My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Best YA Marketed to Young Women (4th Quarter Final Results)

Lots of huge stuff going on in my life right now, and I'm certain that I'm going to drop a couple of balls in the next week (this by way of an early warning system to be gentle with my upcoming shitshow posting).  But the poll stuff is pretty easy to stay on top of, and I will probably fail less spectacularly at that.

I have to tell you all, I'm really pleased at how the semifinals are shaping up. There are some really awesome titles and the choices will not be easy.

It's always a little weird when a title gets no votes. Like someone nominated it as the BEST book. Shouldn't they vote for it?  Maybe they see all the other titles and think "Yep, forgot about that one. It's even better.

Results in text below.

Anyway, because four and five were so close together, I'm going to pull both of them into the semifinals, which should be up tomorrow.

Thank you all so much for participating.

A Wrinkle in Time - M. L'Engle 52 32.91%
Harper Hall - A. McCaffrey 36 22.78%
Nancy Drew - Various Authors 33 20.89%
Old Kingdom Series - G. Nix 18 11.39%
Lunar Chronicles - M. Meyer 17 10.76%

Glass Houses - R. Caine 2 1.27%
Delirium - L. Oliver 0 0%

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

An Open Letter to the Readers of Writing About Writing

Writing About Writing needs your help. And so do I.

Dear readers of Writing About Writing,

First of all, I hope everyone has had a good three day weekend. (And from the sounds of your Facebooks, no shortage of four day weekends!) I'm about to take one of my own. You'll be reading this on Tuesday, but I'm writing it on Sunday afternoon (though I did make a few edits on Tuesday).

That's right! WAW is going to have four days "off." I won't personally be enjoying it with feet up and a floofy rum-based drink myself because, in truth, there's lots to do, including getting some course outlines for my summer school classes to my boss, novel writing, a backlog of stuff due to patrons and Kickstarters, and some shit that....well....let's just say it might be bad.

Seriously, 2017 just watched 2016 do cancer, breakups, move outs, estrangement from tiny humans, major lifestyle downgrades, and the election of a  completely incompetent would-be dictator, and said "Hold my beer."

Of course when I say "off," I don't even really mean that for the blog. I mean jazz hands. Monday I'm going to really take off (since I can't get any of the Writing About Writing staff to come in on a bank holiday). Tuesday I will post this. Wednesday (though I usually take Wednesday off) I will post the results of the last quarter final. Thursday I will get the first semifinal poll up. Friday...I'll be back....ish. You can expect a little something, but not my usual "meaty" article. I will be taking as an admin day, so you might see a few menus get tightened up. But I'll try to get a short and sweet post up as well. Next week should be back to normal, depending on what that might mean. I may have news about the Very Bad Thing™ by then.

Here's why this matters:

I hope you have all enjoyed the last couple of weeks, and the uptick of "solid" articles. I was able to get some additions to "The Very Basics" menu, answer several mailbox questions, keep up with a fast paced poll, get February's Best up on what would usually be my day off (Wednesday), and even got a contribution by Social Justice Bard. I ran out of time, but I almost even got some fiction up this weekend. (Perhaps this coming weekend.)

This is the kind of pace I would love to give you all the time here at Writing About Writing. It's the sort of writing clip I dream about maintaining, and the minimum level of productivity before I feel vaguely guilty and disquiet. I Unfortunately it's not the kind of pace I can keep up while working two other jobs just to keep the lights on and the rent paid.

This is how it can be. This is how I want it to be!

The last two weeks were a serendipitous happenstance with my other jobs. Normally timing would never work out that well. If anything, my "surprises" usually go the other way–making me more busy, and I have to slap up some "jazz hands" in place of something significant.

But you can help me be able to write at this pace every week (and even more).  You can help this happen instead of me falling back into writing less.

Support my Patreon!

My current ability to update five times a week (instead of three) is due almost exclusively to a half a dozen extremely generous patrons who have given me the financial leeway to stop teaching night classes. And the fact that I can do six updates instead of five is due to all the other patrons and their generosity. With more help, I can have even MORE weeks like the last two.

Even as little as $12 a year (just one single dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, insider info, early notice on goings on, and involve you in the decisions I crowdsource. As much as I love all my followers, it is the ones helping me keep myself fed who I will listen to.

And if an ongoing contribution seems like it isn't something you can commit to, a one-time donation is always welcome through Paypal (top left).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Social Justice Bard And The Curious Case of Representation

"I know some people mistrust us
Equality haters discussed us
They can try but they'll never bust us
Cause we're here for Social Justice."
Once upon a time....

There was a cis het white dude. He liked media. Movies and books and TV shows and comics. The media he liked had a lot of people who were just like him in them (other cis het white dudes). Although our cis het white dude did not like having this fact pointed out to him. He thought that putting people who weren't straight or were gender variant, people of color, or "too many" women would change the movie into an identity movie (like a "chick flick") or was nothing more than pandering to those demographics. Even though thousands of movies with all white dudes and only one or two not white dudes were just "movies."

Sometimes people would complain about these trends using social justice warrior words that set the cis het white dude's teeth on edge like "representation" or "whitewashing." He learned to recognize these words and had many pre-constructed arguments against them. He would claim that identity politics shouldn't dictate who characters were. Against whitewashing he would say that identity should never matter. Against lack of representation he would find convoluted reasons that it very much did matter. ("I'm sorry but having people of color would be unrealistic in the dragon, zombie, and magic laden realm of  Xinthexerus.") And against all he would claim oversensitivity. He would even call people bigots for wanting to change a character since these attributes (gender, sexuality, race, and such) shouldn't matter.

Bigotry was something only bad people did and the cis het white dude was not a bad person, so clearly he could never be in any way complicit with any form of systematic bigotry. The idea that a book or movie or TV show he liked should ever have criticism for its portrayals made him very defensive. He might have to admit that some of his faves were "problematic" (another word that set his teeth on edge). It was far easier to claim the media simply did not have a problem. He didn't like to talk about these things, and would try very hard to make sure no one around him talked about them either.

Fortunately most movies or books or comics or TV shows that he wanted to consume had very few characters that weren't like him, and those media that did often placed such people in roles and portrayed them with stereotypes that kept our cis het white dude comfortable about his important place in the world. Even the increasingly ubiquitous "Strong Female Character"s would usually yield to the cis het white dude by the end of the film. It was the characters who were like him who were complicated and nuanced and important. He didn't have to think about it much as long as he stayed away from places like Tumblr.

This went on for many years.

But then one day something strange happened. At first it was barely noticeable. A character here. A plot arc there. A stereotyped expectation subverted. An incredibly nuanced portrayal that was neither a walking trope NOR a cis het white dude. And then....some of these media would change a character. Not whitewashing (which he had no problem with, of course) but the OTHER WAY (which he very much did because suddenly identity was important to that character). But it got even worse! While before, entire years would go by with nothing but blockbuster movies and great books and spectacular TV and wonderful comic books filled with mostly other cis het white dudes, now (occasionally) there would be a single show or movie or book that barely had any.

Perhaps worst of all, these were sometimes media HE WANTED TO CONSUME.  They had "STAR" in the title, and he wanted to see them. But he couldn't find himself easily represented among the vast majority of the main characters. And he became very uncomfortable, and he wanted to rage against this change because now instead of seeing himself ever where he looked, his media had begun to look more like the world at large and other people were excited about seeing THEMselves represented.

That day, the cis het white dude learned that representation did matter, and that maybe he should stop keeping it all to himself.

The End

Friday, May 26, 2017

This "Populist Writing Philosophy" (Mailbox)

I disagree with the popular writing advice that quality doesn't matter.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I try to do only gentle takedowns when folks aren't anonymous.]

Paul writes:

I have to fundamentally disagree with this populist writing philosophy you espouse--i.e., that quality doesn't matter, instead all that matters is you write. While that may not be a statement you agree with, it certainly seems to be the gist of your day-to-day and week-to-week posts.

I'm sorry, but what matters is that you write the best you can, every time, and never accept anything less from yourself. Because if you write shit, no matter how much you polish that shit afterwards it's still just going to be a polished turd. I have seen many lifelong writers never even come close to escaping mediocrity, simply because they subscribe to this cop-out of refusing to demand more of themselves.

And it ties in with the idea of simply getting something on the page and then fixing it afterward. If you don't take the time to think about what you want to write first, you will rarely write anything that lives up to your true potential.

My reply:

Damn Paul, I just came here to have a good time and I'm feeling so attacked right now.

Okay, seriously though....I didn't get this as anonymous feedback, so I'm going to try to play nice, but it would be difficult for me to disagree more with the gestalt and particulars of a message than I do with this one.

There are basically six issues here, Paul, and I'll take them on as they showed up in your PM to me:
  1. That elitism has a place in writing. (Through the implication that populism does not.)
  2. That the end goal of everyone's writing is something we even know.
  3. That one should write the best they can every time and "demand more of themselves."
  4. That there is any way to be good at writing other than by first writing a lot of what isn't good.
  5. That getting something on the page is not a fundamental part of the writing process.
  6. That one ought to think about it for a long time before writing.

1- That elitism has a place in writing. (Through the implication that populism does not.)

Whenever "populism" gets used outside of politics–and I mean literally the word itself–I start thinking of non-ironic use of the word "plebs." ("The plebs might like this sort of thing, but anyone with some REAL class....") It's not that I don't think typical writing advice can sometimes be less than helpful. It is after all a typical position that writing every day is not particularly important to becoming a well-known published author, whereas most successful writers encourage it. In this respect a certain amount of elitism can creep into good writing advice. I mean, do you want to listen to your friend who has seven chapters of their totally sick post-apocalyptic steampunk zombie/dragon love story tucked in a drawer and has been talking about how wicked dope it is for five years when they tell you you don't need to write every day, or do you want to listen to the legion of household name authors when they respond to the question over and over and over (and over) about how to "make it" as a writer that writing every day is essential to that goal?

My question then becomes, Paul, if "just writing" is a populist philosophy, who are these "normal people" you think are kidding themselves and who my page should not cater to. I don't just mean that as a "gotcha" question. I would really ask yourself that and reflect. Elitism in writing has a fraught historical and cultural legacy–even who was taught HOW to write is only a couple of generations from being a repulsive means of cultural control.

I would really consider why you are comfortable with an elitist approach to writing that is so codified that you don't just think your approach is better for you personally, but that I am actually running my page wrong and you need to tell me so.

Writing is for everyone (or should be), and one of the things I disagree with the most is folks who try to gatekeep it either through content or quality or grammar or whatever. I'm more about tearing down walls and making writing accessible (and hopefully enjoyable) to even more people. You, of course, get to decide what you read, but deciding what other people write and if they're doing it right, is significantly different.

2- That the end goal of everyone's writing is something we even know.

This "don't do it half-assed or you aren't really even doing it" advice is everywhere you look. Fitness trainers are saying it to people who power walk or just come enjoy the gym's pool. Multi-level marketers say that you have to become a salesperson powerhouse. Cosplayers demand a costume be of a certain quality. The leader of my old World of Warcraft guild said it when I told him I wasn't going to be able to raid for three to five hours, five nights a week.

And that's great for what those powerhouses want to do, but some people don't want shredded abs, they just want to have more energy to play with their kids. They don't want to be the top of a pyramid scheme; they just want the product for their family and a few friends. They don't want to spend 150 labor hours making a costume; they just want to hang out in something that looks good enough. They don't want a part-time job worth of video games; they want to play casually a couple of hours on weekends when they are done writing. Telling those folks they aren't really doing it and their effort doesn't count is at least kind of crappy. But mostly it just presumes to know what they want out of life and their pursuits, and tends to come with a certain level of sneering dismissal of anyone who isn't "in it to win it" so to speak, and a sort of belief that they are the "real" versions of whatever it is. If I don't get to be in that World of Warcraft guild (and I don't) because I'm a weekend warrior and never have the latest tier 87 power gear, that's fine. But I have fun and I'm pretty good at what I enjoy doing (battlegrounds). And I can't remember the last time I picked a talent spec that wasn't exactly what the "pros" were picking to win in the arenas. So don't tell me I don't really play. 

It's true that I modulate my advice based on whether or not I am addressing someone who is perfectly happy to do Tumblr fanfic once a month for the rest of their life vs. someone who wants to be a working (and perhaps just a wee bit rich and famous) novelist vs. someone who already has a writing career, but in general my advice is fairly consistent, and I don't presume to know what someone's goals and objectives are.

Write a lot. Read a lot. Don't give up. That'll get you pretty far when you realize everything else is variations on a theme and frosting.

People write for lots of different reasons. For catharsis, for enjoyment, for friends and family, to be understood, for money, for the joy of the page, to fulfil the ambition of a full-fledged career in writing, for the pursuit of artistic excellence. I've written more than one story to impress a woman. None of these approaches to writing is "incorrect" or "improper." Just because someone hasn't done their best every time doesn't somehow not make it writing. Even published authors might, for some extra cash, whip out a short story that is "less than their best." And given how hard achieving high end life goals like "paying career" or "artistic brilliance" can be with any art, the only generalized assumption I make is that most people who write enjoy it in some way.

If you want to drive yourself to be great, spiffy. But let's leave some of the ice cream for the other kids, okay?

3- That one should write the best they can every time and "demand more of themselves."

If everyone who wrote, or I suppose everyone of the half a million folks who follow Writing About Writing on Facebook, definitely wanted a career as a well-paid novelist or to tap into their literary potential, I might focus on encouraging them to write the best they could every time.

I more or less agree with you that doing your best consistently is the way to improve your writing, but improvement is not everyone's end game. Some people are getting what they want out of writing and that's great on them. It's not like the money and the fame and the groupie threesomes are reliable enough that anyone should be writing to get to those things. So the love of writing itself must be the primary motivation. And some people are content with their skill level and want to tell stories. Many authors improve only incrementally once they start getting published because at that point they have the skill they need to tell the stories they want to and maybe make a career out of it. That's okay.

Improvement is not always on every writer's mind during every part of their life either, even if it tends to be in general. When my partner of ten years got cancer and then I went through a breakup and a move, I just wanted to keep from losing readers. For an entire year, my only external goal with writing was simply not to lose ground. The real reason I kept writing was that it was my way out. It was my catharsis. My processing. My therapy. (Well, okay, I also had some actually therapy, but that helped.)

I wrote my way out....

4- That there is any way to be good at writing other than by first writing a lot of what isn't good.

You can't sit around and think your way to good writing, Paul. It goes against everything you will ever hear about how to improve your craft. At least by anyone who has done so themselves.

You can sit in smoke-filled coffee houses discussing craft and attend webinars and take classes and read books until the end of days, but none of that will help if you don't get a lot of practice as well. Some of it might help you get better a little faster, but nothing will take the place of practice.

Adventure time.  Warner Bros. Television Distribution
You have to write. You have to write a lot. And you have to write a lot of crap. And maybe, maybe, MAYBE after you write a lot of crap, you will be a little better at writing stuff that sucks slightly less.

There really aren't any shortcuts to this part of the grand writing scheme. A lot of people really hope there are, and folks chasing the sacred effort shortcut amount to a tremendous amount of the cash flow generated by the "writing industry." However, almost every overnight success story you've ever heard actually wasn't overnight at all. There was just a lot of work going on behind the scenes. I'm often shocked at how many people can almost quote to me the story of Stephen King getting his "We-want-to-buy-Carrie" phone call from his publisher (he writes about it in On Writing), but can't tell me within a decade of accuracy how many years he wrote almost constantly before that happened...even though that's described only a few pages earlier. (The answer is over twenty years.)

Writing is a skill. When we think about what we want our finished product to be, we imagine bits of it as cinematics in our heads, fudge over cerebral ideas, and skip parts we're not sure about yet. It is uncongealed and not set to words. It turns out that actually converting all those great ideas into concrete language is really, really hard. Hard enough that when people are good at it, we pay them lots of money. Hard enough that there's not really any way to get good at it except through practice.

5- That getting something on the page is not a fundamental part of the writing process.

I was sort of with you till we got here, Paul. I mean I had my problems with the elitism and stuff, but it seemed like maybe you were taking umbrage with people who just keep writing first drafts and wondering why they're not rich and famous yet. Or the folks sending their Nano manuscripts to publishers. Or folks who self-publish a draft that clearly needs more revision. Obviously not everyone wants to do the work of revision, but some of them do scratch their head and wonder why they aren't getting better. But then you kind of undermined the first part of the point with the second and the whole thing fell apart.

It's funny that you mention polishing a turd as a way NOT to treat a first draft. See, that's more or less exactly how the writing process works, and why an awful lot of writers using that exact fecal metaphor. In fact, one of the breakthrough moments when experienced writers try to teach inexperienced writers is when the latter finally takes a leap of faith and lets go of the idea that they have to write something good the first time they sit down.

But hey, you know what. Don't take my word for it:
"The first draft of anything is shit."  -Hemingway 
“I hate first drafts, and it never gets easier. People always wonder what kind of superhero power they’d like to have. I want the ability for someone to just open up my brain and take out the entire first draft and lay it down in front of me, so I can just focus on the second, third and fourth drafts.” -Judy Bloom
"Just get the story down." -Nora Roberts
"I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them – without a thought about publication -and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside." -Anne Tyler
 “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” -Terry Pratchett
Shitty First Drafts PDF (An essay by Anne LaMott) 
 “Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
― Raymond Chandler  
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”—Lawrence Block, WD 
It's polished shit, Paul.  Polished shit all the way down.

Not that you can't ever find writers who don't work exactly this way (Vonnegut and Koontz spring to mind), but even their page-by-page revision and polish happens on a real page, not in their heads over time, thinking about it until they finally have thought so much that they can just write gold. They just tear a lot of pages out of the typewriter and crumple them up like you see in the movies.

Even in the case of those incredibly rare writing moments (like when Marilynne Robinson wrote Gilead in what would almost be a single draft), the writer admits to doing the actual linguistic work of sentence and paragraph revision in their head for years before they committed a single letter to the page.

What I fear your eschewing of revision reveals, Paul, is a fundamental distrust in the writing process. I hear this all the time from my students who think they don't have to draft or that their revision process will be little more than a quick pass for grammar and a few word choices rather than a massive tectonic upheaval that reshapes and reforms their work. "Not MY draft," they all say. "Mine is good already because I really thought about it." They think they're not going to have to rip their work apart and they can somehow, with enough prep, get it right on the first try. If you're trying to get writing right on the first try, you're not trusting that you're going to crack open its chest and do some organ transplants, and won't get away with a little nip and tuck.

You're not trusting the process.

Let me be as clear as I can: From popular cotton candy novelists to Nobel laureates, all have the same thing to say about the idea that revision can be avoided with enough aforethought: That's NOT going to happen. You can't prep your way out of revision. You have to be ready to revise the shit out of your story. When they say "kill your darlings," they aren't suggesting every book needs a body count.

The process of polishing shit is HOW writing works. That's exactly what you want to do. Grab that turd and bust out a lint-free cloth! Once the idea is on the page, you can see what's not working. Revise your approach. Get rid of that character. Notice those two chapters are doing the same thing. Abandon that plot arc. Start after all of that god awful exposition dump. Get rid of 90% of those lines you thought were so fucking clever. Rewrite it if necessary (and it will be at least once).

Then you revise again. Then you get some peer review and you go back and revise again. And again. THIS is where you hone all the skills. THIS is where the real magic starts to happen.

That's how all art works. You don't get better at a concert by thinking about it. You have a rehearsal and see what needs more practice. You don't paint great paintings by thinking about how awesome it's going to look when it's finally done and then just splatting it out. You sketch it, draw it, and paint it and see what works and maybe scrape it off or redo it if it isn't working. You don't think about your dance. You choreograph it, take a look at it, notice the parts that need work and start adding in complexity and nuance.

6- That one ought to think about it a long time before writing.

No! No no no. No. NO!  No. Don't do that. No.

(If it helps you not to feel defensive, Paul, I'm writing that more like a loving mother whose child is walking hand first towards the lit stove and less like Steve Carell on The Office.)

This is a really great way to get writer's block. I mean like bigtime, no nonsense, serious ass, sit in front of that keyboard for hours and then days and then months kind of writer's block. Please don't do this. This is EXACTLY the sort of fear of failure/demand for perfection that paralyzes writers indefinitely. Thinking that they have to get the words perfect on the first try is basically the number one cause of writer's block. Or they get one line perfect and then....fall apart at line two. Not to mention that this is the thing that most steals away the simple joy of writing.

And then we have to go back and unlearn all this perfectionism. And relearn about morning writing and free writing and stream of consciousness writing and trusting in the writing process to be able, over many revisions, to turn a steaming hot turd into something beautiful. We are so worried about perfect execution that we've forgotten how to let go and be creative and we have to go back to those fountainheads of inspiration as a deliberate act of will. We have to remember how to write a bunch of shit down and throw 90% of it away because it's not working, but maybe we get a really good idea from something in that 10%. We have to remind ourselves how much of art is play.

I hate Scott Adams untethered bigotry, and I sort of wish we could
liberate this quote, but boy did he nail it here.

Are there some ideas you let percolate before you write them? Sure. They're not really fully-formed ideas at that point. And many's been the post or essay I thought about for days before I started writing. My personal process leans towards deep introspection, lots of "staring at the ceiling," and then faster writing once I'm at the keyboard. But I still have to ACTUALLY write it down after the ceiling is done giving me ideas. I also rarely use outlines or notes once I know where I'm going, and I'll admit that on important works, I should be revising more than I do. People have a different point before they need to start articulating their thoughts, but 1) it always happens eventually, and 2) the people who need to start writing sooner are no less of writers.

The inescapable truth, though, is that once the nebulous ideas are as crystalized as they're going to get, you have to just start splatting them out (warts and all), so that you can see what you're dealing with and start the process of revision. You HAVE to start forging these ideas in the crucible of language or they will only ever languish all nebulous-like inside your own head. Thinking about it MORE after that point doesn't really help, and if you just sit around and play Fallout for 16 hours a day thinking that your idea is somehow going to evolve into its final form in your head, rather than by struggling with the precise words you need on the paper, you'll only ever end up with lots of thoughts and a very, very small number of written things.

It's not that quality doesn't matter, Paul. Of course it does. Any writer who isn't comfortable exactly where they are with exactly what they are doing (whether it's their aesthetics or their career) should care very greatly about the quality of their finished products. Revision, editing, and final product all take lots of work and dedication to quality. It's just that there is a way we get to quality in the arts. A faith in the years-long apprenticeship with the old masters and our personal heroes that produces lots of practice and lots of unusable product, and after that, a faith in the process of refinement (revision, in the case of writing) to bring our initial efforts to a higher quality.

But between the writing process that absolutely is all about revision and the writers who don't necessarily want to be treating their writing like it's boot camp, I'm really uncomfortable being elitist about a prescriptive demand that writing requires anything but writing to be writing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women? 

I'm obviously going to need another day on this mailbox I'm writing, so instead of that going up at 11pm on the west coast, you'll get a reminder to vote. Semifinals will go up on Monday.

Monday the results of the last quarterfinal will be tallied and the first semifinal will go up, so take your last couple of days to vote for which titles will advance to the next round.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. The top four will go on to the semifinals.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

February's Best

I don't normally do a post on Wednesdays (Wednesday is a long nanny day for me, Tuesdays are ten-hour, two-job days, and I'm usually still catching up from a late night on Monday, so by Wednesday I need a day off), but I have a little extra time this week, and I'm very behind on these "Best of" posts, so I figured that could be today's post.

But here are the posts from February that will be going on to untold fame in The Greatest Hits.

Saying Goodbye and Peak Orangosity (Tribute)

These posts were #1 and #2 respectively, but I'm putting them both as a single entry since the first one was little more than a "I won't be able to make a post today" that just happened to pique a lot of people's interest. In February I said goodbye to my feline companion of 17 years.

Social Justice Bard vs. Milo the Troll

Is Milo really just the poor maligned edgy champion of free speech he claims to be?

The People in my Life/The People in My Fiction

M wants to know where the line is in bringing real life people into one's characters.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Latest Viral Article (Personal Update)

Raw unfettered shit- 82,098 (Last update 80,042) [Just this update- 2056]     

Slightly polished turd-80,042 (Last update 59, 956)  [Just this update- 20,086] 

Superpolishedfragileshitstick- 44,754   

It's not great, but I'm back on the move. I poured a lot of energy into blogging last week, and I'm going to do the same for most of this week. I'm about to transition into a difficult phase of the year–the six weeks when I teach summer school. It's only a three day, three hour schedule, but that is stacked on top of other jobs. I'd like to kind of fall into that month and a half of terrible jazz hands with a track record of ass kicking. That way people keep thinking "I know there's more to him than this!" as I post my fifth straight week of "Music that helps me write" or "Posts from last month that people liked" post.

Now, whip out your mouth harps because it's time for me to lay down some home spun wisdom.

You never know what's going to stick. You just never know.

Once upon a time I couldn't figure out what to write for the day, and I had been watching a few people on Facebook toss around a meme taking a shit on English teachers (of which I am one, by the way) in a sort of all-teachers-are-ignorant-trash/no-English-teacher-ever-knew-what-they-were-talking-about sort of way. And maybe my thoughts that day were shaped more by the commentary I was seeing going along with the meme, but I decided that would be my post for the day.

I popped off a short little listicle about five reasons I hated that meme. Suddenly, people I didn't even think were reading my blog were chiming in with comments. Good, thoughtful comments too! A robust discussion happened. They challenged my position, made salient points.  I reconsidered several points and tried to better explain the ones I stood by. More discussion happened.

That wasn't the last time that post got lots of attention either. Every night that I remember, I put up a rerun from the archives of Writing About Writing over on the Facebook page of the same name. Usually it gets a little boost and a few more pageviews land. Each time this particular post comes up, it generates massive response, both from those who agree and those who don't as well as from people who came to understand a lot more from the article about why an English teacher might teach a particular symbol and folks who want to telescope the issue out to an indictment of the American education system. This last week it came around in the rerun rotation again, and promptly proceeded to pick up forty thousand pageviews, becoming my number four article of all time.

It's always a stressful post to put up. Even though people get more hateful about their replies to my thoughts on Nanowrimo or MFA's, it's this post that stirs people to be more thoughtful--that goes viral, that generates comments (both dismissive and unkind and incredibly thoughtful–agreeing, disagreeing, and with nuanced middle roads). The angry dillholes I've learned to ignore–roll my eyes, ban the ones who can't say it without hate speech, and move along. The ones who failed their papers and think their English teacher couldn't handle a different point of view get taken with a grain of salt. (I've given A's for writing and argumentation to enough people I disagreed with and F's to people poorly regurgitating the class lecture to wonder if a grape or three might not be sour.) It's the ones who make a salient point that cause me to question and re-question myself. I've gone back over the post time after time to make sure I believe in what I'm saying and I'm saying it as well as I know how.

And every time this post goes up and generates the feedback it does, I am struck by how insignificant I thought it was when I wrote it. A filler post on a day I couldn't come up with anything else. Fired from the hip (only later to be polished), and a quick flip of the bird to some cruddy meme that seemed to delight in suggesting English teachers are full of shit, and the anti-education impetus that perpetuated it.

And how many other posts have I thought "This is good. People will really like this," where I have gotten a fraction of the traffic? How many have I worked on for days and thought I nailed and even tried to be provocative and as funny as I could that have slipped quietly into the archives with a whisper?

You just never know what's going to stick to the wall when you throw it. And that's important to remember as a writer because it means not only do you want to throw your best every time, but you want to throw a LOT.

There's a Ray Bradbury quote: "Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." I'm a big fan of this quote not because I trust my writing ideology to any single quote-dropping writer, but rather because I see it merit out so often.

Of course it's inverse is true as well–that people who write a lot tend to achieve "quality" at some point, but what I see merit out the most is the doomed part.  A lot of people spend a lot of time on their One Thing™. And their One Thing™ might even be the best writing they've ever done, but often it is not received in quite the way they imagine.

This older article has taught me a lot of lessons. About how to communicate better, how to stand by my convictions when people are making great points that disagree, and how to thread the nuance with folks who disagree in good faith, but perhaps most of all that I never ever know what's going to grab people and resonate with them, so the best thing to do is keep writing, doing the best I can, being flawed and making mistakes, and learning to do it better.

I'll leave you with something that I've seen lots of places around the net. I'd love it if I could properly attribute it if anyone knows:
"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". 
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

Monday, May 22, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Quarter Final 4)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?    

Our last quarterfinal is live! Come vote for which titles will go on to the semifinals.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. The top four will go on to the semifinals.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author." 

These quarterfinals will only be up for a week so that we can move on to the semifinals and the final round in a timely manner. Vote quickly.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Best YA Marketed to Young Women (Quarter Final 3 Results)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?

Just a quickie here. I'm working on a bunch of non-blog writing today, and trying to catch up on some physical chores that have gone neglected for long enough that my room is one skull pyramid shy of being a post-apocolyptic set for the next Terminator movie.

*looks at the time* And I'm falling behind on all of it. Those Sunday afternoon naps really cut into the day, don't they?

I might shift a bunch of stuff next week around to continue catching up. It'll be the first time in....years(?) that I've had two quiet weeks in a row, and I really want to keep taking advantage of it. So if that happens, look for the final quarter final early tomorrow.

But here are the results of this, the third quarter final. Top four titles will go on to our semifinal round.

Results in text form below.

The Will of the Empress - T. Pierce 61 28.64%
Cinder - M. Meyer 39 18.31%
The Finishing School Series - G. Carriger 36 16.9%
The Ruby in the Smoke - P. Pullman 31 14.55%

Jacob Have I Loved - K. Patterson 24 11.27%
The Fault in our Stars - J. Green 9 4.23%
Mairelon the Magician - P. Wrede 9 4.23%
Podkayne of Mars - R. Heinlein 4 1.88%

Best YA Marketed to Young Women (3rd Quarter Final Last Call)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?

Tomorrow the results of the third quarterfinal will be tallied (along with, a few minutes after that, the last quarter final), so take your last chance to vote for which titles will advance to the next round.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. The top four will go on to the semifinals.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Swearing in Third Person (Mailbox)

Is it okay for the writer to swear?   

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week (after this week). I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. We may have a lot more mailboxes going on here soon.]

Maxim asks:

Hi, I was wondering if you could maybe shed some light on an argument me and my friend are having?

Basically, we're both aspiring writers (in high school though, doubt it's actually relevant by it might add some perspective) and we've gotten into a really bad argument over using curse words as a narrator. Meaning, not when writing something a character said or thought, but when I basically narrate the story itself... as the writer. Is using curse words ok, and could it helpful in your opinion or is it disrespectful to the story or something like that.

I think it's just a matter of style but my friend seems to think there is some unwritten rule about this thing when cursing is pretty much forbidden when not used in dialogue or character thoughts or anything like that.

Hope you could help! 😅

My reply: 

Aren't we writers spectacular? Even in our misspent youths, we're such nerds! While the whole damned high school world is getting into arguments over who "dissed" whom, long standing feuds about what went down in Mrs. Krazenski's fourth period social science class, getting bumped in the halls between classes, or the wayward affections of Cynthia Masterson, we're off ending friendships over the limits of third-person narratives. ("That would compromise the integrity of the focalizers filter....CHAZ!")

It does my heart proud. Let me wipe away this single tear and get back to your answer.

I hope the two of you are ready for a complicated answer (and hopefully some make up fist bumps or smooches or whatever you do) because you're both right and both wrong. There is an unspoken rule, and I'll get into why it's so ubiquitous. But like most of those "unspoken rules," once you start speaking about it, you find there are reasons for it and exceptions to it.

The answer to this is actually complicated enough that I had to write a primer on point of view in preparation. (It's okay. I really needed the kick in the ass to get started on the Very Basics menu.) I'm going to assume I'm not using any terms that you don't know in this reply, so pop back there for a refresher course if something is unfamiliar.

First of all, I'm assuming you mean third person because any other point of view is the actual words of the point of view narration and can include as much swearing as the writer wants the character to use. If your first person narration is from a sailor, they are not going to describe someone they don't like using polite euphemisms like, "He smelled like fecal matter."

So let's talk about third person and swearing.

Can you? Yes.

Always. Always always always. It's your writing. You can do anything you want. You can do anything you can get away with. I don't like the oft-used phrase among creative writing teachers "If you have a good reason/you have to have a good reason," because everyone thinks their reason is spectacular. I prefer the phrase "Earn it." Now it doesn't matter how important your specfuckingtacular reason is. It's just a matter of asking yourself if you can earn it with your reader.  And that's where the real question hits. Because some things are harder to earn than others, and swearing narrators are not all created equal.

(Jack Nicholson voice over in my brain: "You can't handle the swears!")

Should you swear in third-person narrative? Here's where the fun begins.

In a subjective third person narrative, where the narrative voice goes into the feelings and thoughts of the focalizer character, you can absolutely swear, and many authors do.

Jeff clicked on his electric razor with a huff. This all-day-every-day office job shit was fucking ridiculous. 

This is the kind of narration you might see in a thousand books on a million shelves. It's in the head of the character. Even though it's third person, we readers are not confused about who is making these value judgements or using hyperbole (no one really works ALL day and such a claim is not "objective"). We know that it's JEFF who is tired and that the words are reflecting his attitude.

Now if you have an objective voice swear, it gets trickier. Of course your writing style might just have coarse language, and that is yet another decision that is stylistic and up to you to earn. A fluffy subject matter doesn't pair well with coarse language.

Jeff took his morning shit while he looked at his phone. He had had a good fuck the night before, but fatigue still plagued him as his long days stretched on. He found the whole office job gig ridiculous. 

Here your narrative voice is...okay (though you can see the edges of "where is that coming from?" starting to creep in as the reader may wonder why it's being SO crass). You might see a softer author use "crap" or "dump" or "sex" instead of "fuck," but the reader is probably not starting to distrust the voice yet–just wondering why it's using those words.  If the subject matter is equally mature and gritty, they will likely settle in if the book is simply crass throughout. Though if the subject matter of the book doesn't call for coarse language, that might be an atonal note that pulls them out of the story every single time it happens.

Now look at the swearing that you really want to be careful about. Value judgements that aren't coming from the focalizer.

Jeff despaired working an office job with long hours. His body ached constantly and his shoulders most of all. He was always tired, flopping into bed the minute he got home only to have to wake up unrested and start all over again. Weekends, the ones not spent working, were too short to rejuvenate him and it would be a year before he had earned a week's vacation. Only the thought of his bank account consoled him, and the memory of the day he had been hungry to the point of weakness with only thirty seven cents to his name. Begging on the streets of Moraga, and being greeted only with the faces of fucking assholes. He wasn't ever going to let that happen again.


Sticks out like a sore thumb, right?

Trust me that if I had gone on for a longer period of objective narration, the value judgement swearing would have felt even weirder.

Okay, so now....we have a problem. Who is it who thinks these people are "fucking assholes"?  Is it Jeff? Because the narrative has been establishing distance from Jeff. Even though we're discussing his feelings and thoughts, we're not in his head. The writing has stayed descriptive and objective. If it's not Jeff, then who is it? Is it the writer? Why are we getting editorializing from the writer?

See where this is going, Maxim?

The problem isn't that you can't do this in an objective third person. The problem is that IF YOU DO, you then have a reader who wonders if they can fully trust the narrator's objectivity. You're no longer an impartial "god." Now you're somebody with an opinion–somebody who has a bias that REALLY came through with "fucking assholes."

If it's Jeff, that's okay (but then the writer needs to occasionally show that they are going to drop into Jeff's head, probably by closing the narrative distance a little). If it's the impartial narrator (particularly if the narrator is supposed to be omniscient), now we have an issue.

A lot of swear words aren't inert. They carry some strong judgement. I can say shit instead of crap without too much trouble, but if I say "snotty fuckface" instead of "dour looking," I am really revealing an opinion. And so, using curses in an objective narrative third tends to undermine the voice as impartial.

This isn't universally "bad." A reader who can't trust a narrator will begin to look for "clues" about who the narrator is and what their filter might be. That can be delightful for a reader to sort of guess/detective where the lens is coming from when it turns out the narrative voice has a particular bias that is coming through. (There was a book–title long since forgotten–where I loved figuring out that the third person omniscient narrator was actually a minor character telling the story many years later, and adding up the clues to figure out which one.) However, if this narrative filter is unintended on the part of the writer, it just ends up making the writing sloppy, the voice untrustworthy (but for no reason), and detracts rather than adds. Not earned at all.

No child will have ever heard the word "fuck" in high school
if it weren't for those beatnik and hippy writers!
Why is there kind of sort of a "rule" about this? Well, it actually ended up helping that you mentioned you're in high school. Most of the third person literature you will have been exposed to by the time you leave a high school curriculum (that is repeatedly drilled into your head as "good") is going to be more impartial. There are a couple of reasons for that that aren't important to your question: they have to do with reading difficulty level, the introduction of point-of view needing very clear cut examples so it can be sliced away and studied discretely, what sort of dead-white-guy writing is generally considered canon, and how uncomfortable PTA's and school boards get if they see the word "fuck" in a book. Suddenly you have a cocktail for thinking "this is what good writers do," even if your sample size is skewed greatly toward a fairly wholesome teaching tool of dead white guys. I don't know how much reading you've done outside of school, but it will probably be useful to pay close attention to how authors you enjoy use their narrative point of view. Once you know what to look for, it's a lot easier to notice this stuff.

I hope this helps the two of you get back to fighting about Cynthia Masterson and Mrs. Krazenski.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Dream Destroyed (Mailbox)

My brother's friend destroyed my joy of writing.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week (after this week). I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I may break two questions up into two posts if I'm running behind on a Thursday night.]  

R writes: 

Sometime ago I met my brother's acquaintance who kinda crushed my spirit and my passion for screenwriting. I mean I love what I do, but the way he said what he said made me think. I don't know if he really meant well or if he pretended to mean well but slyly try to bring me down because he's jealous. He's an elementary English teacher in Singapore. He said to me, "When you've just started writing, you feel happy and high spirited. But one day, you will be tired of writing. That is something that you can't avoid. And when that time comes, you need to have something to make you hold onto your passion for writing. You need to find that something." I don't like my passion to be analyzed. I think I just don't fit very well with analytical people. Who's to say what my future brings? He kinda of destroyed the joy of writing for me even though it has just begun.

My reply:

One of the downsides of writing about writing is there's very little in this game that is panacea (beyond maybe reading a lot and writing a lot, but it's hard to write a blog if all my posts just repeat that). Even advice as nearly universal as "Write Every Day" turns out to have important and meaningful exceptions.

One of the reasons I really like the mailbox posts is that it's usually possible for me to figure out where someone is and what kind of advice they might need. Do they need to hear the cold and unvarnished truth that if they treat their writing like a hobby, they will almost certainly not make money at it like it's a day job? Do they need the stern voice of the wisdom of ages to tell them that they are not too good for revision? Do they need the no nonsense industry insight that their first time book will not be having their train wreck grammar corrected for them by an editor their publisher assigns? Do they need a gentle nudge that writing is like any skill and it may take thousands of hours of practice before they are as good as they want to be? Do they need a word of encouragement that there is no better way to improve at one's craft than by sitting down and writing daily for at least a few minutes? Do they need to be gently held in a cupped palm and told that their dream is possible? Do they need a threesome joke?

Your brother's friend isn't wrong exactly, but he was a dill hole to hit you with that stuff when you were enjoying the writing and fresh and happy and springing like a sprite riding a rainbow between cotton candy clouds. It's like cornering the newlyweds at the reception JUUUUUUST as they're on their way to the honeymoon limo to talk about how every marriage eventually goes through some next level horrific shit or ends in divorce and it's never the same after they call to tell you that they fell in love at a rave and they won't be coming home that night. Like yeah, that's pretty much a given, but Jesus FUCK, uncle Alister. Timing. GOD!


Anyway, there are a lot of mailboxes in this blog from people who are having trouble writing or don't enjoy writing when it feels less like fun and more like work or just generally who have reached the point that your brother's friend was talking about, and I often talk to them about the same sort of thing. One of the biggest reasons to establish discipline and a regimen is because there are days where that's all that gets you to the page. And it may even be true that eventually you will hit a day when you don't want to write and you have to figure out what you want to do. But when you're first starting and you don't have your eye on some kind of specific career arc, it should all be about the enjoyment you get from it. Because that's really the reason we do art at all. We find meaning from it. It fulfills us. And some people find meaning in being casually creative and some attempt to reach within themselves and drive themselves to the limits. There's absolutely nothing wrong with just enjoying it.

I can't look across time and space into your brother's friend's soul to know what his motivation was for kicking over your sandcastle, but if you got a bad vibe from it, it probably wasn't from a place of genuine concern or nurturing. He probably wasn't lovingly encouraging you to find your center for the inevitable day that would come when more than just sheer exuberance would be needed to get you to the page. He was probably being an asshole. ("Oh sure. You love it now. But when writing doesn't come home from that rave and you get a call at four in the morning that you are now in an "open marriage," THEN how will you feel?") Then again, maybe he was trying to do right by you because he lost his own passion and he didn't want the same for you. Some people can be a little ham fisted with their well-intentioned advice. Uncle Alister for example....

In any case, R, I'm going to leave you with a thought that I hope is encouraging and not overly "analytical." (I'm not 100% on what you mean by that, but I hope it's people who try to pull apart your enjoyment of writing, and not anyone with any advice.) If he destroyed the joy of writing, hopefully I can't make things any worse.

Whether your brother's friend meant to or not, there are a lot of people in this world who when they can't do something will then tell other people they can't do it. And maybe Dillhole McDillerson didn't mean to punch the joy right out of you, but here's the truth and there's no getting around it:

Someone else out there will. They will intend to break you. That will be their goal–to beat the will to write right out of you. Not accidentally. Not tough-love-gone-wild. Not because advice is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Just because they see you loving something that they don't have a relationship anymore. Like an ex talking shit about their old flame to the new partner at the wedding with wild stories of raves and 4am phone calls, they will want to shit in your sand castle so hard that you abandon your dreams the same way they did. So here's the takeaway I hope I'm not overstepping to say:

You don't need his permission to love writing.

You don't need mine either. You don't need anyone's! And as many people as will move through the world trying to "talk some sense into you" out of misguided paternalism or just take you down a peg or two because route 66 wasn't available for getting their kicks that day, you HAVE to learn to take the joy despite what anyone says and give yourself permission to write. Don't let this fucker (or any other fucker) gaslight you into doubting yourself.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Narrative Point of View (Basics)

While there are some pieces of experimental fiction that play around with having no narrative, most fiction has a narrative and comes from a point of view–whether it is a particular person or an omniscient "god". It's the voice telling the reader what happens and often the filter through which the events are interpreted (sometimes so badly that it can't fully be trusted). Though many books have shifts in their point of view, particularly books in the first person shifting to third person to describe events the focalizer couldn't have witnessed, most stick primarily (if not exclusively) with a single point of view.

There are a couple of terms that are going to pop up again and again, so let's define them before we get into this up to our elbows.


The focalizer is the person (or animal or thing) who the action centers on. The reader may or may not get into the thoughts or feelings of the focalizer. In a film medium, this would be the person (or animal or thing) that the camera follows. Some stories shift focalizers constantly or have none, but most follow a character at least for a time, and through them comes the primary consciousness of a story. The focalizer is not the point of view, but rather it is the focus of the story–a distinction that becomes important in the third person. Les Miserables has an unusual structure as the focalizer character changes with each new section.


Many narrative points of view employ a "filter" through which the action of the story is interpreted. The most obvious example of this is first person where the narrator can't always even be trusted to be a reliable lens to the events. As point of view becomes more distant and objective, the filter usually (though not always) becomes disinterested and unbiased.

The apex of filter is, of course, an unreliable narrator–a mode used by a writer to give the audience a sense that the narrator's interpretation of events cannot be fully trusted (and in good writing also comes with "clues" to what a more objective truth might be).


The narrative distance should be considered almost a separate "axis" from the literal point of view, but it provides crucial additional information about the narrative, and is directly antithetical to the conventional wisdom that first person is always subjective and third is always more objective. The "distance" is how removed from the event the narrative voice is and it may have nothing to do with whether the writing is in first, second, or third person. In The Hunger Games the distance is so close that the author chose to write in present tense, but in Never Let Me Go the narrator is recalling events from years before and several times admits not being able to trust her own interpretation. She never discusses feelings–only relays actions. While certain points of view lend themselves to certain distances, they don't determine them. A third-person objective narrator can still be deep in the thoughts and feelings of a character, and a first-person narration could just focus on actions and events.

Narrative distance has its own article here.

The "always an exception" clause:

Artists love to play with "the rules" and writers are no different. For every generalization I make, there is at least one piece of good writing out there that defies the convention. Writers are particularly fond of "combo moves" that weave two or more different points of view through a narrative to add characterization to the richness of a simple story.

Narrative Points of View

1st Person (The "I/me" form)

"I walked up to Jeff. Jeff told me that there was a problem with my payment. I reached into my pocket and felt the cold cellulose of the sharpened asparagus stalk against my fingers. Its vegetative heft comforted me. I knew that Jeff's slimy dealings were about to come to an asparagusian end."

First person provides a clear filter for the narration that can help with character, a close distance that establishes a more immediate connection between reader and character, a more straightforward way to show motivations and feelings, and a believability that humans tend to ascribe to first-hand accounts. It is considered to be a little "easier" for newer writers, though it certainly has enough complexity to be a favorite of long time vets as well.

I protagonist: 

In this most common first-person point of view, the narrator is the protagonist and also the focalizer. The story takes place through the character's point of view which they then relate to the reader.

I witness:

In this form of first person, much less common, the narrator is not the main character, but rather relays the main character's story. Along with greater distance, the actions of the main character happen through a filter that may not always be sympathetic. The Great Gatsby is perhaps the most famous American example of such a narrative. Nick Carraway is the focalizer and is telling the story, but the story itself is about Gatsby.

I relater:

This form of first person, also with much greater distance, is a narrative voice that is relaying another person's story. This is often done as a story within a story or in conjunction with "I protagonist" as a story that relates to the main narrative. Think about how Leonard relayed Sammy Jankis's story (but through his own point of view) in Memento.

2nd Person (The "you/you" form)

"You walked up to Jeff. Jeff told you that there was a problem with your payment. You reached into your pocket and felt the cold cellulose of the sharpened asparagus stalk against your fingers. Its vegetative heft comforted you. You knew that Jeff's slimy dealings were about to come to an asparagusian end."

Second person is a very rare point of view for a writer to work from and even rarer for anything longer than a short story. It arguably has the least intrinsic narrative distance of any point of view though, and is often used to make the reader feel as if they are really part of the story. Second person can be combined with a present tense narrative to create a further sense of immediate immersion. Beware of how much it draws attention to itself, can feel gimmicky if not done well, and that its biggest advantage (total reader immersion) is also exactly the reason it can be difficult to pull off.

It's important to note that second person is written as if the narrator and the reader are the same person (even in the examples below where it's clear that's not the case). In both third and first person, the narrative voice can break the fourth wall and address the reader, even bring the reader in as a character, but that's not the same thing as the point of view being second person. The presence of a "you" in imperative voice or a plural "you" is still not making the second person the point of view.   Many writers address the reader in first and third person.

You (but really me):

In the most common form of second person, the narrative is actually a first-person narrative in "disguise." The reader is not actually in the story. The character is simply using the second person to tell the story. This is a very difficult point of view to pull off. It tends to be taxing to the reader and is hard to earn.  Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City is probably the best known example of a writer pulling this off for an entire book. It is much more popular in short stories (Lorrie Moore for example).

You (but really past me): 

This common form of second person is really the narrator talking to their past self. It includes a lot more distance (usually ironic distance) and the filter of insight or wisdom is often used to illustrate the contrast in the younger self.

Interactive fiction: 

A brief nod here to a genre of literature that hasn't gotten enough credit for its cultural impact. Most stories where the reader will be making decisions as to where the story goes. (In my day they were still in book form–"Choose Your Own Adventure"–and the book told you which page to turn to for a given decision. These days most of them are in mixed media–like apps for tablets.) These stories are almost always written in the second person as it was supposed to be the readers themselves who were taking part in the action.

Note: It is very, very, very rare to have a non-interactive second-person narration where the reader is supposed to be the narrative voice. (The reader themself.) Some forms of fiction use the imperative voice (like creative recipes, for example, or directions), but they are both rare and virtually impossible to maintain into a longer work.

3rd Person (The "he/she/they/him/her/them" form)

"Candice walked up to Jeff. He told her that there was a problem with her payment. She reached into her pocket and felt the cold cellulose of the sharpened asparagus stalk against her fingers. Its vegetative heft comforted her. She knew that Jeff's slimy dealings were about to come to an asparagusian end."

Third person is the point of view that employs an "external" narrator

While terms like "subjective" and "limited" often get conflated when listing out third-person narrative, the real descriptions of a third-person narration should be thought of as a four-square grid with subjective vs objective on one side and omniscient vs. limited on the other. Or in other words what the point of view knows and what it thinks about that. (Distance would be the z axis on such a graph.)


Historically, omniscient narrators have been the most common in literature. The narrative voice knows what was going on anywhere at any time and what is in the heads of any character.


A limited narrator is only capable of seeing certain things. Often the limitation is what is in the head or directly witnessed by the focalizer character(s).


In subjective voice the narrative is usually closely coupled with the focalizer(s) filter, although it may have its own voice.


An objective narrator relays the truth in an unbiased manner. Objective narration cannot entirely avoid revealing some of the unconscious biases of the writer, but the goal is to eliminate as much of that as possible.

Omniscient/Objective and Limited/Subjective are the usual voices for a third-person narrative and account for perhaps 95% of most third-person stories. In most narratives, the voice is either an unbiased observer to the world or takes on the job of seeing the world through the lens of the focalizer, sometimes even adopting the focalizer's opinion of things. Snow Crash is a clear example of a third-person narrative that shifts its own third-person voice depending on which focalizer character it's following. It is possible (though unusual) for a narrative voice to have a different subjective lens than the focalizer, however the reader will undoubtedly wonder who the narrator IS if the narrative voice and the focalizer aren't getting along.

Somewhat less common is  Objective/Limited–usually following a single focalizer (or a few but not able to see ANYTHING) and possibly relaying the information of their feelings or thoughts, but doing so in a very objective way. ("Think the difference between. "Chris felt sad." and "Chris cried. The world simply had no joy left in it anymore.") Objective limited tends be focused on action though it could dispassionately relay thoughts as well in a close narrative distance.

The least common third-person narration (today) would be a Subjective/Omniscient voice. This narrative voice has some kind of opinion on what's going on. It's not necessarily the focalizer's opinion, but may  the narrative voice has their own opinion, and may even disagree with the focalizer. This point of view is a tough sell because the reader will immediately wonder whose subjective lens the narration is going through and whether they can trust it. Very out of vogue in modern fiction, it was, however, arguably the most common point of view in pre-20th century British and American literature as the omniscient narrator would then moralize, usually in a Christian and/or colonialist way about the events it was relaying.

Combo Moves

Very often writers will play with narrative voices that are sort of "combinations" of different voices. Like having a third-person narrative talk to the reader for so long about events that it almost takes on a second-person narration for a while. Or a third-person narrative may actually be a first-person narrative that forgets itself for huge stretches of time. (The Canterbury Tales is an example of this. Saving Fish From Drowning is a modern example as it is technically a story told posthumously by the ghost of a character that should have been with the group.)

A very popular "combo move" is to have a dispassionate objective third-person narrator who lets drop a single word choice or detail once in a while that almost "slips in" a bit of judgement.

Switching back and forth between first and third is very popular.

Epistolary voice

There is technically another point of view that is occasionally used in fiction, and that is through the use of "newspapers," "letters," and other "documents." While the epistolary voice might be made of exclusively first-person letters (and therefore really a narrative in first person), it is usually used to describe a story told through a number of fictional "documents" that weave together to tell a story. And while these bits of the story could be analyzed piecemeal for their given narrators, the technique overall is considered to have no set narrator, or too many to be worthy of its own mention.