21 June 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 13 comments

I’ve been working on a NA romantic adventure, and writing it first person, present tense. And I’ve got to say, wow, what a difference in writing speed. I’m typically a turtle, managing 600-700 words per hour. On this? More like 1500.

I have no idea why that is. Could be because with NA I don’t have to spend nearly as much time considering word choice, trying to find the perfect fit to achieve the cadence I’m after. NA is simpler in terms of sentence structure and vocabulary, so a lot of the heavy lifting doesn’t have to take place – in fact, from what I can gather, you’d be writing over your audience’s head after a certain point, so it defeats the purpose. There are exceptions, like John Green’s latest, but that’s a notable exception, and I have a feeling if I went down that road I’d sell two copies. At least that’s what my research and beta readers have indicated.

Normally, when I write, I write prose, where I’m unconsciously trying to get a certain lyricism and musicality to the words. Whether I achieve that is besides the point, but that’s the goal.

Which is kind of silly, I suppose, given that I write action thrillers. I mean, how lyrical does a car chase have to be, right? Turns out, pretty lyrical. At least in my books.

Some readers hate that. Mainly other authors, who come from a school that was wildly popular in the U.S., where Hemingway’s lean, sparse prose was considered the ideal, and anything more than the absolute bare minimum was branded purple or flowery.

I have no problem with that school, and understand it well. But it’s just a preference, not a set of rules carved in stone. Unfortunately, as with Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, a whole group of silly preferences masquerading as rules (many contradictory, if you’ve read EOS recently) were taught in a dogmatic fashion, where that was the only way you could write “well,” and there are plenty of adherents. They, by and large, know what “good” writing is, and anything outside of the narrow parameters they learned is to be eschewed.

Those readers are almost always authors, because everyone but an author pretty much forgets most of that crap by the time the third beer’s poured on graduation day and they move on to shit that matters, like making a living or finding someone to cohabitate with or getting that damned car to start.

But back to first person, present tense. My customary approach is third person, past tense. It’s just how I naturally write, no doubt a function of the thousands of books I’ve read, almost all of which were written that way. But it does demand more thought, at least from me.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying I’m kind of digging the breezy quality of first person, present.

Of course, writing as a teenage girl is a little daunting, but that’s a whole nother story. Guess we’ll soon know whether that was a bad idea. OMG, LOL.

In other news, JET – Sanctuary has a gazillion sales on preorder, so June will be berry berry good to me. Oh, and Requiem for the Assassin just went on preorder, too, for a Sept release – which will also be when my co-authored tome with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, will go live. Other than that, the weather’s dependably in the low 90’s every day, the water’s warm and the beer’s cold, so I’m spending less time at the keyboard for a few weeks and more courting wildfire melanoma and cirrhosis. Which is as it should be. Live to work or work to live, right? Got to have a little fun every now and then…

Hope your summer’s kicking off nicely. Mine sure is.



  1. Sat 21st Jun 2014 at 3:29 pm

    This …

    “Which is all a long-winded way of saying I’m kind of digging the breezy quality of first person, present”

    … says it all.

    I write ten times faster in FP/present than I do in TP/past. It seems easier to get the rhythm and pacing exactly where you want them. I love it as a reader, too, but not everyone agrees. Some avoid first person books; and even more avoid books in first person, present tense.

    Perhaps it just takes a brilliantly written first person/present tense book to convert you. Prior to reading Water for Elephants I avoided reading present tense like the plague. I was fine with first person, but when coupled with present tense? No way. Then I read that book and …

    Good luck with the NA, Russell. It’s a hot genre at the moment.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 21st Jun 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Well, I’m loving how it’s developing, so as long as I like what I’m seeing, I’ll keep going. I have no agenda, so it’s mainly to see what happens rather than to come up with a NA blockbuster. Although I wouldn’t turn that down, mind you…

  2. Sat 21st Jun 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I’m surprised you can write so much faster in a tense you don’t usually write in. That’s interesting. I tried it once, but found myself waffling back and forth between first person present and past, so I stopped and stuck with first person past since it’s what I’m used to.

    I hope the romance novel will still have some of the lyricism of your other works. That’s one of my favorite things about your books. I know you can’t go overboard because of the genre, but maybe you could sprinkle a little bit of it in with the mushy stuff.

  3. Sun 22nd Jun 2014 at 8:12 am

    Hello, Blake

    I write in the past tense. But then I tried present tense. No good. Tried future tense. Nope. Went to back to past tense.

    Now I’m so damn tense I can’t write.

    (Noticed you couldn’t resist another plug at the end. Bon chance, amigo…)

  4. Sun 22nd Jun 2014 at 10:14 am

    Just last week, I was editing my latest and I came to a chapter where my POV character is a 16 year old girl. My entire novel is 3rd person past. But this chapter was written in 1st person present (perhaps I indulged in some wine the night I roughed it). But it was fantastic. I had to change it back to 3rd past, otherwise I’d have to re-write the whole novel, or at least her scenes. It’s funny how well it seemed to flow, though. I’m moving into YA and MG now. I think I prefer reading and writing these for the reasons you stated. I don’t feel as harnessed by all the rules of grammar. The story can flow the way kids think, without boundaries. And, let’s face it, revisiting our 12 year old selves and seeing the world through those eyes is an absolute blast (though, at times, horrifying). Thanks for the post, Russell.

  5. Sun 22nd Jun 2014 at 11:55 pm

    I’d bet you’re experiencing the effect of writing in first person. It takes a lot of the other heavy lifting off your shoulders, too. Perspective can be tough to manage when you’re in 3rd and have lots of folks talking. On the other hand, every 3 year old has told a story from first person perspective before. In your case you’re just pretending to be a teenage girl while you do it.

    The most important part of style is that it’s consistent. Rule-breaking should be done on purpose and with good reason. I won’t pretend I like present tense, or that I don’t feel the stigma against it, but I’d bet it can speed your writing too. Writing in present tense is almost like taking notes about your scene rather that writing it, if that makes any sense.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 12:44 am

      It completely makes sense, and the perceptual shift is helping with vocabulary and description shifts. I think I’m so used to 3rd, that I naturally fall into a certain cadence, especially in narration. This forces me into a new space, which keeps reminding me it’s a different kind of book. A different tone. More immediate and emotion oriented.

      But whatever the tense, it also reminds me that it’s all about having a compelling story. If you have that, you’re ninety percent of the way there, and it just writes itself.

      I will say this is about as excited about starting a new project as I’ve been in a long time. The idea’s been occupying huge chunks of my brain, and it’s good to get it out.

  6. Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 11:38 am

    I’ve only tried first person in short pieces (really essays) I’ve submitted to magazines.

    Do you think it would help a writer write faster if he/she wrote, say, a few pages in first person, then converted the pages to third person? I’m tempted to try first person, but worry I might catch myself reverting to third and have to stop to correct it. Don’t want to interrupt the flow.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 23rd Jun 2014 at 12:07 pm

      I’d just write it in first person, and worry about any reversions on second draft. In other words, just write, and then go back and revise and correct. Story’s more important that style. Style can be fixed on a corrections pass.

  7. Tue 24th Jun 2014 at 6:21 pm

    If your heroine is a valley girl you can insert the word “like” between each word of dialogue and double your output…just a thought…
    I really look forward to reading your romance. You have a lot of balls writing as a teenage gal…

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 24th Jun 2014 at 7:35 pm

      I’ve been writing as a teenage gal on Facebook and Match.com for years.

      Oh. Never mind.

      Carry on.

  8. Old Git
    Sun 06th Jul 2014 at 7:31 pm

    (Late to party, as ever)

    You certainly dug deep when you framed your short story Soul Balm in present tense.

    From lederhosen to bodice will surely be a breeze…

  9. Sat 12th Jul 2014 at 1:55 am

    I had to scrap a novel I wrote in first person present, though not because or the tense. The remake was in third past for other reasons. I plan on writing another in first person present. Present tense is my default voice though I don’t write with it.

    Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is such a load of hogwash. White tried to distance himself from it in later years, and obviously didn’t actually follow those rules, even in the EoS itself.


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