January 19, 2018, 09:33:35 AM

Author Topic: Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!  (Read 95 times)

Offline SevasTra82

Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!
« on: January 15, 2018, 02:40:47 PM »
Being someone who has never written anything outside a term paper before, I've found myself running into all kinds of writing issues as I attempt to write a coherent novel.  This is a big one for me that I'm struggling with.  I've learned very quickly that reading good works of fiction and actually WRITING it is totally different.

When I go to write a sentence/prose/paragraph, something doesn't feel right.  I have trouble distinguishing when I should write my POV's movement/action, and then a description of the interacting object, the reaction to the object, and then the follow through.  Then, the transition between the action and some sort of prose paragraph detailing something.  For example....

----
I looked around around room and spotted 3 bowls sitting in the corner.  I slid over to them, picking up the first one.  Turning it over, I noticed there was a slight scratch at the base.  Confused on where this scratch came from, I set it back down with the others.  I never cared much for pottery in my life, but I found myself caring more as I got older.  Gazing around the room to locate something else to inspect, I noticed a man standing at the doorway".
----

This is just a crude example that I just made up on the fly, but is typically how my mind works as I'm aimlessly writing.  The problem is, it just seems very clunky to me.  Action...movement....inspection...internal monologue...rinse and repeat. 

I notice also in some authors writing that they would create more of a description for the bowl (could I get an example of where to place that in the above exmple?). 

I'm starting to learn that my brain simply isn't wired (yet) to write proper sentence story structure, and I'm trying to change this.  Can anyone give me some tips on how I should approach a normal, everyday paragraph for a work of 1st POV fiction?  I'd like to change my approach, but I feel my experience is lacking.

Thanks everyone for the help!  I need a writing coach!  :D



Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2018, 03:14:10 PM »
You are putting too much unnecessary words on the page.
I might reduce what you wrote to something like:

Three earthenware bowls sat in the corner of the room. I picked one up - smooth and finely glazed - and frowned at the scratch marring the glaze on bottom. I'd never much cared for pottery, but as I got older I found myself appreciating finer things. A shadow crossed the doorway. I set the bowl down and turned to face the man...


I looked around around room and spotted 3 bowls sitting in the corner.  I slid over to them, picking up the first one.  Turning it over, I noticed there was a slight scratch at the base.  Confused on where this scratch came from, I set it back down with the others.  I never cared much for pottery in my life, but I found myself caring more as I got older.  Gazing around the room to locate something else to inspect, I noticed a man standing at the doorway".


My friend Hal Duncan goes through the basics of how to take some prose and make it better - I'm sure you will find it a huge help to see some proper examples.

Hal Duncan on How to Write a Sentence - Nuts and bolts of taking a sentence of poor prose apart and polishing it until it shines. Excellent examples.
http://notesfromthegeekshow.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/how-to-write-sentence.html

Hal Duncan on How to Write a Paragraph - Same as above, but with whole paragraphs.
http://notesfromthegeekshow.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/how-to-write-paragraph.html

Hal Duncan on How to Write Point of View properly
http://notesfromthegeekshow.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/how-to-write-point-of-view.html
« Last Edit: January 15, 2018, 03:16:09 PM by CameronJohnston »
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2018, 03:36:25 PM »
Hi Sevas,

There are a couple things I'd do:

1) Vary up your sentence structure. This is the big one. The paragraph you have feels clunky because everything is framed through the structure of "I (verb)..." When you're writing in first person, or even in a close third person, the reader will assume that anything on the page is filtered through the character.

Because of this, you don't need to specify things like, "I looked around the room and spotted 3 bowls..."

You can change it to something like:

"There were three bowls sitting in the corner...

Something like, "I noticed there was a slight scratch at the base."

Can be:

"A scratch at the base caught my eye."

You're doing pretty good at changing the form of the sentence itself, for example. "I looked around the room..." Vs. "Turning it over, I..." adds a little variation.

By this I mean, the order of events is not always noun, verb, subject, but notice that you're putting similarly structured sentences very close together. For example, the beat of "Turning it over, I noticed..." is very similar to "Confused on where this scratch came from, I set..." and one sentence directly follows the other.

2) I don't know that it matters where you put things in the paragraph, I typically follow the most logical flow, either in chronology, or in the sense of... I saw this object, it looked like this, which triggered this thought (i.e. action, description, internal monologue.) Any of those things could come in any order. My advice is to base the order on what is most important to convey, or based on the mood you're trying to set.

In other words, what type of situation is this person in? Are they searching the room for clues, such as the scratch on the vase? Are they in reverie? Is this the workshop of someone important who's recently passed? Are they just browsing a random shop? The type of situation and the mood you want to convey should impact the order of events.

Here's an example. Someone in mourning is likely to be monologue focused, and that might be where they start:

Spoiler for Hiden:
She's really gone... I didn't know why I had decided to go there. It had been Grandmother's favorite place and the fact showed in the well-worn floorboards and the dust-free drapes. A big vase in the corner caught my eye, an oblong thing, narrow and tall. The silver and gold zebra stripes drew me to it, reminding me of a trip to the zoo long past. She'd taken me there, a lover of all things primate... We'd spent hours making faces at the orangutans.

I lifted the vase and turned it over in my hands. It was cool and smooth, except for a slight scratch near the bottom. I wondered how it'd gotten there, if maybe that small imperfection was the reason it had been stashed in the corner. No, that wasn't like her. She'd have loved it anyway.

Setting the vase aside to wipe my eye, I realized a man was watching me from the doorway.

"Oh, Hello."

Notice it hops around between monologue, description, and action. Moreover, it's probably more description and monologue than it is action sentences. I also added some dialogue there at the end, because dialogue is a neat way of breaking up structure, and it seemed like a coherent place to put it.

A detective scene might be the other way. Let's say the detective is here to examine the place, but he only has a few minutes. He'll probably be all action with quick thoughts interspersed.

3) Don't worry so much about it. You're doing fine. There are no high stakes here, so just write however makes you comfortable. The more you write, the better you'll get at varying the structure. Believe me, I've got some old chapters where every sentence starts with "He..." and they're a lot worse than what you put together there.

« Last Edit: January 15, 2018, 03:41:44 PM by Justan Henner »

Offline Ray McCarthy

Re: Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2018, 04:24:59 PM »
Some musing. Feel free to ignore.
Unless a detective or romance or other story with a lot of MC thoughts given to the reader, you might try writing "close third". Then you might have Sheena thought (I thought) ... She slammed down the phone (I slammed down), She (I) was very angry.
It's very hard to switch POV and narration is harder with 1st person. You can have close 3rd as a stepping stone, by not going inside head of other characters and it means narration can have stuff the MC doesn't know (or not yet), which feels odd in 1st person.

Write a couple of Novellas or short stories in close 3rd and then try 1st again.

Note: It's a lot of work to edit beteween 3rd < -- > 1st.

I experimentally wrote one book 1st in half, and 2nd half was close 3rd. Later I changed it to all 3rd and close 3r in first half. The four book I did was all 1st (c.f Treasure Is, where one chapter is the Doctor. The rest of the book is Jim). All the others are 3rd.

I tried writing a Noir style Detective, (about 12th novel) but at about 3/4 way through I'm rewriting in close third, apart from one chapter that's a student at a party. A lot of work.
Also audio books (not not audio dramatisation) can be easier to do in close 3rd, esp if your reader doesn't match sex of the MC!

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2018, 05:09:28 PM »
I advise you to discern from Justan's and Cameron's advice that there's a interrelation between how you write wayyyy down in the phrase level ("I ran hard to keep up ... to catch up ... to keep pace") and your top-level approach. Tone, style, point of view, pacing, character-voice, etc., all impact those decisions in meaningful ways, large and small.
The Writer's Digest series might be useful. It's an inexpensive book series covering the essentials of writing, and would be a useful guide to your questions and others like them. Check out "Description" first.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2018, 10:20:50 PM by The Gem Cutter »
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Offline Skip

Re: Writing proper 1st person, structures of a paragraph, help!
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2018, 09:25:06 PM »
The first thing you write is going to be crap--that prediction is right about 99% of the time. So, just keep writing and don't worry about these things.

That's because first and foremost you need to get a feel for story, and you won't have that until you've written a few. Notice I said a few, not merely one. You need beginnings, middles, ends. If you're trying to write a song, you can't be worrying about which fingering technique you ought to be using on your guitar. Just get the song, the *whole* song.

Of the thousand things that need to be learned, just telling the story comes first. Once you have a story, however plodding and inept, then you have something to analyze, something on which to improve. You could go back and revise, but odds are you'll just leave it behind as a bad job all around, and go write a new story.

On each pass you will learn more about writing stories. But you can also start to learn more about pacing, paragraphing, plot and other things that start with the letter p. <g> That is to say, you will learn the things you've asked about and much more besides, and you'll learn them as applied to your own actual writing. Techniques or practices that make excellent sense in theory simply won't work for you in practice. You're crafting your own toolbox.

But first, write the story!