27 August 2010 @ 05:05 pm
On Writing Steve/Tony Part 9: Things are Getting Tense  
Point of View and perspective are vital to story telling. It's possible to write a story where the PoV character isn't there for major plot movements, but it means some complicated plot weaving to avoid Telling more than Showing. The plot in that sort of arrangement is one where the lack of information is the point of tension. (A classic mystery is an example of one of these and omg I sound like my last history professor ABORT ABORT.) Perspective choices change the immediacy of a story, and can have a huge impact on the style and tone. Tenses have a subtler impact, but can also affect things.

These three topics could probably each have their own larger post, but they work together so closely that a lot of the information would be redundant. These choices should be made at roughly the same time, and tend to be made for roughly the same reasons, so I think it's probably best to group them all together.

First, Second, Third, Home

First, Second and Third are narrative points of view; they describe how the action is presented. First and second are relatively easy. Explaining third will give me a headache. Naturally, third is the most common in fanfic.

First person can be summed up in one word: I. (As in, I hate writing in first person.) The story is told by a single character, as if recounting it to someone else (the audience, a friend, etc). Detective novels and mysteries are famous for this. It limits the reader's understanding of the scene to what the character knows, which makes it much easier to keep the mystery a secret. Writing in first person requires some extra consideration, and it has some downsides.

The style of writing first person forces on the writer generally means setting and description tends to be minimal; most people don't evaluate themselves in the mirror to recount their hair color, eyes or height. People tend to notice things that have changed. A character won't notice their shining gold hair—they'll notice that they need a haircut, or that there's a pimple on the end of their nose. Similarly, unless something is spectacular enough to be worthy of taking photos, we don't usually not more than the general shape and filling of a room. It also requires a very distinctive, interesting voice. The reader essentially has to be sold that this character's thoughts are interesting enough to read, and they have to believe that the character could have written or said all of it. That's tough. Developing character voices is a must for first person narration.Example:
The Coca Cola was flat and warm, but kept my hands busy holding the glass. I couldn't believe she was dead. There my whole life, and gone in a week. No one could stop it. Not the doc, not the preacher...

I'd have to get a second job if I wanted to keep the apartment. Good luck to that. The only thing going was on the lines. Maybe I could do that, but no one would hire a scrawny kid when there were big, healthy bucks lined up looking for work. Maybe the Army? They were always needing soldiers these days.

"Hey kid," the bartender called. I could barely see him. The place hadn't bothered with more than a couple of lamps. "You gonna order another drink or not?"

I could use a drink. It wouldn't be too expensive if I got gin. My mother just died. A man deserved more than a coke, didn't he?

"... you got any ice for this coke?"
Second person fanfic is really rare. I've never written it, I've never seen it, but I'm sure it's out there. It's kind of like first person in that it's easy to summarize: you. A story in this perspective is positing the reader as a character. You can probably see why this doesn't get much fanfic. The upside to second person narration is that it can be very engaging. The downside is that you're essentially asking the reader to identify with your writing. Other than that, it holds all of the same properties as first person narration. Example:
The Coca Cola was flat and warm, but kept your hands busy holding the glass. You couldn't believe she was dead. There your whole life, and gone in a week. No one could stop it. Not the doc, not the preacher...

You'd have to get a second job if you wanted to keep the apartment. Good luck to that. The only thing going was on the lines. Maybe you could do that, but no one would hire a scrawny kid when there were big, healthy bucks lined up looking for work. Maybe the Army? They were always needing soldiers these days.

"Hey kid," the bartender called. You could barely see him. The place hadn't bothered with more than a couple of lamps. "You gonna order another drink or not?"

You could use a drink. It wouldn't be too expensive if you got gin. Your mother just died. A man deserved more than a coke, didn't he?

"... you got any ice for this coke?"
You see what I did thar? Also note that second and first person aren't mutually exclusive. The narrator can be a different character than the reader. Yeah, wrap your mind around that for a second.

Third person. Ouch. Third person. In third person narration, there is no "I" or "you". The story is being told by some unspecified, impersonal thing that never takes part in any way. Third person is what a majority of fanfic is written in. It has a lot of flexibility, and makes it easier to show important moments without necessarily needing a character present, and the style isn't dependent on the narrator-character.

This mode has two different parts that affect it, making for four major categories (think of those little charts about the genetics of peas that you might have had inflicted on you as a kid). The options are Objective/Subjective, paired with Omniscent/Limited. (More on that below.) Because third person is so flexible, even to the point of being able to mimic first and second in everything but the pronouns, it's have relatively few downsides. Grammar rules tend to be played a bit more strictly in third person. With first and second, you can get away with loose grammar in order to farther characterization. Doing the same in third person needs a bit more justification. On the other hand, it's much easier to describe things. Example:
The Coca Cola was flat and warm, but kept Steve's hands busy holding the glass. He couldn't believe she was dead. She'd been there whole life, and gone in a week. No one had been able to stop it. Not the doctor, not the preacher...

He'd have to get a second job if he wanted to keep the apartment, but he didn't have any hope of that. The only ones available were on the lines. No one would hire a scrawny kid when there were big, healthy bucks lined up looking for work. Maybe he could sign up with the Army. Soldiers were always in need.

"Hey kid," the bartender called, making Steve look up from his glass. In the darkness, he could barely see the old man. The place hadn't bothered with more than a couple of lamps. Between that and the low ceiling, it was like being in a cave. "You gonna order another drink or not?"

He could use a drink. Gin wasn't expensive. He'd just lost his mother—surely one drink wouldn't hurt? It would numb things a little. Enough to get through the day, at least.

Steve had seen too many people fall into that trap. "... you got any ice for this coke?"

The fourth option is to alternate these, usually third person and first. Personally, this is one of my pet peeves, but it's a valid writing technique. In this, the author identified the singular protagonist and writes parts of the story from that character's perspective as first person. But when the story requires a scene that the first person narrator wasn't present for, that would be written in third. This is, essentially, a way of cheating the limits of first person

Objective, Subjective, Rejective

This is all about third person. Unlike first and second, which are up close in the character's head by default, the third person narrative has a lot of variance. Objective and Subjective refer to how close the narrator is to the character's thoughts, while Limited and Omniscient are about how many characters the narrator is close to.

Sometimes it can help to think of Objective/Subjective in terms of a TV show. If the camera is just following a character around without indicating what they're thinking, then it's Objective. The audience/reader is left to make up their own mind about why a character is doing something. But if the audience is given information about a character's thoughts or feelings it's Subjective, because we're subject to that character's interpretations. (Okay, I won't swear to the origins of those terms, but it's mimetic.)

Limited/Omniscient is all about how many characters the narrator is chained to. Personally, I revel in third person limited, which means that the action only follows one character at a time. Omniscient means that the narrator can dip into everyone's thoughts all at one. (You may insert your own allusion to Charles Xavier or the psychic of your choice here.)


I told you that it's like peas. Limited-Objective is worth ignoring, since for the most part it's impossible to be "objective" and tell who the hell the narrator is following around. Point of view has noting to do with who the protagonist is, and just because a character is present in the scene doesn't mean the "narrator" gives a damn about them.

Limited-Subjective is a whole different story. This is where we follow one character around and dig down deep into their head. There are many different levels of depth to the characters thoughts that you can present. Some are right there, and it sounds as if someone took a first person narrative and switched the pronouns. Other styles only give a hint of what the character is thinking. The important part of this mode is that the narrator only attached to a single character at a time. So Scene One could be Third person subjective limited to Tony, but that doesn't mean Scene Two can't be limited to Steve. The example of third person above is limited-subjective.

Omniscient-Objective is a style where the narrator knows everything that's happening except the characters thoughts. Things that are going on outside the scene can be known and conveyed. To be perfectly frank, it's so easy to slip from this into omniscient-subjective that it's ridiculous, and it really has no notable benefits from the subjective form.
O/O: "My armor is perfectly safe in its vault," Tony assured Steve, while at that very second his armor was being loaded into a van by thieves.
Not O/O: "My armor is perfectly safe in its vault," Tony assured Steve, not knowing that at that very second his armor was being loaded into a van by thieves.
See how easy the slip is? That's probably why I've never seen this actually written. I'm sure it's do-able, and of course encourage anyone who wants to play with it to do so, but I have enough trouble with omniscient narration as it is.

Omniscient-Subjective is a psychic's nightmare-slash-dayjob. Or possibly a really trippy porno. The narrator is in everyone's head, all the time, everywhere and knows everything. (Dramatic crash of Überwaldean thunder) This narrator has a finger in everyone's pie. Think Jane Austen (or Jane Slayre, for a more recent edition). This mode is amazing for stories that have a huge scale with a lot of characters, because it makes it easy to connect to all of them without narrowing the plot down to just their perspective.
O/S: The airlock evacuation alarm screamed its warning to deaf ears. Steve rested his forehead against the glass, panting and exhausted from trying to break the door. Panic kept pushing inside his head, urging him to try again, to try harder, to do anything. On the other side, Tony stared at Steve, already resigned. With the hull integrity compromised, the airlock would be the last straw before the entire section of the ship was torn apart.

Tony pounded the glass to get Steve's attention. Run! he mouthed exaggeratedly.

Not leaving you! Steve returned, punching the lock mechanism again.
This sort of style isn't currently very popular, but that just means we're not using it a lot. It has advantages, and definitely shouldn't be discounted just because I'm lazy and like to stick with one character's head at a time.

Past, Present, Wha?

In trying to make sure I understand tenses right, I managed to confuse myself even more. Here's the wiki article, if you would like to be confused too.

So, seeing as I have only a user-level and mostly instinctive understanding of tenses in English, I'm going to cover the very broad Past, Present and Future tenses as used in writing, and leave the Grammar Monster to other people. And then I will go cry into my coffee, because Wiki used terms like "Perfected Durational (progressive/continuous) Aspects in Future" and made my brain leak out of my ears.

Past tense is one of the more popular tenses. It encapsulates the story as having happened at some point in the past (shocking, I know). Past tense is almost a default setting in a lot of fanfiction. It has no really significant draw backs or advantages to speak of.
Tony grinned down at Steve as he pinned him to the floor. Steve's wrists stretched over head, kept in place by Tony's grip. "Super solider, huh?"

"Using the armor is cheating," Steve insisted. He pushed at Tony's grip, but wasn't able to win free.
Present tense is something used less often, but it can have a powerful effect when it is used. Again, it's oddly named, as writing in the present tense means the writing is taking place in the present! Weird. Present tense has an advantage over past, in that when it's used in first person there's no guarantee the narrator will survive. In first person past tense, it's implicit that the narrator survives the ordeal, at least to the end of the story, because they have to be there to "tell" it. This can be subverted by having the story end right before the character dies, implying that "death" is the present.
Jan crosses her arms and stares at me with narrowed eyes. "Tony. Steve. Darlings. Why is the Quinjet filled with pudding? Do you have any idea how chocolate stains?"
See? No idea whether or not they'll survive. (My bet is on "not".)

Future tense is another of those tricks I've never seen used in fiction, but I'm positive it's possible. Keeping with our theme, the future tense indicates that something will happen. I... really have no idea how this could be put to good use. I suppose that, if mixed with first person or second, the chance to use it as character speculation or planning would be handy, but hard to maintain. Here's an example anyway.
Steve will back away from the vision of destruction, with his heart in his throat and courage finally crushed. "No," he'll whisper. "It can't happen. It can't!"

"It has happened," I'll promise him with my best smile. "And it is all. Your. Fault."

Why Your Characters Hate You

You read the title of this section right. Your characters hate you, deeply and truly, with every ounce of their fictional hearts. Tenses, Perspectives and Points of View are all very nice, clinical ways of describing how you're going to make them jump through hoops for your amusement. They will resist. They will argue. They will complain. And sometimes, they will win.

Have you ever started writing a story, and then looked up some time later and wonder WTF you just wrote, because it doesn't look anything like what you intended? That, my friend, is what happens when the character takes the driver's seat. Planned plot gets thrown out the window, and you're left with three thousand words of Tony being emo at an elephant while Steve plays with finger paints. It's not a pretty picture.

The easiest way to avoid this is to stick with what you know and are comfortable with writing. Unfortunately, going that route means you become extremely limited in what you can write about and how you can write it. I don't recommend it. But venturing off into the unknown gives those pesky, recalcitrant characters an opening to zoom off and do their own thing.

If you're writing outside your comfort zone, here's some tricks you can use before the beta sees it.

1) Read the story backwards, sentence by sentence. In really long stories, this can be nigh unto impossible, but it can be worth the effort sometimes. Reading the story backwards this way disconnects the sentences and forces you to read them fresh. This can help you catch grammatical errors, typos, tense-slips and sudden PoV swerves.

2) Use your highlighters. Any time you need to remember something that will be important later in the story or that might change, highlight it in the text. This makes it easier to flip back and find the reference, and sometimes the act of designating a highlighter color to that item can help you remember it better.

3) Read your story aloud. Okay, yeah, it can be embarrassing to do if you write in public, but it will give you a feel for where the stresses and pauses are. It's one way to help stay in-character. It also helps with run-on sentences. If you have to pause to breathe anywhere other than a comma, or if the comma-pause appears frequently, you may need to give that sentence the chop.

4) Use text color to designate PoV when using Omniscient mode. It gives a visual cue when you're focusing too much on a single character and leaving out others.

5) Use text color to designate PoV when using multiple-character Limited mode. This works the same way as #4, but over a wider scale. For example, if you have a twenty scene story with three perspectives (Tony, Steve, Carol) and Steve's perspective is only two scenes? You may want to ask why Steve has a perspective at all, and if you should expand or cut. (Note that those two scenes might be vital, and worth keeping, but Steve doesn't need more PoV scenes. That's also completely valid.)

6) Finally, try printing out the story, sitting on it for a week or two (if you have patience) and then attacking it with a red pen. The distance and the physical aspect of paper can give you a fresh perspective, and makes it easier to chop-chop where it's needed.

Holy mother of slash, three thousand words! I hope they came in handy! Next stop, Style, which is so closely tied to all of this that they might be married.

Crossposted to Dreamwidths ohnoz!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
jazzypomjazzypom on August 28th, 2010 05:44 am (UTC)
Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
It happens to me all the time, they expect development, want to dictate their own actions, and demand that I commit... what?

I do try and print out the story and read it on the bus. A lot of funky grammar jumps out to me at print, then. With regards to writing in the outside zone and making notes in fic, this is where the google documents notes feature is invaluable. I make notes whether to expand or take out. Also, at this point in time, that's where a good beta reader is worth her weight in gold.

One concrit though, I think the reactive bit could have been clearer. On first read, I missed it totally, and had to go back to doing this again.

I know that it seems to be a thankless series of posts that you're doing (with the anon comment a week ago. How rude!) but you're rocking the casbah, bb.
tsukinofaerii: Awwwtsukinofaerii on August 29th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
Anyone who says they have perfect control of their characters is lucky. And probably also just asking for a rebellion. Pffft. One day they too will know the horror of watching words they didn't plan to write appear on the screen.

:D I stole that from you. I am far, far too lazy, but it's a really good idea! I love Google Docs notes, but since I'm on dial up I can't use them. My trick is to just write them in, and then highlight them lime green or something in MS Office.

... reactive... it must have been unclear, because I can't think of what you mean? D:?

Hee! Thank you! Sekrit: The Anon comment's IP matched my troll. (eyes roll) So I'm not precisely taking it to heart.
Elspethelspethdixon on August 29th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
Did their nasty anon comment derail partway through into ranting about Tony Stark/Civil War and/or ship-based grudgewank about how evil it is to OTP Steve/Tony rather than shipping [other pairing]? All the troll comments I've gotten have invariably done that. So has all the trolling directed at the fandom that I've seen on anon memes, and I'm starting to suspect it's all one scarily dedicated person.
tsukinofaerii: light the ban-signal!tsukinofaerii on August 29th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
I'm reasonably certain that this troll is specific to me, and is a Steve/Tony shipper. I have a pretty good idea who it is, but I've only circumstantial evidence. (hands) If you're interested, here's the comment. Maybe the speech patterns (and near illegibility) match?
Elspethelspethdixon on August 29th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
What is that comment about "ethos" supposed to even mean?

It doesn't look like my troll or the anon meme troll, though. Not enough Civil War or ship/character-directed bitterness (the AO3 troll, on the other hand, sounded just like them).
tsukinofaeriitsukinofaerii on August 29th, 2010 04:32 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
I think Trolly meant "ethic". Which only makes marginally more sense.

:( The internet is so full of trolls. Two, stalking our pages! I hope this one doesn't target you though. It's an extra pesky one.
Elspethelspethdixon on August 29th, 2010 04:44 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
Well, I've turned anon commenting off on both journals, and most of my posts are flocked now. And I turned the review notifications on AO3 off. The only place anyone anonymous can go after me at this point is if I comment in other people's posts, so I should be safe. And if they tried to step it up and take it offline, well, it's not like I write porn or chan or anything else potentially job-threatening, and my parents/my boss already know I live with another girl, so there's nothing for a fandom troll to out me for that matters.
tsukinofaeriitsukinofaerii on August 29th, 2010 05:15 am (UTC)
Re: Oy, yes, that whole 'characters in the driver's seat thing'
I've already warned my boss that someone's messing with me, so if anyone tries anything damning I should be in the clear. Many lols were had at my expense, but I can live with that. I don't want to turn Anon commenting off, since the trollery there is pretty limited. :( Hopefully, the trolls will get bored and go away.
Elspethelspethdixon on August 28th, 2010 06:58 am (UTC)
A character won't notice their shining gold hair

Unless they're starring in a LKH novel. Then you get a paragraph-long description of it ("good red garnets spun out into hair").

I've never done the color thing, but I read everything I write aloud, because that's how seanchai and I co-write. It's really helpful with dialogue.
tsukinofaeriitsukinofaerii on August 29th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
:D :D :D Someone needs to write a really lurid LKH pastiche for Tony and Steve. Tony can suddenly develop permanent leather pants, and Steve's hair will grow six inches overnight. Skip the "ostensibly bi but somehow never have sex on screen" thing though.
Elspethelspethdixon on August 29th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
For true LKH-ness, one of them needs to have a harem of hot guys with long hair that they are compelled to sleep with for contrived plot reasons. My Little Pony jewel eyes and blue/green/white/silver/etc. anime bishounen haircolors are optional.

And they raise supernatural power via orgasms. And there's a murder mystery involving serial killers, but it gets about twenty pages out of the whole 200+ page story, all the rest being devoted to sex and the protagonist's inner relationship waffling (so, not unlike some slash fics).
tsukinofaeriitsukinofaerii on August 29th, 2010 03:55 am (UTC)
And random reasons to dress in Gothic Lolita styles. Also pasted on drama. Tony will have to vaguely resemble someone from Steve's past who died tragically. Cue le ansgt.

Also, the enemy will have to be reasoned with and out-sexed, rather than defeated. Actually winning is so 2009.
The Slain Godvaltyr on August 29th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
one of them needs to have a harem of hot guys with long hair that they are compelled to sleep with for contrived plot reasons

It's certainly one theory for why Tony put together the Avengers.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )