Archive for April, 2009

Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal part 7

Present Tense – or Past Tense

One of the important considerations I have encountered while writing my novel is that of tense.  Stories and novels are written in either past tense or present tense. (As an aside, there is also future tense but very little fiction is written this way because of the inherent technical difficulties it presents.)

I most often write in the past tense. Much fiction is written in this way.  Past tense is probably the easiest – and safest – tense in which to write a story or novel.

Example: Frank walked casually along the path and rang the door bell.

I also use present tense in my writing. Many other writers also use this tense. This tense is more challenging to write, but it can bring to the story an immediacy and an urgency which heightens the tension or adds to the dramatic effect.

Example: Frank walks casually along the path and rings the door bell.

I started my novel in the past tense, third person (see my article on point of view here). On the suggestion of one of my lecturers and a fellow student, I rewrote the entire first chapter in the first person, changing it also to the present tense. I was quite pleased with the result – but not convinced that this is the way I will go for the whole novel.

In fact, subsequent chapters have been written in the third person, past tense. I keep telling myself that it would not be a huge job to rewrite the whole story in another tense or point-of-view.  If I did decide to go down this track, however, I would have to guard against accidental changes in POV or tense. Whatever path I choose, I must be consistent. That’s where meticulous editing will come into play.

Related articles:

Good writing.

Poem #42: Anzac Cove

Anzac Cove

And then –

Young hearts and heads adventure filled
Were drawn to other lands by those
Whose fear, concern or hatred fueled
Through actions –  bold, aggressive foes.

On ships they came upon that shore
With brave anticipation high.
A storm of lead hit to the core
And took young men without a sigh.

That stain of blood spread o’er the beach
As brave young lives cut short and lost
So far from home, in senseless reach
For peace –  elusive, at what cost?

And now –

At Anzac Cove, a company
Of young Australians out to seek
And fashion their own destiny –
A solemn, silent, vigil keep.

(C) 2008 Trevor W. Hampel. All rights reserved.

The people of Australia and New Zealand celebrate their war heroes on this day, April 25th. The date commemorates the landing of our soldiers at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. It is now known as Anzac Cove. Tens of thousands of pilgrims – many of them young people – gather for the dawn service there every year. It has become a sacred, significant and moving ceremony for those who make the journey. The dawn service is also a feature of celebrations throughout both nations, together with marches through towns and cities everywhere.

Mt Macedon War Memorial

Mt Macedon War Memorial

Note: this poem was originally posted on ANZAC Day 2008. I am republishing it on ANZAC Day 2009.


Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 6

Where am I?

Over the years I have often read in books about writing: ‘Write what you know.’ Sound advice, something I’ve done on frequent occasions.

Drawing on your own life experiences can be a very powerful tool to enhance one’s writing. Sharing the familiar can ensure the integrity of your writing. It is, in a way, being true to yourself.

Drawing on what you know is an important consideration when writing a novel, for it will often determine the setting of your story. I usually set my stories and novels in Australia, and specifically South Australia. This is the part of the world I know best. It is the setting with which I feel most comfortable because I know it so well.

The importance of setting

What if you decide to write a story set in another country? Or another period of time? Or on another planet?

That was the dilemma facing me when I started out writing my current WIP, a novel for children set in Nepal. Sure, I had some knowledge of the country, but visiting as a tourist for four weeks is a far cry from being born and living all your life there. It can be even quite divorced from the impressions and experiences of someone who has lived and worked in that country for some years.

As a result of my problem, it was crucial that I either abandon the project or set to and do some thorough research. The concept of a young boy caught in the midst of a civil war would not go away. Stories have a habit of doing that. Layered upon that idea was the friendship he develops with an Australian expatriot boy whose father is working in Nepal.

I have no idea what it is like to live in another country. I have had to draw deep on being resourceful. I am rapidly devouring a series of books written by expatriate Australians, Canadians and Americans (among others) who have lived a significant portion of their lives in Nepal, and especially rural parts of the country. This has been a revelation to me, and I am fearful that the research will take over and prove more enjoyable than the writing of the novel.

It’s something I must guard against.

It’s a fascinating journey on which I’ve embarked.

Good writing.

Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 5

Searching, searching, searching – doing Research

One of the interesting aspects of writing my current novel is the research that is involved. Normally, especially when writing short stories, I have a vague idea of the plot and characters and just blaze away with the first draft. During rewriting I will tidy up the story and make it work as a story. Editing often tightens up the plot and corrects any spelling and punctuation boo-boos. There is often little scope – or need – for much background research. I usually write what I know, or draw on my fertile imagination to fill in the gaps.

Not so with a novel. With my current work in progress – the novel I’m writing as my thesis paper for my MA – I am expected to show evidence of appropriate research. This is not the way I normally work, so it is stretching me beyond my normal practices. This is good, and is what doing my MA is all about. The writing of specific short stories, poems and essays has stretched my writing skills in amazing ways.

Doing background research for my novel has had a wonderful side effect. It is giving me a deeper understanding of the setting of my novel. More about that in a future post on this blog. All I will say now is that the novel, which is being written with children as my audience in mind, is set in Nepal during the recent civil war. Soaking myself in the culture of the country is proving to be a fascinating experience; so much so I am almost forgetting to attend to the actual writing.

All this research is helping me on my journey. It is a journey of discovery, not only of an amazing culture, but also of finding out the story of my main character. He is based upon a photo I took of a boy during a visit to Nepal in 2006. I wondered: What is his story? In discovering many aspects of the culture, the country, the people and the times in which my story is set, I am discovering this boy’s story. It is a growing, organic world; it may be fiction, but it is becoming a real place for me.

I now have to make sure that the fascination with the research does not take over and replace the writing.

For more articles in this series about writing a novel click here.

Good writing.

Are you a Writer – or an Author?

From early on in my life I wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure where that desire came from seeing many of my family members were – and still are – farmers. Somehow I took a wrong turn and ended up in a classroom for 35 years. That was only ever my second choice of career. It happens. Now in “retirement” – or should I say – now that I’ve resigned from teaching little children – I’m finally writing full time. (I’m also studying full time doing my MA in Creative writing – that’s another story.)

I’ve always called myself a writer.

I’m now starting to reconsider that title, all because of a blog post I read this morning.

George, over at Tumblemoose Writing Services has posted a thought provoking article. He poses the question: “Are you a writer or an author?” In part he says:

“… in the eyes of the general populous, a writer is different from an author and the two are on completely different levels.  I think that to some extent, it’s picking nits, but remember that (and I hate this, even though it’s true) reality is not what matters – it’s people’s perception of reality that is the ultimate criteria.”

I tend to use the term writer most of the time. However, being a published author of 6 books, numerous stories, poems and articles, plays that have been performed and several thousand blog posts, I feel I’ve been short changing myself all these years.

When actually in the act of writing – I am a Writer.

When I’m published – be that in a magazine, book form, e-zine or blog post – I am definitely an Author.

Time to raise the stakes, methinks.

And hopefully get some respect. After all, I’ve worked hard for it.

Good writing.