Following on yesterday’s post on POV and expanding on some comments I have read and made here and in other sites, I’d like to write a bit about first-person narrators. I used to dislike them, but this last year I have been reading a lot of books that are technically first-person narrations but most people wouldn’t consider them as such because they are not fiction: memoirs. I actually started reading them because I was quite bored with most fiction and quickly found that these people, many with no formal literally talent, were nonetheless able to explain quite awesome stories. Then it dawned on me that perhaps the reason I had disliked first-person narrators was, quite simply, that they had been misused, badly written, unnecessary.
I don’t feel like writing a story today so I’ll make a post on writing. This post will pull together different issues I have hinted or referenced in other posts, focusing on what I believe has become a serious problem in fiction literature, especially what is known as ‘genre writing’: the death of the narrator. I blame what is known as Deep Point of View, although perhaps a new term would be needed for what I will talk about, perhaps Character-Only Narrative, but Deep POV will have to do because nobody would know what I’m talking about if I start talking about CON.
“Let’s go back to your military… insights,” Corin said. “You are known for your unique tactics. Is there something you believe the standard troops could learn from your experience against the green horde?”
The man with the nose bone scratched his chin and then grinned malevolently with his black teeth. “Fire,” he said. “You need a lot of fire.”
“Firepower?” Corin asked
“No, I mean fire, literal fire. Even the orks are not stupid enough to walk through a blaze.”
For today, a writing post.
I’ll show you a trick to help you with indirect characterization. Well, actually, I will tell you why you shouldn’t do that — or not as much as is common nowadays.
If you have spent some time looking up writing guides and the like, you might have come across something called the STEAL method. I don’t know original the source of the ‘method’, I guess people take the acronym very seriously, but it’s relatively popular. Basically, it’s a mnemonic to help you remember some ways to, indirectly, shape a character according to its Speech, Thoughts, Effects (on others,) Actions, and Looks.
It’s not a bad method, but keep in mind that it’s indirect characterization, which is a bit overrated anyway. In fact, indirectness is a common trait in contemporary fiction, and I’d say it’s even a fad, and a harmful one. From the obsession of showing over telling, or deep POV/narrator vs. a freer one, it seems people are terrified of just stating things directly and using their authorial/narrative voice and superpowers. This is direct characterization, and pretty much all telling over showing, with a mostly omniscient narrator who knows things nobody else does:
“Mr. Pricklebotton was a cantankerous old man, bitter of the new world he didn’t understand and longing for a past he misremembered. His only living object of affection was a stray dog he sometimes fed, but not very well. And in the non-living category, he loved all the garbage he had accumulated during his long life, a habit that had gone from amusing pastime to fire and health hazard as he grow older, the trash piled up, and he began to straddle the line between eccentricity and senility.”
This is the full interview with the British-American writer James L. Cunningham. It first appeared on All-Men’s Adventure Magazine in 1935. The original interview was half as long and its most “juicy” aspects had been cut off, probably out of fear of upsetting the moral authorities that back then were keeping a close eye on this kind of magazines. The writer died later that year from cancer, which could explain his strangely forthcoming and open answers. After Monroe Webster, the editor and interviewer, died in 1965, the original interview with lines marking the parts to cut out was found among his papers.
The town of Hanel had once been known for its vineyards, and for the first months of the war, their inhabitants still thought they would be able to go on with their lives as always. But the Germans advanced with surprising speed, the war front grew, first from the south and then to the north, finally growing into sprawling trenches.
The Germans on one side and the English on the other, tried to outdig one another in their march to the English Channel, and the trenches squirmed upwards, finally leaving the small French town on the German side. Although they were gentle with the local populace, war has its priorities, and the town infrastructure fell in disrepair, then most of its inhabitants left, and finally, in the pull and push between the Germans and the British, the town was all but destroyed.
I was thinking recently about how disappointed I have been by some W40K stories I had tried to read, so I have written my own fanfiction here as part of the November story-athon. I’ll probably divide it into two or three parts. The title may not make sense now, but it will later on. I hope.
As I said in the previous post, this is the write-a-story-a-day month, so let’s begin with something unique (and longer than I had expected.) It’s not what I usually write, but I liked it anyway.
Like those astronomical objects that are first discovered by the effects they have around them, David’s first glimpse of her was indirect, of the fluttering of people orbiting around her and the deviations she caused in passersby’s trajectories as they got close to her gravitational pull.
November is the month when writers-bloggers disappear and go radio silent as they set to do a Nanowrimo or similar writing ordeal. I’m going to do something like that but, if all goes well, I won’t go silent.
On MeWe.com I joined a group that put forward the idea of writing a flash story (500-1000 words or so) a day for the entire month. I believe that’s harder than a straightforward writing marathon, not due to the quantity of output but quality, since writing 10 one-thousand-word stories is usually harder than just a single ten-thousand-word story. Still, that’s the goal, or the ideal anyway, and that’s what I’m aiming for.
Before I had jumped into that project, I actually already had another one in mind for this month: posting a writing-related post each day. I had even written down the list, but I doubt I’ll be able to do both things. However, it may be a good filler for those days when, for one reason or another, the stories fail to appear.
So, basically, I’ll write whatever I fell like writing, mostly fiction, but whatever pours forth from the muses. Adventure, horror, parody, the most exciting retelling of watching paint dry… whatever I come up with. I already have a few ideas for some stories, but I’ll mostly improvise. Naturally, that, and time constraints, means quality and themes will be varied. But I’ll try to churn out some quality e-pulp, that’s for sure.
I was going over a piece I had written when I found this seemingly innocuous sentence: “He talked to them in his crude Japanese and told that there was a group of Chinese civilians, around twenty, that was coming in their direction.” I usually do two or three proofings of the stuff I write, and this is why the second one is so important, to catch stuff like that.
Now, the sentence may not be awful, but it made me cringe a bit because I felt I heard it scream something like “I have been written by an amateur! Come and take a look!” Without much effort, I rewrote it into this:
“He talked to them in his crude Japanese and told them a group of twenty Chinese civilians was coming their way.”