Changing Grooves for Fun and Profit!

I am delighted to present a guest blogger today, my critique partner and friend Cyndi Bishop. First I’ll introduce her. Here she is:

Here’s what makes her tick:  Cyndi Bishop lives in the Seattle, WA, area with her husband and dogs. She writes and maintains house full time, as well as crocheting, knitting, and watching enough movies to make her a walking IMDb. She has had several articles published by Focus on the Family, but her real focus is novels, especially in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. 
Here are Cyndi’s thoughts on Outlining for Changing Grooves for Fun and Profit: 

I’m a third person limited (one POV character per scene), past tense kind of writer. I’ve dipped into first person from time to time, and even told a second-person short story once or twice, but for the most part, my novels are in the third person with one or two POV characters. 

Everyone tends to find their own style they prefer. I have a critique partner who prefers present tense. I prefer past. That same critique partner leans toward first person, while I lean toward third. This person once suggested to me that I change one of my novels to present tense, even adapting a few paragraphs for me to illustrate. Those paragraphs felt so awkward and clunky to me that I could barely read them. We each have our own comfortable groove, and we can’t expect our groove to work perfectly for a different writer. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t toy with another groove from time to time. 

The other day, I began a new exercise. I started writing a short story in the third person with no POV character. I believe there’s a specific term for this, but I can’t seem to recall or locate that name at the moment. The main idea is to think of the writing like a movie camera’s lens: I can only write the things which a camera could see. Now, this particular style is generally frowned on. By showing the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, the writer can create a stronger emotional bond between that character and the reader. But it’s been a fascinating exercise. 

With a POV character, it becomes remarkably easy to cheat. It’s so much easier to tell the reader what your protagonist thinks and feels than it is to show it. Writing ‘movie camera’ style, then, is forcing me to let go of those cheap and easy tricks. If I want to convey that a character is uncertain, I can’t show her contemplating out her options – that all occurs in her head, and I can’t use that. I have to find a different way to convey clearly what her choices are and why she’s torn between them. 

I’m still addicted to my third person limited, past tense style. I doubt that will change anytime soon. But this exercise is stretching me and teaching me all sorts of marvelous tricks that I can use to create a deeper, stronger novel, to avoid using the ‘cheater’ moves when I revert to my more comfortable style. Taking a brief foray into a different groove is helping me improve my skills for when I return to my own groove. 

What’s your preferred style? What have you avoided dabbling in? Consider taking some time to test-drive a different groove. Even if it feels strange, even if you don’t think that groove is the right one for you, odds are that you’ll find that this stretch of your skills will add a few more tricks to your magic bag of writing. 

(For those wondering about the ‘profit’ part of the title, that’s called ‘false advertising.’ Depending on your personality, the ‘fun’ part may fall under the same heading.)


2 thoughts on “Changing Grooves for Fun and Profit!

  1. I’ve played around with first person limited past tense and third person limited past tense. I like them both, but the third person POV is a lot more versatile. I tried present tense once and hated it – it feels clunky to me. But I have a friend who can write in it easily, and she makes it work. It’s still hard for me to read, but if it’s done correctly, the awkwardness disappears eventually.

  2. When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher told our class that novels and stories were never written in second person, and rarely in present tense. So the next creative writing assignment I had, I wrote in second person, present tense. Turned out to be one of my best. 🙂

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