I’ve always felt that the sign of a bad writer is the inability to come up with a sentence describing their own writing. If you’re into fanfiction at all (which I’m totally not *coughcoughcoughcoughexceptthatIwasandsometimesstillamcoughcough*), one of the many signs that tell you not to click on a story is this, written in place of a summary: “I SUCK AT SUMMARIES THIS IS MY FIRST STORY PLS READ ITS GR8T!!!”
And then I post a new story on this website (“We are Amazing“) and I summarize it on my story page with, “The things a dog knows are exactly what they are.”
In short: I SUCK AT SUMMARIES THIS ISN’T MY FIRST STORY BUT PLS READ ANYWAYS!!! IT’S GREAT!!!
This is, first and foremost, an actual short story, clocking in at 810 words. I’m terrible at short stories because I have so much bull to throw, as I’ve stated before. This story was actually the result of an assignment near the end of my University days. My professor told us we had to write contrary to our usual style, which means this story is written in first person, using more simple sentences than I’ve ever tried to write in my life. My sentences usually look more like this:
Mrs. Bauermann’s obituary would later say that she had been a pillar of the community, an officer in her neighborhood association and the kind of person who volunteered countless hours at the nearby school, but when the students at the nearby school in question first heard about the old bat’s sudden demise, it was from an article on page two of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, under the headline “Local Woman Dies on Roof.” She’d been found about the time the sun started to crest over the gables, hour’s cold with her back to the attic window and her heels in the rain gutter.
73 words, kids, since “Post-Dispatch” counts as one. Also, I realize there are actually two sentences posted here (the second sentence is only, count ’em only, 30 words), but since the second sentence is the cream of the description I put it in anyways.
An additional note about point of view: I hate first-person. Loathe it. Loathe the fact that everyone and their mother writes in first person now. Somehow two of my favorite novels (“Ella Enchanted” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”) are written in first-person, but this is because of the dastardly nature of first-person. First-person masquerades as the easiest point of view to write. I understand why: it forces writers to stay true to a voice. There is absolutely no opportunity to write scene-killing over-drama like “his eyes narrowed at her from across the room as he cackled to himself.” The main character either has to have seen the eyes narrow herself or she has to have someone tell her about it – either way it’s more-thrilling, not to mention natural, writing.
Unfortunately, easy though it may seem, first-person is actually the hardest point of view to master. Why? Because nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks things like “I walked across the room to pick up the coffee pot.” You just do it. Instead you have to have your character think around actions, things like “the coffee looked gross but I decided to drink some anyways.” The only way describing your step-by-step actions sounds natural is if you’re telling the story to an audience, in which case the rules change again and it sounds normal to do so. On a similar note, you cannot naturally say things like “I answered him with anger in my voice” – you’re going to have to imply the anger. “I snapped at him” or “‘Shut your trap,’ I answered.” Unless, of course, your main character is exceptionally self-aware or is purposefully putting anger in their voice to make a point. Then go for it. It all comes down to characterization – first-person is not an excuse for sloppy writing. And yet it so often is.
I’ll get off my soap-box now. I’m not particularly pleased with “We Are Amazing” for all the reasons I just listed above. One of these days I’ll write and post a story that hits all my own right buttons.