- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 177
I was thinking about history last night.
No, not the big events of history like the Civil War, or the Great Depression. I was thinking about the last sixty-nine years and the history I’ve been a part of . . . the history you’ve been a part of.
The thing is, history is made by every-day, run-of-the-mill people. When you look at a small village, and the growth of that village into a town, and then a city, you are chronicling the lives of the citizens who lived there. When I look at the history of Olympia, where I live, it begins with a settler named Sylvester, and the handful of families who followed him, and the lives they lived, and the decisions they made, and the way, over time, that they shaped this land and formed this city. There wasn’t one particular day in 1848 when history was made but rather a succession of days in 1848, 1849, 1900, and so on, when the history of this city was made for the history books.
I try to remember that when I write my articles, stories, and books. I am a part of the history. My next-door neighbor is a history-maker. Our actions have short-term and long-term effects on what this area will be like.
Just some musings to consider as you begin your work week.
HP Doing Better?
From Dream On: “I was wondering if HubPages is doing any better than before as a writing site. I thought since you were having a fireside chat I could at least bring some wood for the fire. Thank you for sticking around.”
Dream On, my friend, it’s good to hear from you once again.
Interesting question! I think the fact that HP is still around, and still making payouts, is huge news and news to celebrate. They must be doing something right for that to be true. Are they doing better? That one is a hard call. The online content writing world has changed. Google is proving to be a formidable foe for sites like HP, but to HP’s credit they are making changes to combat the Google fluctuations. Some of those changes anger the writers. Some are applauded, but I’m not sure I can say they are doing better or doing worse.
Payouts are not as good as they once were, when I first started out here, but I’m not sure I can blame HP for that. Rather, it is simply a sign of changing times in the online writing battles.
What Happened to 2nd Person?
From Kari: “Another wonderful Mailbag! I, too, almost never use the semi-colon. I can't remember why, but I think I learned that in school. This may seem a stupid question, but is there a 2nd person style of writing. Just wondering why they go from 1st to 3rd, lol.”
Hi, Kari, and no, that is not a stupid question and yes, there is a 2nd person point-of-view. The reason you even asked that question is because 2nd person is rarely used in literature.
2nd person uses pronouns you, your, and yours. It is most often seen in demonstrations, how-to articles, or even speeches. An example of 2nd person would be something like this: To cut down on drafts in the home, you should tape plastic over all of your windows.
Using this point-of-view would be next to impossible to do if you were writing a novel, obviously, so it is not odd at all that you asked that question.
Is It Good or Not?
From Ann: “Question: What is it within us that tells us we have written a good piece? I know when something's not quite right but I have a deeper feeling of something close to excitement when I feel I've produced a good'un. Why is that? Where does it come from? Do you experience that?”
Here goes Ann again with another ethereal, soul-searching question! LOL
Ann, I don’t have a clue! That isn’t going to prevent me from tossing out my thoughts, of course, just so you are aware that this is all just conjecture on my part.
I think any writer with some serious mileage on them can recognize good writing as opposed to pig slop, even if they are judging themselves. That comes from experience, doesn’t it? Truthfully, it happens rarely with me. I am my worst critic, so I don’t feel great about my writing very often, but there are occasions, maybe once a month or once every two months, when I’ll finish a chapter, or just a paragraph, and I’ll sit back and think “damn, that was actually pretty good, Bill.” And yes, it is something close to excitement because it means, if only for a few minutes, that we are on the right path, that we do have a thimble of talent in us, and we can have more of those moments if we just keep writing.
It’s a writer’s high, for lack of a better description, and once experienced we are Jonesin’ for it again.
I’ve actually known some writers who aren’t, shall we say, terribly talented, and I’ve read comments from them about how good they feel about a particular piece and Ann, that piece they are talking about is terrible in my eyes . . . so either they deceive themselves, or they are basing it solely on their particular talent and maybe they have improved and I just don’t see it. So this one is a subjective question through and through, and perhaps the answer is different in each of us.
Or perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about. J
Present and Past Tense
From Zulma: “The question about 1st and 3rd person got me thinking. Present or past tense. Are they mutually exclusive or can you mix them? For example, can you use present tense to write about what the character is doing now, but change to past tense to explain a past event in the characters life. I'm not sure I explained that well but I suppose we can discuss that in the next mailbag, perhaps.”
Zulma, it is an interesting question, and I think it’s something most writers aren’t even aware of, so nice catch!
I would say that 99% of all novels are written in the past tense. Maybe I’m a little high on that estimate . . . let’s say 98% instead for accuracy. J There’s a reason for that, obviously: a novel is nothing more than storytelling, the telling of a story about something that has already happened . . . thus it is past tense. That’s one of those writing truths that is obvious and yet most of us don’t even realize it. Storytellers deal with the past.
But the past and present tenses can be mixed, and it is done often. If you are telling a story, and you use a dream sequence, you can tell the dream in present tense, like it is happening at that moment. It would go something like the following:
“I fell asleep quickly that night, and the dream came to me almost immediately.
“I am walking through a field of poppies. The smell is a gentle caress and I smile. The ground is soft. I have no feeling of fear or apprehension. “Why are you here?” I spin around. Where did that voice come from? How can I be hearing a voice when there is no other person with me? Am I losing my mind?
“I awoke drenched in sweat, filled with anxiety, certain that death would soon arrive.”
Why don’t people write in the present tense more often? Think about it . . . if 99% of all storytelling done is in past tense, why rock the boat? Why be different just for the sake of being different? Past tense is the natural medium for a storyteller. You better have a damned good reason for bucking that established trend. Otherwise, you’ll just come off as eccentric.
Does that help, Zulma?
Happy Thanksgiving to My Countrymen
Hard to believe that Thanksgiving is this week! Why is it hard to believe? We all say that, right, like it’s a big surprise that November arrived once again, like maybe we expect to just leapfrog from October to December one year???? Stupid saying and I apologize for it.
So if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful time with friends and family.
Remember, while you are doing your thing, you are making history. I don’t know about you but I happen to think that’s pretty cool.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”