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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Writing - part xx262 Writing a Novel, Problems with Perfect Tense

21 June 2020, Writing - part xx262 Writing a Novel, Problems with Perfect Tense

Announcement: Delay, my new novels can be seen on the internet, but my primary publisher has gone out of business—they couldn’t succeed in the past business and publishing environment.  I’ll keep you informed, but I need a new publisher.  More information can be found at  Check out my novels—I think you’ll really enjoy them.

Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with

I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.

Today’s Blog: To see the steps in the publication process, visit my writing websites
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don’t confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don’t show (or tell) everything.
     4a. Show what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted on the stage of the novel.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
These are the steps I use to write a novel including the five discrete parts of a novel:

1.     Design the initial scene
2.     Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
a.     Research as required
b.     Develop the initial setting
c.     Develop the characters
d.     Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
3.     Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
4.     Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
5.     Write the climax scene
6.     Write the falling action scene(s)
7.     Write the dénouement scene
I finished writing my 29th novel, working title, Detective, potential title Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective.  The theme statement is: Lady Azure Rose Wishart, the Chancellor of the Fae, supernatural detective, and all around dangerous girl, finds love, solves cases, breaks heads, and plays golf.  
Here is the cover proposal for Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective
Cover Proposal
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I am continuing to write on my 30th novel, working title Red Sonja.  I finished my 29th novel, working title Detective.  I’m planning to start on number 31, working title Shifter
How to begin a novel.  Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea.  I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement.  Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement.  Here is an initial cut.

For novel 30:  Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.

For novel 31:  Deirdre and Sorcha are redirected to French finishing school where they discover difficult mysteries, people, and events. 

Here is the scene development outline:

1. Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
2. Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
3. Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
4. Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
5. Write the release
6. Write the kicker
Today:  Why don’t we go back to the basics and just writing a novel?  I can tell you what I do, and show you how I go about putting a novel together.  We can start with developing an idea then move into the details of the writing. 

To start a novel, I picture an initial scene.  I may start from a protagonist or just launch into mental development of an initial scene.  I get the idea for an initial scene from all kinds of sources.  To help get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at the initial scene. 

1.     Meeting between the protagonist and the antagonist or the protagonist’s helper
2.     Action point in the plot
3.     Buildup to an exciting scene
4.     Indirect introduction of the protagonist

Ideas.  We need ideas.  Ideas allow us to figure out the protagonist and the telic flaw.  Ideas don’t come fully armed from the mind of Zeus.  We need to cultivate ideas. 

1.     Read novels. 
2.     Fill your mind with good stuff—basically the stuff you want to write about. 
3.     Figure out what will build ideas in your mind and what will kill ideas in your mind.
4.     Study.
5.     Teach. 
6.     Make the catharsis. 
7.     Write.

The development of ideas is based on study and research, but it is also based on creativity.  Creativity is the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form.  It is a reflection of something new created with ties to the history, science, and logic (the intellect).  Creativity requires consuming, thinking, and producing.

If we have filled our mind with all kinds of information and ideas, we are ready to become creative.  Creativity means the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form.  Literally, we are seeing the world in a new way, or actually, we are seeing some part of the world in a new way. 

I’ve worked through creativity and the protagonist.  The ultimate point is that if you properly develop your protagonist, you have created your novel.  I should move back to the initial scene, but I’ve been writing about showing and not telling in my short form blog, and I want to expand that out a bit in this blog.  Let’s move on to perhaps the most important feature of the novel: showing and not telling.

Novelists are not storytellers.  Novelists are story-showers.  I hope you have heard the fiction writer’s adage: show and don’t tell.  This is the most important aspect of the internal construction of the novel. 

I will reveal that in reviewing a recent self-published author’s book, I was compelled by the wholesale telling in the book, I can’t call it a novel, that I had to address each area where the author failed to show.  That’s where I came up with the following list:

Show and don’t tell.
Omniscient voice is poop.
Only write what the characters saw, tasted, felt, smelled, heard, said, or any action.
Identity is a problem.
Don’t tell.
It’s all about dialog.
Perfect tense can be a problem.
It’s all about the senses.
Don’t be boring.
Eating is living and dialog.
Creativity and senses.
Start with scene setting.
Make it sense setting.

So just what does it mean to show and not tell?  This seems to be a very difficult question for new writers as well as a source of contention for experienced writers.  It seems that many writers can’t agree or even concede on what showing vs. telling really means. Not to worry—I have the answer.

What’s wrong with perfect tense?  Well, nothing at all.  What’s wrong with adverbs?  Well, nothing at all, but the fiction world has a jihad out against adverbs.  If you didn’t know that, I’m glad to inform you.  I’m personally much happier to accept an entire class of words, adverbs, than to use three specific verb tenses.  You might ask, what is perfect tense?  Let me remind you, but let me warn you.  If you aren’t familiar with how we describe English constructions, you might need to put in some study.  This is basic stuff for the writer.  Here are examples of the perfect tense:

Present perfect:  I have seen it.

Past perfect:  I had seen it.

Future perfect:  I will have seen it.

Present particle:  I am seeing it.

I threw in the present participle tense just to show you how interesting artist jihads are.  I’m not very happy with the present particle.  I’ve written about it before.  It should only be used when the character is accomplishing more than one critical action at a time.  In every other case, you should weed it out of your writing.  Many authors don’t seem to have much problem with the present particle, but the present participle in English is a type of adverb.  Notice in the example, the verb form “seeing” modifies the “to be” verb.  “Seeking” is an adverb modifying the meaning of “am.”  We shazam, it’s an adverb.  Back to the perfect tense.

What’s wrong with the perfect tense?  I’m with Arlo Guthrie, Jr.  If you pick up his Field Guide to Fiction Writing, you will see he isn’t enamored with the perfect tense either.  He, like I am not against the use of the perfect tense, but let’s just see what the purpose of the perfect tense is in fiction.

First of all, let me remind you.  We are writing in the third person, past tense, showing style.  Some of you might be writing in the first person, past tense, showing style.  If you aren’t writing in either of these manners, you aren’t writing contemporary fiction, or you are writing in an experimental style.  I can’t help experimental, but let’s go with contemporary fiction.  Everything in contemporary fiction is in the past tense.  This means the past tense, for all intents and purpose, is the present tense.  To move into the past, the proper use of tense requires the author to write in the perfect tense—the past perfect to be exact, but in English, we have many options. 

Writing in the past perfect isn’t a problem until you realize how terrible it sounds.  Plus, I’m less worried about how it sounds than what it connotes.  I would like to use Arlo Guthrie, Jr.’s example, but I don’t have it in hand.  Let me try to show you.  Here is an example:

Jack stood quietly in the forest.  He listened with great care.  Suddenly, the snap of a branch brought his face slowly around.  He strained his ears.  A dear paced not ten feet from him where he tried to appear like just another tree.  The entire incident brought his thoughts back into the past.  He had remembered another deer and another meeting.  In that one, he had barely kept his scalp.  The deer had hidden a red savage who had been looking for him.  He had barely stopped his body from running through the woods.  He had barely prevented himself from becoming the target of a razor sharp axe.  He had nearly lost his life…

And so on.  Do you see what happened?  The tense changed from past to past perfect to accommodate the “flashback.”  Arlo tells us that in this case, the author should present the past perfect for a couple of sentences and then move back to the past tense.  This makes the writing sound better.  I’ll go one further.  Do you see that movement into the past perfect also indicated a change in the writing from showing to telling?  The protagonist, Jack, was the point of view (PoV) of the author showing us what was happening around him.  With the movement to the past, Jack was suddenly telling us what happened to him in the past.  That’s great, but it’s telling.  It might even fit in this circumstance.  I’m a good enough writer to make a scene where the telling doesn’t seem so bad.  How about this?

Jack climbed the steps in front of the municipal building.  He thoughts returned to the man he was supposed to meet.  Jim had been a great war hero.  He had been educated in the best academies in the land.  He had been a warrior on the front lines…

Do you see in this example, the telling is just telling.  Perhaps this is information Jack knows, but it’s still telling.  The movement to the perfect tense indicates this movement from showing to telling.  I’d rather show than tell.  Therefore, the use of the perfect tense is a good indicator of telling in your fiction.  When you catch it, you need to evaluate it carefully.  If it is good writing and necessary to the plot, theme, and telic flaw, then you might leave it in.  On the other hand, my experience with the inexperienced is that many times it is too difficult to tell what is good and bad in your own writing.  For that reason alone, I suggest a jihad greater than the jihad against adverbs.  If it is in the perfect tense or the present participle and it’s not in dialog, kill it.  When I write, kill it, I mean put it into the past tense.  If you find you are telling, stop it, and put your writing into the past tense. 

I’m not against adverbs at all, but I righteously go through my writing looking for –ing forms to eradicate.  So far, I’ve show you, get rid of identity.  That means you look for was and were in your text and either replace it with other verbs or rewrite it.  I’ve warned you about the perfect tense.  This means you search for had in your text and either replace or rewrite.  In addition, I search for –ing and –ly in my text.  This catches the present participle and adverbs.  In every case, I evaluate if the form of the verb and the use of the adverb is necessary.  If it is I leave it in.  If it isn’t, I replace or rewrite it.  In addition, the verb forms indicate telling.  You really want to reduce your telling.  Remember, show and don’t tell.

The beginning of creativity is study and effort.  We can use this to extrapolate to creativity.  In addition, we need to look at recording ideas and working with ideas.    
More tomorrow.

For more information, you can visit my author site, and my individual novel websites:

fiction, theme, plot, story, storyline, character development, scene, setting, conversation, novel, book, writing, information, study, marketing, tension, release, creative, idea, logic

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