I’ve Had the Time of My Life

Nov. 1st 2011

What Happened in Granite Creek (WHIGC) plays with time. Part one alternates between “present day” (the fall of 2008) and the past, which starts in March 1995 and goes through November 2007. Part two takes place six years into the future (from the “present day”), so 2014.

I was inspired by The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I found it to be an incredible story, but as a writer, I was awed by the craft aspect. I can’t even imagine what Niffenegger went through to keep that timeline straight. Now, I realize Niffenegger’s book is about time travel. So the going-back-in-time-in-certain-chapters structure actually makes sense, but still.

Anyhow, while I was reading her book, I’d just started to seriously draft WHIGC. My novel felt right in first person, present tense, but I also knew I needed to weave in a lot of back story since two of my main characters — Koty and Wayne — had been married for twelve years and the landscape of this marriage — all its hills and valleys and craters — were important to the story and to the characters. I didn’t want to get mired in flashbacks. Unsure of what to do, I just decided to write the scene when Koty and Wayne first meet. I wrote it in first person, present tense and realized it worked. Well, why not keep it? I thought. I can play with time. As long as I make it clear to my readers, it should work. (Jodi Picoult, one of my faves, also uses this structure in some of her books — My Sister’s Keeper comes to mind).

One of my beta readers asked if I thought this “looping timeline” would become a signature of my work. I don’t think so. My first novel, Forgotten April, went in chronological order (although there were plenty of flashbacks). My third novel, which I’m working on now, is moving forward (so far).

But I did have fun playing with time in WHIGC.

What books have you read that play with time? Do you like it, or does it feel like cheating to you (I won’t take offense — I know not everyone will like the style)? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Remember, if you tweet this post, use the hashtag #WHIGC.

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Sorry, Third Person. I’m Just Not That Into You.

Aug. 19th 2011

I try not to listen when people talk about no-no’s in writing, mainly because there aren’t any no-no’s, at least when something is written well.

Tell me a “no-no,” and I’ll find an example of a book that broke the rule well, at least according to this reader and critic.

But I’m human. So I can get swept up in the “you shouldn’t write in first person” hogwash I hear on forums where writers hang out. According to these forums, I’m the biggest sinner since I’ve written both novels in first person (multiple first persons) AND present tense.

Oh, the horror!

With Forgotten April, I’d started out in third person pseudo-omniscient — I say “pseudo” because I didn’t know what I was doing and was trying to please my wonderful mentor who warned me about writing in first person.

Oh, but the story sucked in third person. BIG TIME. I tried. I tried for 80,000 words. But it was awful and I was depressed and, on a whim, I opened a new page and was like, “I just want to see what it feels like if I write it in first person. It’ll be my little secret. No one has to know.” So I gave it a go and immediately knew it was better — a whole lot better. I brought two scenes — one in third and one in first person — to my writers’ group and they confirmed it. The first person had LIFE.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve written in third person. In fact, I think my short story “Crush,” which is written in third person, is one of my best literary efforts to date from a craft perspective. So I know there’s a place for it, I like reading it (if it works), and I can write in it.

Anyhow, back to the reason behind my title. I’m working on my third novel, and due to recent comments in a writers’ forum about the problems with first person and present tense, I thought I’d approach this novel in third person and past tense. The past tense is working — it feels completely right.

As for third person? Not so much. I tried. I’d write and stop myself when I’d slip into first person and rewrite the section in third. At first, since I was still in those dreamy early stages of drafting, I wasn’t too bothered by it. But then, I figured the story out — you know, one of those breakthroughs where you stop riffing with that one melody you’ve discovered, and, instead, you start composing the full song and weave the melody in. Yeah, that sort of thing. So I was jazzed and excited and was writing a scene that worked really well when, holy crap! I realized I’d written the whole thing in first person.

Guess what? I need to honor that. The story is telling me it needs to be written in first person, and so are the characters. It’s still unclear whether I’ll be using multiple viewpoints, but, for now, this baby is staying in first person, past tense.

Sorry, third person. I’m just not that into you — this time, anyway. I’m sure I’ll be back. You behave while I’m gone.

Do you have a favorite tense you like to read?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Writing | 7 Comments »