dress; nor would an introverted or shy girl twirl, show-off a dress, and more than that, think aloud that they looked good in anything.

While the color or style of a character’s outfit might not always be relevant, sometimes we need to include more vivid descriptions because they provide readers with a clearer picture of your story. The trick is not to weigh down your story with bulky descriptions that can be made more memorable and effective with dialogue.

A character by any other name is not as sweet

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Are you one of those writers who actively model characters on real people? Come on, admit it! You’ve probably endowed one or more of your protagonists with the traits of some real live hero you’ve met or read about. It could be a personal hero, like your grandpa, grandma, dad, mom, or a favorite uncle or aunt, or even an admired teacher or the school’s hottest athlete or cheerleader. You’ve also probably imbued some of your antagonists with the traits of your annoying kid sibling or cousin, a school bully, or your parents at their worst moments. As a fiction writer, you need to protect the identities of your models, whether positive or negative. Here are some ways you can do that.

1. Use a baby name book. There are all kinds of baby name books, from traditional baby names like Robert, William, Mary, and Anne, to unorthodox baby names like Rainbow, Amber, Opal, and Strawberry.
2. Use first names of famous people and mix up their surnames, like Hillary Regan or Scrooge McTrump.
3. Use foreign names like Liam, Cohen, Vladimir, or Rajesh.
4. Use a phone book and pick random surnames to match your invented first names.
5. Use names of real people you know, but don’t use their names on the characters they’re like. That way, people can’t say, “Hey, that’s what’s-his/her-name!” Throw them off by using their names on characters totally unlike them.
6. Change their gender. If there’s a guy you really hate, turn him into a despicable female character.
7. Change their age. You can safely make a character younger or older than the model by up to 10 years. The older your model, the easier to change the age. On the other hand, you could also turn them all into kids, which shouldn’t be too hard if they’re really very childish in real life.
8. Change their professions. Put them in a profession or job that’s very different from what they do in real life.
9. Invent new names with new spellings, depending on their age in your story. Take your cues from real life. For instance, Chyna, Asya, Justynne, Cayden.
10. Look up the most popular names for a particular year to match the year your character was born.
11. Use symbolic or meaningful names, for instance, Frank, Chastity, Hope, Gallant, Rush. Is the name “Scout Finch” symbolic? Or Robinson Crusoe?
12. Unless you are writing about life in earlier centuries or an alternative futuristic society where names are assigned as a way to identify social or economic status or an allegorical story, you might want to avoid using surnames that identify profession–unless it’s a fictional historical name attached to a family that carries on the same profession. Unfortunately, that could run really close to being tacky, campy, forced, or tongue-in-cheek, so be very careful or be very convincing.
13. Of course, if you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, there’s no limit to the kinds of names you can invent. And if you need to use numbers to name your characters–if that’s what your story really is about–go for it.

How you name your characters is as important as how children are names. You need to consider: will your characters live up to their names? Will the names become as memorable as Jay Gatsby or Sherlock Holmes or Scarlet O’Hara? Do the names suggest anything about the characters? If the characters were real, how would they feel about their names? Remember, your characters are your babies. Name them well!

Get It Right

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As a beginning writer, you are still feeling your way around words, sentences, stories. You might struggle with finding the right words or the best way to say something. You might even struggle with keeping your story together or even just putting it all together. Even experienced writers who have published multiple books and garnered prestigious awards need to work on their manuscripts, sometimes multiple times before it is worthy of sharing or showing to the rest of the world. One continuing debate is whether to check mechanics and grammar before content. As an editor and language teacher, I find it necessary to work on all aspects that need correcting before making another pass to work on improving. What’s the difference? Things that need correcting involve spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If a manuscript contains so many errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation that it is unreadable, it is too difficult to overlook that and focus on more intricate details involving content, consistency, plot, and language. Blatant errors in spelling and grammar prevent our minds from making sense of what is being read. It’s like wading through a stream littered with all sizes of stones and rocks. Rather than wade through the stream, it would be much easier to walk on the banks—which is the literary equivalent of not reading the work—not what any writer would want readers to do.

Misplaced or missing punctuation can change meaning and convey an idea completely different from what was originally meant. A look around you shows signs and other communication lacking punctuation and conveying confusing messages as a result. One of the most common is SLOW MEN WORKING. Literally, this means the men working are slow, which is often the case with government road work. I saw another similar sign, SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING. Now, this could mean the children move slowly as they play, or the children playing in this area are developmentally slow—something that could also apply to the men working. I imagine it could be frustrating for drivers to encounter the sign SLOW PEOPLE CROSSING. If I were the driver, I might think, “How slow are they? Will they take forever? I’m going to be late if I have to wait for all those slow people to finish crossing!” I don’t think any writing mentor, teacher, or editor can ever say this enough: clean up your writing as best you can before you share it with anyone, your editor, included.

On Writing: Developing your Fictional World

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Writing fiction requires the creation of the world within which your characters exist. The shorter the fiction, the smaller the world, simply because you don’t have much time to include or describe a very large world in short stories. In fact, one of the limitations of a short story is restricting the action to a single scene. On the other hand, if you write a novel, your world will necessarily be as big as wherever your story takes your characters.

World creation is not simple and becomes less so as the world expands. You need to know every single detail of your story world, whether it is modeled after a real setting or completely fictitious. The easiest way to do it is, of course, to pattern your story world after the real world you know. Whether it is a single room, a house, or a whole village, you can create your story world with better details than if you have no idea what the story world looks like. Is your character a teenage male? Pattern that after your teenage son or nephew or brother’s room. Is it an old house? Use your grandparents’ house or some old house in town which you have access to. Is it a museum? Visit your local museum. Do you want to use a complete village? Get a map of your village or some little village you want to use, rename the streets, change the names of the commercial establishments, put in your landmarks, and voila! You have your own village. You can add or remove buildings as you need, but regardless of the changes, you will have a complete setting where your characters can come alive. It’s a little more difficult if you’re writing fantasy and creating a whole world because you don’t have much to go by. Despair not! All you need to do is take a detailed geographical map of a particular area, region, island, country, or continent. The geographical map will give you a land with the physical features you want. Throw in forests, add a few more mountains or water systems and you’ll have a wonderful land your characters can explore and adventure in. As usual, I advise students to take advantage of the Internet. Get your maps from Google maps or Google Earth. You can also use Google to explore specific areas by using street views or searching for photographs that give you incredible details of nearly any place in the world. The Internet also provides you with boundless information on architecture, history, culture, anthropology, economics, technology – just about everything you need to create your own world in such minute detail the information could overwhelm you. Unlike the past when writers were limited to write only what they knew or imagined, writers nowadays can travel around the world and experience different cultures enough to include that in their stories. Your biggest problem will be how to become more selective, what to include, what not to include, and how to make use of the information you gather in your writing.

With the glut of information available on the Internet, writers can be overwhelmed and end up creating an information dump. Beginning writers, in particular, need to restrain themselves from including every bit of information they write when developing their setting. This is often the case with my writing students, who have felt so attached to the settings they developed, they felt compelled to include everything in their stories. The point of creating detailed settings prior to writing the actual story is to know the setting so intimately your characters can walk through them blindfolded–or, at the very least, not walk right through a wall another character just bumped into. Creating a detailed setting description helps you create consistency in the physical environment so it is clear your characters are moving around in the same space. What you should not do, however, is to describe the whole setting before the story begins. As far as I am concerned, the best way to describe your setting is to reveal it as the characters encounter it. If your story begins in the bedroom, by all means, describe the bedroom, but don’t go ahead and describe the rest of the house until your character leaves the bedroom and moves through the house. If your character stands at the bedroom window and looks out, by all means, describe the scene outside the window, but don’t describe what the rest of the neighborhood is like. If your character eventually goes down into the basement, don’t describe the basement until your character goes there. That way, you will never be in danger of dumping a load of irrelevant information on your readers. You will have less of a tendency to digress, as well. The same rule of thumb should be applied to other characters in the story, as well. Do not describe them or introduce them until your active character meets them or encounters them. It’s a good way to keep your readers involved and keep your writing focused.

Improve Your Writing through Observation

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Writing is as technical and scientific as it is creative. Yes, even when you write creatively, there is no end to the use of scientific methods. Those of you who remember science classes will recall the scientific method requires (1) observation, (2) questioning, (3) hypothesizing, (4) experimentation, and (5) conclusion or generalization. We use the same skills when writing creatively. How? Let’s begin with observation. Writers observe the world around them, probably more so than any other people. It is from observation that writers find topics to write about. From observation, writers are able to create detailed descriptions of just about anything. How else would you describe the expressions on a person’s face who receives news of a tragedy—the widening of the eyes, the jaws dropping slightly or more, the blank expression of being unable to comprehend, and then the realization of the actuality. You watch people as they react to different situations and then ask yourself: Does the recipient accept the news, understand it, control emotional responses? Or does the recipient break down in shock, express denial, anger, depression, pain, or anguish? What emotions are expressed or shown? How are the emotions expressed? Some emotions might show similar facial expressions and body language but there are universal similarities in the way people react and the way they express emotions. The next thing you do is make certain predictions or guesses. What will the person do next? Why did the person react that way? What about the news affected the person so much? Experimentation might not be a very evident step, but when you explore the different reactions to the same situation, change certain factors—maybe where or when the news is delivered, or who receives the news, or how the news is conveyed—you could come up with several possible situations you can play around with. When you know how your characters will respond and commit that to your story, you will have come to a conclusion. The whole process of creating stories involves the exact same process in a gazillion permutations and each combination will be a different story. That’s why you’ll never run out of stories to tell.

Afraid to Submit? Here’s Why You Should!

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You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.
~ Isaac Asimov

Everywhere you turn, you’ll hear similar advice: send your work out and be persistent. You’ve heard all the stories about how many times some of the best-known writers have been rejected. We all need to face the truth. There will always be rejection out there. Consider the odds: hundreds of thousands of people who want to be writers sending their manuscripts to several hundred reputable publishers around the world—yes, reputable. We all want to be published by the big five or whoever is on top of the publishing heap at the moment. Many times, it’s not even possible to get near one of those publishers because some of them will only deal with agents. So you’re stuck with publishers on the periphery. Again, because of all the people who believe they’re great writers and have just the work that will be the next bestseller, even those publishers are swamped with manuscripts for review. It’s no wonder it takes upwards of three to six months before you even get a response. Publishers also are extremely selective about the genres they publish. They like to maintain their image and tend to look for work that fits what you might call their “product lines”. Some publishers will only pick thrillers, others only science fiction or fantasy, still others only romance. Bigger houses might have several different lines, brands, or labels to suit a variety of genres. I’d like to think, despite their niche, most publishers are always on the lookout for manuscripts that will win prizes or top the bestseller lists—or both. If it’s a bestseller you’re after, you don’t necessarily need to aim for a prestigious literary award. In fact, many bestsellers will never have medals on their covers, but their authors probably don’t care. Bestsellers come and go and most stay on top of the lists until the reading public fancies a new book. Sure, sometimes a lot of marketing hype goes into the resulting sales, but I like to believe you can’t keep a good book down. The authors just have to make sure the books get out there by all means possible. Look at it this way: a rejection letter can be a badge of honor. It means you tried!

While my manuscripts to do not sit in drawers eating their heads off, they might be standing around in neat rows in several file folders in my computer, pretending to be many things besides words. Sometimes they’re soldiers at attention, not unlike the Royal Guards of London, their tall fuzzy hats standing above everything. Other times, they’re fashion models sashaying down digital runways, their loops and tails flouncing and bouncing about with a sassy attitude. There are days they’re tiny tots let loose in a playground, jumping from one play contraption to another like vivacious little monkeys let loose from their cage. And then there are the days they’re rapidly multiplying bacteria building teeming colonies that eventually turn on each other until they all calcify into crumbly chalky patches in my hard drive. I’m convinced they take on a life of their own and rewrite themselves when I’m not looking at them so they seem like complete strangers when I visit them in their virtual abodes. I might take one or more of them and try to whip them into forms palatable to readers besides myself but it’s a losing battle because my words tend to have minds of their own. One day, I will drag them out of their comfortable beds and push them out in the world to find their paths the way grown children should and hope they find their own homes elsewhere. Maybe they’ll bring me back grandchildren.

How to Become a Better Writer: Live to Write

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How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
~ Henry David Thoreau

 

Inexperience is ambitious and time and again, we need to remind inexperienced writers to write about things they know. No matter what genre you write in, the essence of everything you write is based on life. Whether it is an observation of human behavior or a moving description of a place or an event, you cannot write about it from mere observation as well as you can from living the experience. That’s not to say you can’t live or experience things vicariously. A skillful writer might be able to convince readers that they know what they are writing about intimately. It’s similar to a thespian or film actor assuming a character they are not. We know the best actors often immerse themselves in real life situations, studying real people, trying out their characters’ lives when possible, doing what their characters did to replicate the experience, attitude, behavior, feelings, and reactions as realistically as possible. It’s the difference between the beginning of film when everything was filmed inside a studio and you could tell actors were faking the experience and movies today, when you have an actor like Leonardo diCaprio spending days in sub-zero Canadian weather and actually jumping into freezing Canadian waters (despite not being Polar Bear dipping time) to achieve his award-winning portrayal of a revenant in the 2015 film of that title. It’s why a writer who hasn’t experienced any gut-wrenching events will have a harder time convincing readers of the truth of pain, suffering, love, ecstasy, betrayal, and other powerful emotions they’ve never felt. It’s why writers need to experience life in all its diversity and uncertainty, because it’s the only way they can create characters readers will identify with. Settings can easily be recreated, even if you haven’t been to the place, and the ubiquitousness of videos online showing places, people, and events in every imaginable location around the world helps provide writers with fuel for the imagination and for their descriptions. It’s what runs inside people’s heads and hearts that is harder to describe. In fact, even if you have experienced something first-hand, you might not be able to find the words to describe the feelings that rush through you. That is where the writer’s skill and talent comes. Writers are able to find the words to describe the complex emotions that the average person finds indescribable. More skilled wordsmiths find dozens of ways to describe those emotions, besides having a hefty vocabulary, without sounding dogmatic or condescending. The ability to manipulate language to express myriad emotions and experiences, then draw readers into their little worlds and want to be with their characters, is what makes some writers rise above others. That mastery of language and writing comes with much practice—something most young or inexperienced writers will not have. Not that I’m advocating trying out every single thing just so you can write about, even if we know how some writers were brilliant because of mind-enhancing substances. All you need is to keep an open mind, be a keen and avid observer of details, and write, write, write. The sooner you begin, the longer your writing career.

How to Revise Your Writing

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You can fix anything but a blank page.
~ Nora Roberts

As a writing teacher, I enjoy nothing more than seeing students produce writing, yet many are reluctant to even start because they worry about how to write their sentences, what to put in, what their style should be, how to handle mechanics. Worse yet, is the student who worries about writing because they say they can’t spell or don’t know how to use quotation marks or when to use commas, semi-colons, and colons. I always tell my students that they should just write without worrying about the technicalities. As long as you are able to put your ideas into words, you’re on your way. All you need to worry about as a writer is to get the writing out, to get the ideas down on the page, because once you’ve written your story down, there’s no limit to how much you can change, correct, and improve your writing until it is ready for your reading public.

Everything anyone writes can be fixed, whether writers do the editing and revision with full knowledge of the technicalities of writing, or leave the majority of the work to their editors. Whether it’s a few punctuation marks or rewriting sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, all writing can be improved. Sometimes it takes just a few changes; other times, the finished work looks nothing like the original writing. It’s still all part of the process of editing and revising. I know a few famous writers who are terrible at spelling, who don’t know how to use punctuation correctly, or who have awful grammar. It’s writers like this who give editors more work. Unfortunately, editors sometimes end up doing a great deal of writing, especially for writers who are prolific and have great story ideas but can’t seem to pick up the mechanics. In such cases, I often think the editor might as well be a co-author, or at least get paid incredibly well. As an English teacher, I try to make writing lessons as educational as possible, but don’t teach mechanics or grammar to high school or adult students because I expect that knowledge to be part of their arsenal. Writers who are insecure about their knowledge of grammar and mechanics of writing should take the initiative to brush up on this basic writing skill. Less experienced writers who truly want to improve their skill will look at everything their editors do to their work because that helps them understand what needs to be changed; editors can also provide them with notes, comments, and explanations for certain changes. Active revision involves writers understanding the reasons for changes, corrections, and suggestions. Even without brush-up lessons, novices can learn much from the process of revision. In fact, even before sending your work to an editor, you should do your own revisions, make corrections, clean up your writing as best you can. Do this and you will find yourself more conscious of your writing, familiar with the mistakes you make, and able to write better later on.

Your work as a writer isn’t over after you’ve written your story. In fact, if you’re particularly fast or inspired, it might take you a lot less time to write than it will to revise your story. You should always keep in mind, though, that there will be nothing to revise, publish, or read if you don’t write in the first place.

Once you’ve written your story, the best thing to do is to set it aside. Let it sleep for at least a week, ideally two weeks to one month. That helps you clear your mind and become somewhat detached from what you’ve written. The longer you stay away from it, the more detached you will be. That way, you can approach your story as if it isn’t yours and be as ruthless as you have to be in the revision process.

Different writers and editors have different approaches to editing and revision. Many times, you’ll hear the recommendation to review content first. Sometimes, I beg to differ. Sometimes, the writing is filled with technical errors that make it extremely difficult to read, let alone make sense out of what there is. The first step I recommend is to clean up whatever you can, as best you can. That means, check your writing for spelling errors, grammar, and mechanical errors. Names should be spelled correctly and consistently throughout. The preferred spelling is American English (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The preferred style book is the MLA Manual of Style or Chicago Manual of Style. If you don’t have access to either (they can both be accessed online) or you want a personal copy, you can get Elements of Style by Strunk & White or Kate L. Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, which is an easier-to-access source based on the Chicago Manual of Style. Penguin Books has a series of writers’ reference books, including the Penguin Writers Manual, the Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar, and the Penguin Guide to Punctuation. There are other resources available, including standard textbooks, that can answer most of your questions on grammar and mechanics.  Once that’s done, you can look at your clean copy with less distractions.

When revising for content, you want to make sure your story has a story arc: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your events should logically follow the plot or the story arc. Anything that digresses from your story arc can go. Even if you’ve written a novel, your subplots will still be connected to your main plot, either through actions, setting, or characters. You should also check your content for consistency in your timeline, settings, characterization, points of view, even the names used, whether of places, people, or events. Next, check your work for style: in particular, check consistency of voice, syntax, and word choices. Finally, proofread your work one more time before you send it to your editor. In between each step, leave at least a day up to one week before you begin the next step, so that it almost feels as if you are looking at your work with fresh eyes.

As you become more confident in your writing, you will be able to combine steps or tackle them in a different order, something you are more comfortable with. My rationale for recommending this order of editing is: (1) to start with something simple and objective (mechanics) because it helps to clear your mind, before (2) moving on to content and style, which is more complex, and (3) ending with proofreading, which is  relatively simple, hence allowing you to return to a more objective state of mind and giving you that bit of detachment that allows you to let go of your work and send it to your editor.

Should you write in first person?

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I do not advise my students to write in the first person, especially when they are just beginning to write fiction. Writing in the first person is especially difficult because the unskilled writer often tends to become an omniscient narrator, which is really an impossibility if you are narrating in the first person. As a first person narrator, you can only see what the narrator sees, experiences, and thinks. Your first person narrator can never know what other people are thinking or feeling except from what they observe or are told. Your first person narrator can never see through walls or what is happening where the narrator is not present. The biggest problem this presents is if your narrator is not even the lead character, because then, the narrator would not be able to say what the lead character is doing in the narrator’s absence. This is not so much a problem in a short story, where the narrator can be present and in the company of the lead character throughout the duration of the story, or at least the majority of it. This is more of a problem in a novel, because it’s really possible for the lead character to be away from the narrator for a prolonged time, in which case the narrator cannot report anything that is happening to the lead character at a particular time unless the knowledge becomes available to the narrator. This is very good for novels about personal struggles or soul-searching.

The easiest point of view to handle and use is the omniscient narrator. As an omniscient narrator, you can see what everyone does at all times. You know what everyone is thinking and feeling, and you even hear what everyone says. Hence, you don’t encounter the problem of “head surfing,” which is a problem encountered when writing in the third person limited or first person perspectives. This is really good for novels with many characters and plots of adventure. The third person limited uses a narrator who can see only inside one character’s head, usually the main character. The narrator can only observe and report about other characters externally. This kind of narrator is a good choice for detective stories or mystery stories.