Steve Lowe’s short story ‘Varmits!’ is live on Drabblecast – it’s a podcast so turn on your speakers. If you’re at work, there’s a couple naughty words, but nothing too awful. It’s the story of a paranoid man who realizes raccoons are drawn to him by the siren call of his bassoon. And they’re up to no good. (Muwahahahaha!)
My story ‘Aloisius Cottonbottom’s Surefire Image Reconstruction Services’ was No. 3 on The New Flesh best of 2009 list. Go read it now. You owe it to yourself:
I’d like to relate a little back and forth I’ve been having with a fellow member of our little group here, Sean Grigsby, regarding the use of tense. Several of my more recent stories have been written in present tense, much to the chagrin of young Sean, who doesn’t feel present tense is proper for a work of fiction.
Here’s the interesting part: What Sean didn’t like about a couple of my present tense stories were exactly the things I did like about them. Here was my explanation, specifically regarding a short called ‘Muscle Memory’, a comedy about bodyswitching that begins with a guy waking up to discover he now inhabits his wife’s body, and he’s not alone. The dog and cat have switched, his next door neighbors have as well. There’s a scene where our main character, Billy, is trying to breastfeed his young son while his neighbor, Tucker, now inhabiting the body of his wife, can’t stop staring at the bare-breasted spectacle…
What I like about present tense is its immediacy, the sense of urgency it implies. I guess we’ll just have to disagree here because I feel it’s perfect for this story. The plight of the characters, to me, feels more urgent and helps put the reader right there at the table with them, staring at the guy’s tits and sharing in their bewilderment. After awhile, past tense just gets too damn old. Every story that I wrote in past tense began to sound and read and feel the same to me. You need to experiment sometimes, see what else is possible.
The point of this amiable exchange would be, there is no right way, just as there is no wrong way. There are certain rules to be followed in writing, but rules were made to be broken, too. Personally, I think it would be wrong not to experiment from time to time. Try a different tense, or bang something out in 1st person. You never know what might happen. It’s like when you go to your wife’s closet and try on her lacy dainties, you know, just to see how they feel. Or, uh… so I’m told. By Kevin Wallis.
– Steve Lowe
We’ve all heard it before. Endless amounts of YouTube videos, articles, and books on writing have preached the sanctity of putting away that first draft and come back to it when you’ve grown up. And you know something? They’re right. But how many of us follow this credo? I’ll be the first to cross that line drawn in the sand and say with complete shame that I have no patience. Without giving anything away, I recently finished a story that opens with a woman in a lifeboat, digging through a purse. I never said whose purse it was. I then did the old flashbackaroo and, after a series of harrowing events, lead back to where the story began.
I went through that story backwards, forwards, and even did the Charleston on top of it. Happy with what I had, I sent that baby to the publisher whose deadline was Halloween. I have taken a break from writing between Saturday night and today. I figured I deserved a little “down time” for such a good job and decided to use the time to read “Self-Editing For Fiction Writers”. In the middle of a paragraph, it hits me. The purse! The damn PURSE!!! I never explained how the purse got into the lifeboat with her. I tried to think back and convince myself that I hadn’t made the main character do anything that would rule out the possibility that she did it all with a purse around her shoulder. Nope. Try again. Maybe the other female character had hers with her. It wasn’t like I said whose purse it was. Right? We’ll see.
The point I’m trying to make to both myself and you is that you NEED to set aside your recent work and come back to it with fresh eyes. Odds are you missed something whether it’s an info dump, a clear case of telling, or a damned Coach bag. One thing I’m going to try, and suggest the same to you, is to start work on a new story as soon as you are done with your latest. The new story will give you time to let the old one simmer and also get your mind away from it. Even better, it motivates you to keep writing. Because, are we really writers if we don’t write?
— Sean Grigsby