About 17 years ago, I began work on a time travel story that I thought had a unique spin. As I worked on it over a period of weeks, I kept running into problems that I couldn’t resolve at the time; the biggest of which was the point of view. Although I could have written the story any way I wanted, at the time I wanted to try something completely new to me: first person perspective and, more importantly, present tense.
The advantage of this perspective is that you almost literally get inside the primary character’s head; you get to know her thoughts, perceptions, and even her mental state by just reading the words that compose her train of thought. It’s not necessary to explicitly state “she felt trapped” or “fear gripped her heart” because the words she uses to describe the situation automatically convey emotional and mental states. Eventually I grew to love first person perspective, though I tended to opt for past tense after working on this particular story.
Sadly, at the time, I was unable to resolve my present tense issues with the story and was unable to make any significant progress on it as a result. Instead of discarding it, like I did with some of my other failed stories, I put it aside and vowed to come back to it some day.
About ten years ago, during a long bout of writer’s block, I decided to try to rewrite the story from scratch in an effort to reinvigorate myself and to work out some new ideas I had for the story. Unfortunately, I made the same mistake I had in the earlier attempt, and again chose to do first person present tense. I’m not saying that this perspective is bad, or that it never works, I’m just saying that it didn’t work for me for this story; after fleshing out some of my ideas in the rewrite, I again stopped work on the story. This time, I really didn’t make as much progress as I had in the very first attempt; I only managed to write two pages instead of the four that I had managed years earlier. Needless to say, this did not help my writer’s block.
More years passed. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently enrolled at Oakland University in the Cinema Studies program in an attempt to transform myself into a screenwriter. This semester, I’m finally taking a screenwriting course and, to brush up my story writing skills, I’m also taking a fiction writing class. The inspiration for my now self-published short “Right and Wrong” came as a result of some film noir I’ve watched this semester as well as the need to write a 50+ page screenplay for my class: I wrote the short story to flesh out the ideas I had for my screenplay, though the two have diverged substantially due to length requirements. If “Right and Wrong” the screenplay is ever produced as a film, it’ll be interesting to see how the public reacts to the fact that there’s a short story version as well… Will they see the screenplay as being based on the short story or will they assume that I merely summarized the script in the short story? Will there be a novelization of the movie, and if so, how confused will people be when they come across the short? Interesting questions…! But, I digress…
I have a new short story assignment for the fiction class, and though I had some interesting ideas, none of them seemed fit for the story I wanted to share with my class. I don’t mean to make this sound like I’m bragging, but my classmates have been really impressed with my work this semester, and they have some pretty high expectations of me. As a result, I have higher expectations, and higher minimum standards for what I intend to present them with. Despite my desire to explore the stories that I came up with, I was disappointed in the quality of the work I was churning out. With time I could correct the stories, and get them where I want them to be, but the class will end before I can really spend the time on them that they deserve.
On a whim, I thought of rewriting something I had worked on in the past, and the first item that appeared in the list was my old time travel story. Having the files for both prior attempts, I decided immediately that this was the one. I printed both, and got my mind cranking on them as I drove to class yesterday, and when I got the opportunity to enter the classroom long before the start of class, I immediately went to work writing. Again I chose first person perspective; there were just too many visuals and thoughts that needed to be expressed by the main character that I wanted and needed keep to use a different point of view. But this time, I shifted to past tense, and in the space of just a few minutes I had already exceeded the two pages that I wrote in the last attempt at this story. I still have a lot of work to do on it, but this time, this story is back from the dead for good. I will finish the class version of this story, limiting myself to the upper limit of 10 pages, but I will also fully explore where this story goes this time, be it 15 pages or 1,000. This is turning out to be a story that I would have loved to read had it been written by someone else, so perhaps one day I’ll be sharing it with you!