Friday, April 30, 2021

Pros and Cons of Using Present or Past Tense--What's the Effect on Your Reader?

A client told me about a recent meeting of her writing group. They discussed using present versus past tense when writing memoir. What were to pros and cons of each, what effect did they have on the reader?

Interestingly, one group member had spoken to her editor about this. The editor strongly encouraged her to switch her present tense chapters to past tense. She was confused about the virtues of each.

We're talking verb tense here. Past tense of your verbs or present tense--and what's the difference. Just to review, here's how a sentence looks with the verbs in past tense: John went to the game and arrived late. If you use present tense for the same sentence, here's how it would read: John goes to the game and arrives late.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Crafting Stronger Mechanical and Emotional Transitions to Keep Your Reader Turning The Page

I learned about the importance of transitions during my MFA study. One of my thesis advisers, a talented novelist, read my novel-in-progress and liked it but felt my background as a newspaper writer hampered my transitions. "You end each chapter like you would a journalistic piece," she told me. "It's complete, nothing left to push the reader forward into the next chapter."

She was right. As a syndicated newspaper columnist for twelve years, I had been trained to keep my thoughts short and wrap them up with a flourish.

The goal was reader satisfaction, a sense of completion. Closure.

"Closure is the last thing you want in the middle of a book," my adviser said. "You want to keep your readers turning the page."

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Joys of Scrivener--My Favorite Software for Organizing Your Book-in-Progress

Before I wrote books, I wrote stories, essays, and poems, columns and articles. Short stuff. Short stuff doesn't require that much organization. I had a friendly relationship with Word and Pages. I kept files of the multiple versions of my short stories, for example, in separate files within Word--not so hard to scan and use if needed. I often printed hard copies and kept a file folder until the piece was published. I used an Excel spreadsheet to track where I sent writing and what happened to it.

Totally manageable.

Then I began writing books. Within months, pages accumulated. Way beyond anything my short stuff generated. I was swamped in paper, with no great way to organize it.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Power Positions--How to Increase the Tension in Characters and Locations

"Who's on first?"

We're not talking baseball. We're asking: Who is the power person in a particular scene? Who is the character that holds the control over present and future outcomes? Who will most easily score the home run?

Once I identify that player, I can begin to work the elements of tension in my fiction and memoir more skillfully.

To create tension, two or more elements of power combine, and one wins out. Just like people try to exert control over their lives every day. so must characters on the page. Story is about that give and take, that gain and loss of control over oneself and one's circumstances.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Enter Late, Leave Early--A Great Piece of Writing Advice for Chapters

Not everyone wants to pay for an MFA degree, and I didn't either, for a long time, until I started writing fiction and realized I knew nothing about it. I'd been published for years in memoir and nonfiction, but fiction was truly another animal. I researched schools, found one, got accepted, and began. In those two years, I learned a lot I didn't know, but one particular piece of advice reshaped my understanding of chapters, scenes, and books.

It was this: Enter late, leave early.

I learned, after graduation, that this slogan is widely known among screenwriters. Less so among novelists or short story writers, although it's just as valuable to us. William Goldman and David Morell wrote it as "jump in late, leave early." It applies to scenes, to chapters, to the entire book, in my mind. But I find it most useful in chapters.