Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prose is a Window

Stephanie here. Jill Williamson talked to me so much about the podcast Writing Excuses that I was eager to check it out. During a conversation about point of view and tense, I was struck by Brandon Sanderson's description of what prose should do. Brandon said most writers are striving to write "Orwellian" style prose, in which:



"You don't see the prose, you see the story. The prose is a window, beyond which all these wonderful things are happening. If you start fiddling with tense, people pay attention to the window instead of what's happening beyond it."

Writers are creative people who enjoy experimenting with words and techniques. (I would guess most of us have an attempt of a second-person novel stashed in a drawer.) But we want to be careful that we're not so fresh and different that readers are unable to see the story.

Have you ever tried out a technique in a manuscript and later decided it distracted too much from the story?

29 comments:

  1. I don't think I've ever tried anything too wacky, but one thing I've noticed is that using too many semi-colons detracts from the story. You're reading along and then all of a sudden you're like, "Whoa, there's a semi-colon! Don't see those so often...wait, where was I?" :P Thanks for the quote, Mrs. Morrill!

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    1. Ha! That's true. A lot of readers don't even know what to do with a semi-colon. I know some writers who never use them just for that reason.

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  2. Lol! So true ... I do have a second person project, but only for my own enjoyment, as I secretly love writing in second person. I would never try to publish anything in it, but I still love it.

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  3. I remember a time where I was so focused on "the rules" of writing, that my story felt very mechanical. I still catch myself doing things from that period of my writing life and I have to edit to try and find that window. Rules can sometimes make things cloudy.

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  4. Oh, I've tried just about everything..it took me several unfinished bits in third person present tense to come to grips with the fact that I'm not the next Neal Shusterman :-)

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  5. I've actually always stuck to 1st and 3rd person. However, I just wanted to say, I simply LOVE that description of prose. So, so, so true. Beautifully said.

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  6. I love that description of prose. I will writing that down to stash away. Hm, techniques that didn't work? I tried a novel draft in third person present tense. It did not end well. Other things that did not work include second person narrative, prose (Ellen Hopkins style), and my personal favourite failure - stream of consciousness.

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    1. I laughed that you have a "favorite failure." I think playing with language and tense is so important to our development, though.

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    2. I learned a lot from those failures! Mostly to not do the same thing again, LOL, but other valuable lessons too.

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  7. I do have a snippet of a second person story in a drawer. It's actually a pretty good concept, and I intend to finish it, I just have other books that are a higher priority at the moment.

    I have one book that I wrote for my NaNo '11, and I decided to do it in dual first person, alternating between a memoir from one character and diary entries from the other. I like how it came out, but it was also a bit limiting. There's so much more to the story that I wasn't able to capture in that format. At the moment, I'm not sure how I intend to proceed with the story, but as there are several books ahead of it in the series it now belongs to, I'm not in a hurry to fix it.

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    1. Kendra, trying stuff like that is so good for our writing muscles, I think. I did the whole, "the entire book is a letter" thing and had a similar experience. But it's so good to try so that you can really understand why it doesn't work.

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    2. I have a book that is letters going back and forth that my friend and I wrote together, and (we think) it actually works. But it took us 3 rewrites (literally, we started completely over 3 times) to figure out how to make it work and how to write it in a way that the letters were necessary and not just a distracting window.

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  8. I love the Writing Excuses podcast so much, and I think I've heard this episode before. I've never tried anything too different with my prose, but I really like reading lyrical writing in books, so I try to imitate that sometimes in my work. I think I used to try way too hard so it would detract from the story, but I'm getting better at telling the difference between too much lyrical prose and not enough.

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    1. As they're fond of saying in the podcast, pretty writing can be a great reward to the reader. Keep trying to find that balance :)

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  9. I haven't written a story in second person, but I have considered naming a character YOU.

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    1. LOL! When I tried 2nd person, I named one of my main characters 'Yew'.

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  10. When I first started writing it was always in awkward third person past tense. Now I really like writing first person. The worst thing about first person is how limiting the story telling can be. As a reader, I don't really like reading a book first or third person where it changes point of view. I have this weird pet peeve about female writers writing from the males point of view. It usually jerks me out of the story.

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    1. That's interesting that you have a pet peeve about female writers writing the male's POV. I happen to be one of those female writers that do this all the time (sorry). I agree that it really does bug me when it is done badly. I once read a book that where a male author wrote the female POV so badly that it wasn't believable at all. In my current WIP, I alternate between the main male POV and main female POV. To make sure my male POV sounded authentic, I had my brothers and dad read it and point out all the places it didn't sound like a guy. I also wrote it in third person instead of first person because writing a male POV in first person is harder to pull off (been there, done that, and flopped terribly).

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    2. I absolutely agree with your pet peeve, and of the inverse with males writing female POV. Why is it either really well done or totally jarring? A mystery...

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    3. Practice maybe? J.K. Rowlings wrote a whole series in Harry's POV and most (if not all) of Jill Williamson's books have a male POV character. But both of those authors write the male POV a lot. They've been practicing it. So it turns out really well.

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    4. Tricia, I don't want to fault your writing. I would agree that if done well it isn't a problem. It's just not usually done in a way I like. Good idea about asking your brothers and your dad. I'm afraid to ask mine since I'm a total scaredy cat about showing my work. I usually will copy traits my friends who are guys have or from guys in my favorite TV shows

      All that being said, I have read books where I don't mind the POV being written by the opposite gender. For instance, I really like Dan Wells' Partial Sequence series. He's a man (obviously) but he writes third person, usually from the POV of his main female character. There were a few times when it felt a bit odd but I read all three novels and enjoyed them.

      It's always interesting how different people feel about the things they read/write. It explains why there are so many genres and so many different books :)

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  11. I like trying new and crazy things when writing, but I don't know if I would publish them all :)

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  12. I've never written in second person. When I first started writing, I wrote primarily in first person, but as my writing evolved, I've shifted to limited third, usually with at least two POVs.

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  13. I've tried nearly every person out there, and even though most people don't like 2nd, I love it. I would never publish anything in it, but I have had people outside my family and friends tell me I write good 2nd person present tense.

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