Archive for February, 2015

24 Feb

First Person, Present Tense Part 1: Background

In Reading,Writing Process by MK England / February 24, 2015 / 2 Comments

As a reader, writer, and peddler of YA fiction, I’m the last person in the world to get judgy about tense and point-of-view. YA has some of everything, even the POVs and tenses that are rare or looked down upon in other age categories. That said, I’ve always preferred third person, past tense–the standard tense for fiction. When I was a kid I read mostly adult science fiction and developed a pretty serious bias against first person POV. The book that started to crack my bias was I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole, a Star Wars Extended Universe novel.

(P.S. The Star Wars EU is now known as Star Wars Legends, as they’ve all been retconned due to the upcoming movies–but that’s a whole other rant. I digress.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I, Jedi is a severely flawed book by an author I typically adore. However, I love (lovelovelove) Corran Horn, an original character introduced in Stackpole’s X-Wing series of novels, which are literally my favorite thing about the Star Wars EU. Seriously, go read them right now. But I digress again–the point is, teenage MK picked up this book solely because it starred Corran Horn, and teenage MK was disgusted and heartbroken to discover it was in first person.

I didn’t read that book for months. I picked it up, then put it straight back down. Then picked it up again. One day, I actually read it and–lo and behold–I actually got over the POV issue within a few pages once the character and plot had a chance to grab me. I believe The Hunger Games was my first book that combined both first person and present tense. I read it and liked the combination in that particular instance, but I never thought I’d find myself writing a book with that combination.

judgy eyes

It is admittedly weird to be having tense and POV issues with my own book. Each time I come back to my latest novel (Space Academy Rejects) after taking time away from the manuscript, the tense throws me off for a few pages. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because of my writing, or because it takes me a bit to settle in. I suspect its the latter, though, because if I go back to the beginning after a full read-through, it doesn’t bother me. I suppose my critique partners and beta readers will give me the definitive answer!

All that said, writing in this POV and tense combination definitely comes with its own unique set of pitfalls. I found lots of little bad habits during my first readthrough and markup–and trust me, there’s a whooooole post dedicated to those bad habits coming soon. Hopefully that post will help you avoid making my same mistakes!

In the meantime, practice being non-judgey about POV and tense, dear creatures. Great stories are told in many ways.


03 Feb

Short Stories Shred My Brain

In Goals,Short Stories,Writing Process by MK England / February 3, 2015 / 0 Comments

YA author Maggie Stiefvater (my goddess) once posted some great words about writing short stories that really captured my feelings on the topic:

“I actually find writing short stories to be a completely different animal than novel writing. […] A good short story is not merely a chapter. It is not a shrunken novel. It is a story that by its very nature and telling is better suited to a short format. Short fiction doesn’t behave at all like a novel – it asks you to think about dialog and show-don’t-tell differently. Your brain must learn to understand what 500 words feels like, 2,000 words, 10,000 words. Maybe the biggest surprise to me was finding out that my reader and writer brain thinks best in 125,000 word chunks. I feel I have to justify any length shorter or longer. […] Every size story asks something different from you.”

This is so true.

I find it incredibly difficult to write short stories. My brain just doesn’t understand them. When I get a new idea, I always start asking questions: how did this character get here? What is the rest of the world like? What necessarily follows from this series of events? And before I know it, I have enough information to fill up a novel. Part of my problem is that I have this weird fear: that somehow, the idea is “used up” by writing it as a short story, restricting me from ever exploring that character, world, or plot line in a novel. It’s not true. So many excellent novels began life as published short stories — but tell that to my subconscious.

In general, though, my brain only ever presents me with ideas for novel-length works, so my complete lack of written short stories also stems from a lack of ideas. I have notebooks and word documents full of dialogue scraps, characters, and worldbuilding bits for novels. Short stories? Um, I’ve written one in the past ten years. I have two insubstantial, wispy sorts of story ideas percolating right now, but they refuse to take the leap from brain to keyboard. 300 words of witty phrases and evocative images does not a story make. Or maybe it does, and that’s my problem. Perception. Definition. Maybe some of those ideas I already have do need to be told in short format. Something to consider.

The most essential thing anyone can do to prepare for short story writing is to read short stories. Get the sound and the feel of 5000 words in your head. Read them from different sources: collections in book form, those published in literary magazines, flash fiction from curated websites. If you can find stories in a style you’d like to emulate, so much the better. For me, there were two stories in the September 2014 issue of Lightspeed Magazine that really inspired me, so much so that they made my list of Things I Loved in 2014. Check them out — I highly recommend them, obviously.

I think it’s time for a goal. Creatures, you know how I am about goals by now. I love setting them. I love achieving them. I love having something to shoot for. SO: in 2015, I will write, polish, and submit for publication at least six short stories. I’ve already finished off and submitted one that I started at the end of 2014, so I’ll let that count.

One down, five to go.

What about you, creatures? Do you read or write short stories? Are they easier or harder than writing a novel? Tell me all your thoughts on short fiction of all kinds. I’m terribly curious.