About Writers, book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

Live in the present. Write there too.

–  by Barry K. Rosen (aka Mellow Curmudgeon)

The ancient advice is still good. Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes. Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank. Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way? Not consciously. I just set out to write a short story. I’ll write some fiction. I’ll use the customary past tense. Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite. I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post. Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs. I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense. Why? I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does. Indeed. Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be? Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present
Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished. Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first. Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camouflage for weak content. Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases. We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns. That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff. As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken. Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past
Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English. As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense. People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense. Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary. How can he say prendre in English? No problem. Just say take. But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense. Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat. Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted? Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
The picture was hung in a prominent place.
Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.
This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect
Pierre is back. The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time. Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take. He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky. What to do? Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past. That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort. Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense
John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks. Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks. He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback. There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots. He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks. If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history. Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener. She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said. The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous. The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early. But Jane is game to try. If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit
Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors. Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually. Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least one story told in the present tense. No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing. As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me. Editor Curtis Bausse suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked. There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense. That is as it should be.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

True Gamer Anthology – Stories by Gamers for Gamers

An untapped market of $152,000,000,000 (that’s billions of dollars) a year with over two billion active participants? Maybe. I suspect most writers are unaware of it.

Games today require an immersive story line. Howard Hughes is featured in Fallout New Vegas. Apparently, Howard survived the nuclear war as a human-robot hybrid living deep underground in a vat of biomedical brew. He controls the city, not for money, but because he wants power over others so he can create a post-apocalyptic world in his own image.

The average video game writer salary is $82,935.
https://www.quora.com/How-much-do-video-game-scriptwriters-make-in-a-big-company
(Forget Fan-fiction, except for fun. Logically enough, it is difficult to make money based on something someone else has created and copyrighted.)

Voice actor dialogue is first-rate. Linda Carter – yep, Wonder Woman – wrote and sang the songs for her own in-game character. Magnolia, the sultry lounge singer in Fallout 4 sings good jazz, too. Google her sometime:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S39BnYdGD6Q

We are beginning to plan an anthology of true gamer stories. You are invited to join us. Imagine, real stories that happened in fantasy. We think some of those two billion gamers will want to read it. Only the game gods know what we will find. Love stories, of course. And death. I once played with a drug enforcement agent who came online one day and just wanted to be with “friends.” She was quite upset. She had had to shoot someone in real life. In-game is where she went for consolation. Expect extremes. I remember a lady from the earliest days of online gaming who logged into the game from the maternity ward. She wanted everyone to meet her new baby. That was -truly 😃 – memorable role play as we sat at our keyboards around the world, grinning and being happy for the mother. Expect delight.

To produce an anthology of true gamer stories we will need agents to explore the game forums and find true stories, writers who are also gamers to write their own stories, ghostwriters for players who are not writers, editors of course, and a publisher to format the story and put it on Amazon in time for next Christmas season. You may be any one or more of these and how this effort is organized is up to the people doing the work. Those who are still here this time next year will be the agents, writers, editors and publisher of what can be a ground breaking effort.

Join us. Go to the Facebook Group, “True Game Stories.”
Or email me, GD<at>Deckard<dot>com.

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About Writers, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology

Featured Author, Paul Stansbury

NOTE: Paul Stansbury’s story,  The Scroll and the Silver Kazoo,
appears in the Writers Co-op anthology, The Rabbit Hole, Vol 1.
GD Cover small

I have been writing for some years because it provides me a creative outlet. I write about anything that strikes my fancy, though I tend to favor speculative fiction and the occasional humorous piece. People who read my work have learned to expect almost anything. The only caveat I have is any member of my family should be comfortable reading something I have written.

I admit I am a Twilight Zone child. I mean the original series – those grainy, black and white television shows where, after an introductory scene, the camera would pan to Rod Serling for his set up for a short stint “in the twilight zone.” I was just 10 years old when the first episodes aired in 1960. After I saw them, I was forever hooked.

From my viewpoint, speculative fiction places us in a world where the Laws, those regularly occurring or apparently inevitable phenomenon that govern what happens to us, operate differently than what we would expect. In this world, the rules as we know them do not always apply. Or could it be the rules as we thought we knew them?

Speculative fiction aims to explore our world as it would be altered by posing the question: What if? While surfing the net, I recently saw a brief video about a well known landmark. I asked myself: What if? That resulted in a flash fiction story. If you want to read it, send me an email request: paulsstansbury@gmail.com.

The most appealing and freeing aspect of speculative fiction is that, like the worlds it creates, it is not bound by the traditional genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. In fact, it is not bound by any genre. It is free to adventure anywhere it likes as long as anywhere is a creation of imagination and speculation.

My process for writing is simple. Start writing, keep writing. When I experience the doldrums in the middle of a project, I keep writing. I don’t fret if it’s not the best work, that can always be fixed with the delete button. I always seem to get back on track. If I can’t think of a subject or theme to inspire a story, I just surf the net asking: What if?

I also seek feedback every chance I get. I am a member of a great writers group. Writing takes practice. I am still honing my skills. I take on only manageable projects. I encounter more than a few would be authors who want to write the next great novel, but can’t get started because they are overwhelmed or they are worried about finding a publisher before the first paragraph is written.

I prefer to write short stories and flash fiction. I have never had the desire to write anything longer than a novelette.  My stories are plot driven. I let my characters grow and evolve to meet the plot’s needs. I am not suggesting that is the right or only way, only that it is my way.

I do self publish collections of my stories through my own Sheppard Press. My first book, Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections, is a collection of fictional stories and poems influenced by my experiences growing up along Fern Creek in Kentucky. My second, Inversion – Not Your Ordinary Stories is a collection of my speculative fiction stories, some of which have appeared in print and some which are original.

I also try my hand at being editor. I put together a collection of my Grandfather’s stories, letters and other writings entitled By George – A Collection Of Childhood Experiences and Anecdotes, published through Sheppard Press in June, 2017. Did all the work myself: editing, research, annotation, formatting, and artwork. I will say, I gained a new and increased respect for editors as a result of this process. I did find it a rewarding, albeit exhausting experience. Most recently, I finished a similar project for a good friend to publish his book, Migrant Times and Other Musings, which was published in October, 2018.

Right now, I am working on the final draft of Inversion II – Creatures, Fairies, and Haints, Oh My! I hope to publish it in November, 2018.

Paul Stansbury

www.paulstansbury.com

http://www.facebook.com/paulstansbury

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editing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A Word About Editing

By Curtis Bausse

Not my own work, other people’s. I could write reams about my own – the various drafts, the juggling with voice, the search for the right rhythm in each sentence. But that would be like telling you my dreams – only a matter of time before you’re asleep yourself. So this is about how I edit other people’s.

You may be wondering what gives me the right in any case. Well, more than a right it’s a duty, an obligation. I have two anthologies on the go, Second Taste, the third (and final) Book a Break anthology, and (with the invaluable help of Atthys Gage and GD Deckard) The Rabbit Hole, the first volume (of what we hope will be a long and successful series) of weird stories produced by The Writers’ Co-op. As all writers know, a text can only benefit from the critical regard of a reader intent on helping it reach its full potential. To launch an anthology without editing the submissions would be remiss at the least. Closer, in fact, to irresponsible.

I’m not a professional editor, but I do have some credentials in the world of academia, where I peer-reviewed submissions to a number of journals in Applied Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology. I also submitted articles to similar journals myself. It’s not something I recommend if your ego is fragile. The articles are regularly savaged like a ferret set upon by a Staffordshire bull terrier. That’s when they’re accepted. Otherwise it’s a summary ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’

I eventually got used to it. But I took away a couple of lessons for use when reviewing myself. The first, more obvious one was to be meticulous, hunt down the slightest weakness of logic, unsupported argument or methodological flaw. The second was to be respectful, less bull terrier than Labrador. (I’m not an expert on the cognitive psychology of dogs, but I see Labradors as firm and rigorous, yet positive and constructive.)

Clearly, a research paper is not the same as a short story. But when I edit, I try to bring those two qualities to the task. Regarding the first, every editor has their own prism, a particular way they like to see things expressed. It’s a fine line between respecting a writer’s voice (which is essential) and accepting an awkward wording or a clumsiness. My own fixation is concision, by which I mean the elimination of any unnecessary word. When I read my own writing I ask myself if every word in the sentence contributes something to the overall effect or purpose. Redundancies get deleted without mercy.

So when they received my comments, a number of contributors to the anthologies may have thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s a nutter!’ My apologies if that’s the case. But faithful to my second principle of constructiveness, I always strive to keep in view what the writer is trying to achieve, and make suggestions to that end. Perhaps I’ve been lucky to deal with writers who are understanding and courteous, but so far the replies I’ve received have been almost all appreciative.

There may on occasion be tension between the two principles of rigour and respect. What happens if the story needs a radical overhaul? You might think that in that case it wouldn’t be accepted, but often I see potential in a storyline which could be brought out if the writing was stronger. On those occasions I won’t hesitate to send back a text that I have in places rewritten, with a comment explaining why. The writer can of course refuse the alterations, but again, the replies I get have so far always been positive.

At the end of the day, it’s like many other types of negotiation: sensitivity, subjectivity, attitudes and egos are involved. When writers defend their position with cogent arguments, it means they’ve thought about what they’re doing and come up with what they see as the best way of doing it. In that case I’ll generally defer, even if my own point of view is different. In fiction, voice and intention count for more than in scientific research, meaning there’s more room for flexibility. In both cases, though, editor and writer have a common purpose: the publication of a piece that’s as good as it can get. Which is why, on the whole, agreement is easily reached.

Perhaps, if anything, I err on the side of respect. Certainly that was the case when I started out. To overcome that, I have a simple expedient: when firmness is called for, I think of Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, whose fruitful but fractious relationship led to the publication of stories widely hailed as among the best ever written.

Carver’s initial ending of One More Thing:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm again and once more picked up the suitcase. “I just want to say one more thing, Maxine. Listen to me. Remember this,” he said. “I love you. I love you no matter what happens. I love you too, Bea. I love you both.” He stood there at the door and felt his lips begin to tingle as he looked at them for what, he believed, might be the last time. “Good-bye,” he said.

“You call this love, L.D.?” Maxine said. She let go of Bea’s hand. She made a fist. Then she shook her head and jammed her hands into her coat pockets. She stared at him and then dropped her eyes to something on the floor near his shoes.

It came to him with a shock that he would remember this night and her like this. He was terrified to think that in the years ahead she might come to resemble a woman he couldn’t place, a mute figure in a long coat, standing in the middle of a lighted room with lowered eyes.

“Maxine!” he cried. “Maxine!”

“Is this what love is, L.D.?” she said, fixing her eyes on him. Her eyes were terrible and deep, and he held them as long as he could.

Lish’s ending:

L.D. put the shaving bag under his arm and picked up the suitcase.

He said, “I just want to say one more thing.”

But then he could not think what it could possibly be.

It takes a brave editor to do that. I think I have a long way to go.

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