Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. About Writing Styles

 

I am not an overly educated man. Most of my studies were in computers and other sciences. I don’t have a solid academic background in literature or writing specifically, nor philosophy. But I am a smart man, despite what @arahant may have you believe. So I consider things that I am sure people have considered many times before me, and even have official words to describe. Such as certain styles of writing. Forgive my ignorance of terms as I describe three styles I’ve noticed, one of which I absolutely detest.

Third Person: Most novels I read are written in third person. It’s some person who is narrating a story. Like if your grampa was telling you a tall tale. Here’s an example:

John sat on the bench in the train station and watched the old man, leaning against a wall as he pulled a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old man struck the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lit the cigar. “Why does he have to light that cigar in here,” thought John.

I like this style of writing the best because it has the most flexibility. The narrator can tell you whatever you need to know, because he or she is outside the story.

First Person, Past Tense: The best example I can think of here is the Sherlock Holmes stories. Always written from the perspective of John Watson, but looking back on something that had happened, which John was a part of. To convert my previous example:

I sat on the bench in the train station and watched the old man, leaning against a wall as he pulled a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old man struck the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lit the cigar. “Why does he have to light that cigar in here,” I thought to myself.

I don’t mind this form, either. But it is limited in at least one way: the narrator can only describe the parts of the story he actually witnessed. Anything that happens outside of his direct experience must be related to him by others. “Holmes explained to me that he’d been traipsing all over London inquiring about the man…”

First Person, Present Tense: I’m reading a new book called Winter World, which is the first in a series of books called The Long Winter Trilogy. It is written in this style, where the events that happen are described as if there are happening as you read the story. My example again:

I sit on the bench in the train station and watch the old man, leaning against a wall as he pulls a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old man strikes the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lights the cigar. “Why does he have to light that cigar in here,” I think to myself.

I hardly can stand this style and if I open a book written this way I’ll usually close it. Winter World is doubly bad, because it is written this way from the perspective of multiple characters. One chapter is about James. And James is telling you what is happening. The next chapter is about Emily, and Emily is telling you what is happening. The problem with this is that James and Emily become basically the same character, because the writer has very little ability to tell James’s and Emily’s stories from their perspective, differently.

Anyway … the other thing I hate in writing is a poor conclusion.

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There are 44 comments.

  1. Suspira Member

    Don’t forget third person, present tense. It’s just as awful. Present tense writing just sounds like children’s picture books.

    • #1
    • February 11, 2020, at 9:26 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Kephalithos Member

    I agree entirely.

    Present-tense writing always feels artificial. It traps the narrator in a particular moment in time, and it forecloses the possibility of reflection. There’s a reason why we tell most stories in the past tense; we experience something, process it, and only then give it narrative form.

    • #2
    • February 11, 2020, at 9:39 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    I would also make a distinction between third person with an omniscient (this means all-knowing, Spin 😜) narrator versus third person through a (or multiple) point-of-view character(s).

    Omniscient narrators are generally bad. Now, it can be a single point-of-view character reflecting back on events and including information that he later found out through another source:

    It was only later that Alfred told me about the odd phone calls that had been coming in each time I had left the house.

    Versus

    John did not know that he was actually a character in a book that I was writing, and that he would soon die. Nor did he know that Nora loved him and was pregnant with his child, especially since she had taken a sample of his DNA without his knowledge to inseminate herself with his child.

    The problem with the omniscient narrator is that it often breaks the reader out of the flow. The reader doesn’t know at first whose voice is speaking. The reader might think that it is from the perspective of the first character mentioned, for instance. That is a good way to make a transition to another point-of-view character. The writer should always ensure that the reader knows whose eyes s/he is seeing through. With an omniscient narrator, it’s hard to tell at first, and often the point of view seems to shift.

    Hillary looked down upon Janeen’s sleeping form and thought how beautiful she was. Janeen opened her eyes. She thought she could really use a drink.

    And pretty quickly, the antecedents become totally unclear. Which one is thinking what? Who needed the drink? Are you sure it was the one you think it was? How does the point-of-view know both of their thoughts?

    An author can change the point-of-view character in a new section or chapter and reveal more of the story. That is usually the best way. It especially works well with mysteries. It opens the way for incomplete information and unreliable characters and information sources.

    • #3
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:04 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. CJ Coolidge
    CJ

    How about Woke person present?

    Xe sits on the bench in the train station and is triggered when the old heterociswhiteman, manspreading over the rest of xis bench, pulls a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old heterocisman strikes the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lights the symbol of his toxic masculinity. “Why does he have to oppress me with that cigar in here,” Xe thinks to Xymself.

    • #4
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:06 AM PST
    • 23 likes
  5. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    One of my favorite authors is Scott Turow, best known for Presumed Innocent. It was his first novel, and while it’s pretty good, I think it has a fundamental flaw.

    For reasons I don’t really understand, he chose to write the novel in first-person present tense. There are times that this style is appropriate, particularly if you want to heighten the suspense of a moment: The room is dark. The only sound I hear is his fingers on the keyboard. What is he going to post today?

    The problem is that the novel depends on a plot twist that involves the revelation of information the narrator knew all along, but was withholding. This would work fine in past tense, because then it’s just someone telling you a story, choosing to include or omit whatever he wants. But first-person present tense is the most immediate style of narration: it puts you right inside the main character’s head, experiencing everything he experiences as it happens. For a key piece of information to be withheld just feels like the author isn’t playing fair.

    I don’t know why Turow chose that style, but for me it almost ruins the book. Perhaps he realized that too late to do anything about it; to fix that error would have required rewriting pretty much the whole book.

    • #5
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:31 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    CJ (View Comment):

    How about Woke person present?

    Xe sits on the bench in the train station and is triggered when the old heterociswhiteman, manspreading over the rest of xis bench, pulls a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old heterocisman strikes the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lights the symbol of his toxic masculinity. “Why does he have to oppress me with that cigar in here,” Xe thinks to Xymself.

    Very well done.

    • #6
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:32 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. Front Seat Cat Member

    I thought you were talking about Ricochet writers and I was going to be called out for my dashes – whew! – that was a close one……

    • #7
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:40 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  8. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Don’t forget third person, present tense. It’s just as awful. Present tense writing just sounds like children’s picture books.

    Thanks, yes. Present tense writing sounds to me like a millennial in a coffee shop telling use about he stuck it to “the man.”

    • #8
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:57 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    this means all-knowing, Spin 😜

    You know I hate you, right?

    • #9
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:57 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    CJ (View Comment):

    How about Woke person present?

    Xe sits on the bench in the train station and is triggered when the old heterociswhiteman, manspreading over the rest of xis bench, pulls a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old heterocisman strikes the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lights the symbol of his toxic masculinity. “Why does he have to oppress me with that cigar in here,” Xe thinks to Xymself.

    Boo-YAH!

    • #10
    • February 11, 2020, at 10:58 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. CJ Coolidge
    CJ

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Hillary looked down upon Janeen’s sleeping form and thought how beautiful she was. Janeen opened her eyes. [Huma] thought [Hillary] could really use a drink.

    And pretty quickly, the antecedents become totally unclear. Which one is thinking what? Who needed the drink? Are you sure it was the one you think it was? How does the point-of-view know both of their thoughts?

    This is how I read it.

    • #11
    • February 11, 2020, at 11:52 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    (all of Arahant’s nonsense reduced to these nine words)

    I guess what I mean by the omniscient narrator is the he knows what the current character is thinking and can communicate that to the reader. IN my example, the narrator knows John’s opinion about the old guy with the cigar. And, frankly, he knows what the old guy is thinking, too. But you are right, the author (and thus the narrator) needs to make sure the reader knows whose eyes we are seeing through. 

    If I were relating a tale to you verbally, I might say “Now, keep in mind that at this point John doesn’t know the old man is really his long lost father.” But I wouldn’t write that in the book because…well…that would be weird. 

    Right?

    • #12
    • February 11, 2020, at 12:14 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    One of my favorite examples of a subtle use of different forms of third person is in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling allows herself a single chapter at the beginning of each book that is omniscient (not all of them begin this way, but some of them do). It gives her an opportunity to broaden her world, showing us a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic, for example, or some other conversation that Harry is not present for.

    After that one chapter, though, each book stays strictly with Harry’s viewpoint. It’s still third person, but we don’t get to see anything that Harry doesn’t see, nor are we privy to anybody else’s thoughts or feelings. I always thought it was a clever trick: it’s a way for Rowling to maintain the limited point of view that works best for the story, but with opportunities to occasionally look beyond that.

    • #13
    • February 11, 2020, at 12:34 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  14. Limestone Cowboy Member
    Limestone Cowboy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Spin (View Comment):

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Don’t forget third person, present tense. It’s just as awful. Present tense writing just sounds like children’s picture books.

    Thanks, yes. Present tense writing sounds to me like a millennial in a coffee shop telling use about he stuck it to “the man.”

    It also resembles other conversations between high school age “utes”.

    ” And she says, like, I don’t wanna go. And I goes like Why not? And she goes.. ” Reading much present tense writing is the literary equivalent of walking barefoot on broken glass.

    • #14
    • February 11, 2020, at 1:22 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. tigerlily Member

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    I thought you were talking about Ricochet writers and I was going to be called out for my dashes – whew! – that was a close one……

    You and me both on the dashes FSC.

    • #15
    • February 11, 2020, at 1:27 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    One of my favorite examples of a subtle use of different forms of third person is in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling allows herself a single chapter at the beginning of each book that is omniscient (not all of them begin this way, but some of them do). It gives her an opportunity to broaden her world, showing us a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic, for example, or some other conversation that Harry is not present for.

    After that one chapter, though, each book stays strictly with Harry’s viewpoint. It’s still third person, but we don’t get to see anything that Harry doesn’t see, nor are we privy to anybody else’s thoughts or feelings. I always thought it was a clever trick: it’s a way for Rowling to maintain the limited point of view that works best for the story, but with opportunities to occasionally look beyond that.

    I never noticed that! Those other events, she narrated, though, often left me confused. Not sure all the plot points were completely tied in by the end. 

    • #16
    • February 11, 2020, at 1:53 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    Spin (View Comment):

    Suspira (View Comment):

    Don’t forget third person, present tense. It’s just as awful. Present tense writing just sounds like children’s picture books.

    Thanks, yes. Present tense writing sounds to me like a millennial in a coffee shop telling use about he stuck it to “the man.”

    Actually, third person, present tense, while difficult to execute well, brings an immediacy and intimacy to the writing. The likely reason why so many folks find it bothersome is likely due to the writer’s lack of skill. One of my favorite writers, John Updike, used this perspective in “Rabbit Run.” It has since been more common, but it is quite difficult in a novel with non-linear timelines.

     

    • #17
    • February 11, 2020, at 1:58 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Stina Member

    I’ve been watching Pixar’s Brave and it occurred to me the caricatured suitors are presented like a POV story from Merida.

    If it were a book, those descriptions that came out in picture would just demonstrate a young girl’s repulsion to marriage – but in picture, it confuses the message.

    Once I figured it out, though, the suitors are a lot funnier.

    • #18
    • February 11, 2020, at 2:19 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. Weeping Member

    Spin: I hardly can stand this style and if I open a book written this way I’ll usually close it. Winter World is doubly bad, because it is written this way from the perspective of multiple characters. One chapter is about James. And James is telling you what is happening. The next chapter is about Emily, and Emily is telling you what happened. The problem with this is that James and Emily become basically the same character, because the writer has very little ability to tell James’s and Emily’s stories from their perspective, differently.

    That would definitely be confusing. The style you describe reminds me of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, but I don’t remember it having this problem. (I read it in high school.) The whole book is written in first person with each chapter being told by a different person, but Faulkner at least did a good job giving each character a unique voice.

    • #19
    • February 11, 2020, at 2:39 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. Suspira Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    I don’t know why Turow chose that style, but for me it almost ruins the book.

    It was very “in” at the time.

    • #20
    • February 11, 2020, at 3:15 PM PST
    • 1 like
  21. EB Thatcher
    EB

    Spin: I hardly can stand this style and if I open a book written this way I’ll usually close it.

    I hate this style, too. Sometimes I can get into the story enough to “forget” how it’s written. But most of the time it’s enough of an irritant to make me go on to another book.

    • #21
    • February 11, 2020, at 3:16 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. Suspira Member

    tigerlily (View Comment):
    I don’t know why Turow chose that style, but for me it almost ruins the book.

    Emm dashes were given to mankind by a kindly providence for our convenience and enjoyment. Thanks be to God.

    • #22
    • February 11, 2020, at 3:19 PM PST
    • 1 like
  23. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    One of my favorite examples of a subtle use of different forms of third person is in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling allows herself a single chapter at the beginning of each book that is omniscient (not all of them begin this way, but some of them do). It gives her an opportunity to broaden her world, showing us a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic, for example, or some other conversation that Harry is not present for.

    After that one chapter, though, each book stays strictly with Harry’s viewpoint. It’s still third person, but we don’t get to see anything that Harry doesn’t see, nor are we privy to anybody else’s thoughts or feelings. I always thought it was a clever trick: it’s a way for Rowling to maintain the limited point of view that works best for the story, but with opportunities to occasionally look beyond that.

    I have very much enjoyed The Expanse series. Each of those uses a Third Party, Past Tense style. But each chapter is written from the perspective of a specific character. It’s an interesting way of doing it. Then reading other books where the writing is from the perspective of other characters seems almost disjointed.

    • #23
    • February 11, 2020, at 3:30 PM PST
    • Like
  24. KWeiss Coolidge

    It seems like first person present tense seems to have become trendy in the writing world. No idea why. But you’re not alone in loathing it.

    • #24
    • February 11, 2020, at 3:43 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  25. Arahant Member

    Spin (View Comment):
    Right?

    Right.

    • #25
    • February 11, 2020, at 5:40 PM PST
    • Like
  26. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Have you ever read a book written in the second person present? “You wake up, knowing this is the day. Finally here, no getting around it. Working the cap off your toothpaste, you catch your eye in the mirror. You pause, stop fumbling for a minute. What am I doing, you think. How did it come to this? . . . .”

    I think Bright Lights, Big City was written like that; big success, smash of a book in its day. Tom Robbins also wrote one – I think it was Skinny Legs and All, but I might be wrong. I started to fade when he started to drift there after while.

    • #26
    • February 11, 2020, at 5:40 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. Manny Member

    Though I’ve never actually read it, there is second person point of view also. I guess it would go like this:

    You sit on the bench in the train station and watch an old man, leaning against a wall as he pulls a cigar out of his breast pocket, along with a match. The old man strikes the match on the sole of his worn boot, and lights the cigar. “Why does he have to light that cigar in here,” you think to yourself.

    This was a fun thread to read. My compliments to CJ above in comment #4. That was superb.

    • #27
    • February 11, 2020, at 6:15 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  28. Manny Member

    Bruce Caward (View Comment):

    Have you ever read a book written in the second person present? “You wake up, knowing this is the day. Finally here, no getting around it. Working the cap off your toothpaste, you catch your eye in the mirror. You pause, stop fumbling for a minute. What am I doing, you think. How did it come to this? . . . .”

    I think Bright Lights, Big City was written like that; big success, smash of a book in its day. Tom Robbins also wrote one – I think it was Skinny Legs and All, but I might be wrong. I started to fade when he started to drift there after while.

    Oops. I just saw your comment after I wrote mine on second person.

    • #28
    • February 11, 2020, at 6:16 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  29. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bruce Caward (View Comment):

    Have you ever read a book written in the second person present? “You wake up, knowing this is the day. Finally here, no getting around it. Working the cap off your toothpaste, you catch your eye in the mirror. You pause, stop fumbling for a minute. What am I doing, you think. How did it come to this? . . . .”

    I think Bright Lights, Big City was written like that; big success, smash of a book in its day. Tom Robbins also wrote one – I think it was Skinny Legs and All, but I might be wrong. I started to fade when he started to drift there after while.

    Only ones that every so once in a while say “If you decide to go through the door turn to page 38.”

    • #29
    • February 11, 2020, at 6:29 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  30. BastiatJunior Member

    A style I find repulsive is called “stream-of-consciousness.” Virginia Woolf wrote in that style and one should be very afraid. The writer conveys the character’s thoughts as they happen in their jumbled up and disorganized way.

    Sample from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

    “What a lark! What a plunge! For so it always seemed to me when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which I can hear now, I burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as I then was) solemn, feeling as I did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen …”

    I don’t remember whether I was in college or high school when I read it, but it wasn’t nearly long enough ago.

    • #30
    • February 11, 2020, at 8:04 PM PST
    • 4 likes