Comments: 5

I think one of the main problems I see with people starting to write a novel, is that they don't watch for gaps in logic. Somewhere, out of the blue, a gun appears in the final chapter and the bad guy tries to use it to kill the good guy. Or worse, is a good guy who has never held a gun before, wiping out a whole brigade of highly trained infantrymen with a six-shooter, while never being hit once by their sharp-shooting bad guys, then runs 10 miles with a broken leg, to a get-away airplane and flies away, stumbling at the controls because he's never flown a plane before. Now, these things can be done. I’m not saying they can’t, but the writer better make me believe it’s possible by setting up some rational reason that it’s possible somewhere near the beginning of the novel.

In short, make sure everything you write makes sense. Even if the story is a fantasy or science fiction, it has to have some element in logic or you'll lose your reader.
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About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Monday, July 30, 2007

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What about being politically correct or PC? I’m not talking about purposely offending someone, or a group of someones (I know that’s not a proper word, so you don’t have to criticize me for using it). But, I know the PC police love to take people, authors especially, to task over subject matters they have deemed to be offensive.

However, I believe being PC is not always being truthful. I’m not one for being offensive, but to sugar coat, or revise, history or some social issue for the sake of being PC, can be academically and/or morally dishonest. Personally, I think people who are offended so easily need to develop a thicker skin.

For instance, people talked differently in 1860 than they do today. In those days, black people were called Negroes or worse. Today, that term could land a writer in the morgue, figuratively speaking, and maybe even literally. The way people used to talk is a fact. There’s nothing we today can do about that. So, why do we have to be historical revisionists just because someone has deemed an expression, or a word to not be PC? If I ever write a novel set in the early days of this country, I would not hesitate to use the terms used during those days.

In my original version of “Bridgetown High,” I had a scene in which the antagonist, Jeff Marino, and his scummy friends, Bobby Baker and Alan Benaducci, go on a tirade, calling blacks Niggers, and worse (and I hope I didn’t offend someone by using that term here). I wasn’t calling them that. It was my characters who are total scum bags and delinquents that were calling them that. The scene is not part of “Sweet Revenge” (the revision of “Bridgetown High”), at least not for now, but only because the I needed to cut somewhere to bring the novel down to the proper size to attract an agent, not because I was afraid of offending someone. I may consider putting it into “Sweet Revenge.” I haven’t decided yet.

Ultimately, I feel an author has the right to use whatever language he/she determines is appropriate for the genre and age group he/she is writing for. Fiction writing is an art. We writers are mimicking reality, but to do so we often need to use whatever language and wording necessary to paint the pictures we paint with our words, and at times that includes words that are unpleasant. I feel to alter a work for the sake of being PC is being intellectually dishonest.

Now, for my disclaimer, and this will sound contradictory.

I will never use the infamous “F” word in my writing. I draw the line there. Not because I’m concerned about being PC, but because of decency. I do not feel we writers need to use vulgarity to paint an accurate portrait of a fictional, or even a real person, or to achieve “shock” value as some writers claim. There are other ways to achieve this without lowering our moral standards. I think of this as a moral issue, not a PC issue.
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When I began my writing career (if you can call it that at this point) I have to admit I was confused about when to use "was" or "were." I had always written "was" in such sentences as "if it was me, I'd do such and such." Now, I know that's wrong. It should read "if it were me, ...."

I've had to learn the difference. Someone once tried to explain it to me.

Use "was" when it is a statement of fact, as in "the bell tower 'was' 120 feet tall."

Use "were" when the fact has not been determined. "If he 'were' to climb the bell tower, he would find it 'was' 120 feet tall."

Clear as mud?
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Those of you who have been following my writing career, or lack there of, will probably remember that I’ve been struggling for a time, now, with the subject of “voice.” I’ve had two or three agents who have told me they didn’t think my “voice” was strong enough in my old novel “The Bridge Beckons.” So, now, with my latest novels, “GERTA!” and “Sweet Revenge,” I’ve decided I need to figure out what I’m doing wrong.

Actually, most people who have read parts of “GERTA!” have commented that my “voice” in that book is great. But then, it’s written in first person, and I think that’s key to solving my problem. “The Bridge Beckons” was written in limited third person.

A lot of you, and others, have sent me links to articles that have tried to explain “voice” to me, but few of them really told me much more than the difference between first person and third person points of view. Mind you, I do appreciate the help, and even more your concern. However, more than anything I think what has helped me is writing examples some of you have given me, taking the first chapter of my latest novel “Sweet Revenge,” and rewriting it for me as an example of how it could be better. One writer also recommended I read “Ender’s Game,” by Orson Scott Card. It is supposed to be a textbook in how to write third person POV with strong “voice.”

I read that book, and though it is science fiction, which I am not fond of reading, I did enjoy the book, somewhat, but more, I think between that and the rewrites of my chapter, I’ve begun to understand what makes for strong voice in third person.

First, let me say that rewriting that chapter in first person helped some, but much of the strong voice was lost as soon as I re-translated it back to third person. People still complained that it seemed as though they were viewing the main character from a distance through a telescope.

So, it was back to the proverbial drawing board. I struggled with the concept until I reexamined the rewrites of my opening scene and how Orson Scott Card did it in his book. Now, finally, I think I’m beginning to get it. I know, I’m pretty dense, but once I get something it becomes internalized, so for my friends who are part of my critique group “The Writer’s Pen,” and my friends at “Razor’s Edge Writers,” you can expect me to be commenting on this from time to time.

Basically, let’s say the difference in third person with weak versus strong voice is in the way the character thinks and talks. For example:

BAD EXAMPLE: John didn’t like school. Staring out his front room picture window at the birds in the trees, he realized they were chatting noisily, chasing each other around, a lot like he did to girls on the playground at school. Maybe on second through, school is not all that bad, he thought.

GOOD (BETTER?) EXAMPLE: I hate school, John mused as he stared out his front room picture window. A sparrow, chattering and jumping from branch to branch in the old elm tree caught his eye. Soon another, then another, scampered about, the female birds being chased by the males. He thought of the girls he liked to chase on the playground. Maybe school isn’t all that bad.

I don’t know if these off-the-top-of-my-head examples are good ones or not. The idea is that we need to see what the POV character sees and feel what he feels for as long as his POV is current.

More later, as I try to define it better in my own mind.
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... I will be trying out new looks for my blog site over the next few weeks. Let me know what you like, if you like any of the looks. Next, I need to figure out how to customize it by adding background photos, foreground photos, examples of my writing, etc.

Any takers?
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