Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Breaking Out of Your Writerly Comfort Zone: In Vein, Part 1

There are three things in writing that make me wiggle with discomfort: present tense, short stories, and a male point of view.

Present tense feels unnatural to me, and rarely will I fall into a book that uses it well.

Short stories... why on earth would you write anything shorter than a novel? In general, my short stories are chapters in disguise. How do you think my WIP began?

A male POV. I don't have brothers. I didn't have the experience of watching a guy grow up and deal with all the weirdness that being a guy encompasses. I enjoy having male friends, but I'm always afraid a male narrator / main character will simply be a girl in a guy's clothes.

I like to tackle fear head on.

In college, I wrote something that encompassed all three of these things. It was a short story... only because the assignment called for a short story. I decided to test out the male POV, because it seemed most natural for the story I wanted to tell. And in my third draft, I realized it was meant to be written in present tense. It's not perfect, but I'm pretty proud of it.

I guess you'd call it humorous "New Adult" fiction.
I call it "In Vein."

If at this point you'd like to skip my short story, feel free! (Though I hope it's worth a look.) Just be sure to stop by the comments section and tell me what's outside of your writerly comfort zone, and if/how you plan to tackle it head on!

In Vein, Part 1
“Is this your first time?”


The old lady at the table looks up at me over her glasses. “Is this your first time?” she repeats.

“Oh. Yeah.”

Without warning, she reaches up and slaps a red and white sticker on my shirt. It lands just below my left nipple. I look down to read it. “Be nice to me – I’m a first-time donor!” the jolly drop of blood announces.

Sitting down, waiting to be called, I already have second thoughts. I’m new at this whole do-gooder thing. Of course, I signed for organ donation when I got my driver’s license, but it’s not like anyone ever expects that to happen. Imagining giant needles and the snap of rubber gloves, I can’t remember what impulse had made me stop when I saw the “Blood Drive Today” sign staked in the ground outside the Campus Center. Probably low blood sugar from not eating lunch yet. Or those two hours I needed to kill before my next class. Then I had noticed that there were only two people in line. And recognized the curvy profile of Natalie Vance.

Okay, so my reasons aren’t noble. At best, my blood is used to save someone’s life and Natalie confesses that she worships me. At worst, I get a free STD test. Not that there have been many opportunities for me to contract an STD. Or is it STI? I shake my head. The world’s going downhill when there are PC terms for shit that can make your dick fall off. Either way, being disease-free is one of the few perks of not being remotely in the realm of man-whore.

“Devin Kwi – ” The woman in the lab coat squints at the clipboard. “Kwiatkowski?”

Sending a silent, sarcastic “Thanks” up to my dead Polish grandfather, I stand and follow her to a table. Natalie sits at the next one, her back to me. Suddenly I’m transported back two years to freshman English when, for a glorious semester, I sat four seats behind her and two rows to the left, which supplied nearly the exact same view. Her wavy black hair proved to inspire me, encouraging a wide variety of daydreams that ended the exact same way. My C+ probably had as much to do with her as it did with my being an Accounting major and not giving a damn about Chaucer.

After eight minutes of answering questions and one finger prick, I learn that the Red Cross would, in fact, like my blood. I’m not so sure that I want to give it anymore, but then my white lab coat lady points me to a different white lab coat lady, and I know there’s no turning back.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part 2 on Friday!


  1. I agree with the present tense thing. When I write first drafts they're very messy, and I tend to switch between tenses. But when I do my first run edits, I always favor past tense. Sometimes present tense will sound better for a line or two, but generally speaking past is the way to go.

    And I DID read your story; I think you capture the male perspective well! (I mean, you have him day dreaming about girls, so that seems right to me.)

  2. I sympathize with your 3 comfort zone pushers, but well done! I can't wait to read the next part. :)

  3. I love your short! It's believable from the getgo that it's a male character, and I am digging the present tense! Can't wait for P2

    Present tense is one of my non-comfort zones, for sure... But I tried it in my non-kiss blogfest day entry and I actually really enjoyed writing it! I would like to write a novel in present tense in the next two years :)

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  5. I favor present-tense for any kind of flashback, dream sequence, etc...I think if it's done well, it can be very driving for the tone of the story.

    My WIP is entirely from a male perspective, which is a new thing for me as well. Thankfully I have a husband to give me masculine feedback. :-)

    I'd probably agree that short stories are out of my comfort zone. I've written only one average legnth--the rest are only micros. Guess I either think really big or really, really small.

    Looking forward to part 2!

  6. Heather - I think I wrote a random three sentences of my first draft in present tense. So weird. Otherwise, I'm pro-past. Thanks for reading, and I hope you like part 2!

    Karen - Thank you! I recently thought of this story and figured it might be fun to share something different from my WIP.

    Sara - Yay!! I remember having a lot of fun writing it. And that's a great goal for your writing bucket list. One of mine is to write a novel with a male MC.

    Summer - There are definitely pros to using present tense, and it can add a lot of urgency to a story. Congrats on trying something new! For me, I just reminded myself that guys are just as non-stereotypical as girls, and their voices are equally unique... but some stereotypes are true.

  7. Good job on breaking out of your comfort zone! It kept me reading :)

  8. I'm eagerly anticipating the next installment!

    I've been working in present tense for years, and it is difficult to maintain. But it can't be beat for a sense of immediacy and lack of perspective, which one needs with an unreliable narrator. Stuff is happening now, unfiltered, unreflected.

    I'm now itching to try male POV. You make it look really fun.

  9. I'm writing my WIP in present tense and I really like it so far. But I am like you with the male main characters. I don't have any brothers and my children are all girls.

    I love your short story. You seem to have captured the male perspective very well. Can't wait to read the next part.

  10. How do you not love a story that incorporates the term "man-whore?"

    And I'm so with you on the present tense thing. I just can't write in it. BUT I didn't even notice The Hunger Games was in present. It was just that good.

  11. Good heavens, we seriously are psychic sister posters or something! "Chapters in disguise", I love it. My short stories, on the other hand, come out as mini novels, with teensy tiny "chapters". Totally daft.

    I like the idea of tackling multiple fears in one piece. Really gets you out of your comfort zone. Looking forward to more of this story.

  12. The short story was good! I wish it would've gone longer, though.

    If you couldn't tell, I'm not much of a short story person either. My last MS started from a short story.

    The very first novel I tried to write (in 7th grade) was from a boy's perspective. I'm still not sure why, especially since I didn't know anything about boys.

  13. Solvang - I'm so glad! Thanks for commenting.

    Laurel - I had a ton of fun writing this one. It came more naturally than I thought it would... mostly because the topic was light and humorous.

    Melissa - I hope I hold up in parts 2 and 3! I definitely feel like I'm at a slight disadvantage growing up without a brother.

    LiLa - hahahha I love that phrase! And I didn't notice it in The Hunger Games either!

    Rhiannon - It's so hard for me not to think in terms of a novel! But I suppose it's helpful, because your characters ARE supposed to have a before and after, even if you don't show it.

    Mariah - Never fear, parts 2 and 3 are still coming! And I love that your 7th grade self was writing "boy" stories... probably because they were such a mystery that they intrigued you!

  14. Very impressive, Donna. You really are a writer. When you can write from the male POV and make it this believable (and funny and endearing), then you're doing something right. Good job! I think you could write an entire novel about this character.

    About present tense novels: I devoured (sorry!) Hunger Games and like Lisa and Laura I didn't even notice it was in the present tense. But Wake by Lisa McMann, although fascinating, bothered me with lines like "Janie is happy." I found it jarring.

  15. Shit that makes your dick fall of---LOVE it, Donna!!! So glad you posted and I think the present tense works for you! But no surprise there since your writing is amazing and Im pretty sure there isn't anything you can't do!

  16. I thought this was a nice piece and found the male protagonist believable--and not overdone, so good job!

    Kudos too for tackling your fears and getting out of the comfort zone. I think we can all take a page from that playbook.

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Totally could've been written by a guy.

  18. I simply adore present tense! I love it, love it, love it. The story has to be fast-moving though, or it just turns into rambling.

    I've attempted a male POV, and it was awful (no brothers here, either). I'm going to try again, though.

    Someday. :)

  19. i love present tense - i love getting in characters heads.


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