Thursday, September 21, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Prose Writers Can Just Tell Us What’s Going On
The biggest shift is the mass movement over to present-tense prose, which I’m not a big fan of. Past tense feels warmer to me: Let me intimately tell you about something that happened to me. Present tense feels like: Let me shout out everything that’s happening to me as it happens. But present-tense can also work just fine, and it’s obviously here to stay.
My bigger problem with the screenplay-ization of novels is an odd development: Prose writers are starting to ignore the power they have. The biggest problem that screenwriters and (even moreso) playwrights have is that they have to force people to talk about what’s going on in the dialogue, because there’s no other way to convey invisible information to the reader.
But if you’re writing prose, either first person or third person, you can just tell us what’s going on. First person: “I stepped up to the retinal scanner. I was at the White House to meet with the president’s taskforce on aliens.” Third person: “She stepped up to the retinal scanner. She was at the White House to meet with the president’s taskforce on aliens.” What you don’t need to do is have is have someone say, “What do you think you’re doing here? This is the White House!” “Relax, I was called in to meet with the president’s taskforce on aliens.”
You’re writing a novel! You have this wonderful gift that screenwriters and playwrights lack! You have direct address to the reader! Screenwriters and playwrights would kill for that! So directly address us already!
Jump in to directly tell us things about your hero’s history, rather than trying to insert those through dialogue. Jump in to tell us what the hero’s up to, so he doesn’t have to explain it to anybody. Jump in to tell us about her emotional state so she doesn’t have to betray it. Jump in!