Posted in books, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

The problems with second person narration and directly addressing the reader

I’ve been reviewing a lot of writing samples lately for the ghostwriting company I train writers for, and I’ve noticed a trend of using sections of second person narration and directly addressing the reader quite frequently.

While second person narration can be used effectively, it’s generally not ideal for commercial adult fiction. Directly addressing the reader can be used sparingly, but it is often jarring and pulls the reader out of the story by reminding them that they’re reading a book.

Second person narration is when the story is told in the voice of an onlooker (the reader). “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.” Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City

Directly addressing the reader is when the narrator “breaks the fourth wall” and speaks to the reader directly using YOU. “Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.” Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of this Book Is Secret

Why these are rarely used in fiction:

Directly addressing the reader is NOT a replacement for an omniscient POV. This is often used to remind the reader of something (Now, I told you this wouldn’t have a happy ending) or tell the reader what will happen next (If only she had known the cable was lose, she wouldn’t have climbed out onto it.) If a story is not being written from an omniscient POV, this is incorrectly breaking out of the POV and is jarring to the reader. Choose a POV and stick to it.

They break suspension of disbelief. It’s very difficult for a reader to suspend disbelief and feel they are immersed in the story when they are being asked questions, told direct information, or reminded that they are being told a story.

Both are extremely difficult to use correctly. To make these techniques work, they have to be done consistently throughout the story, to avoid startling the reader every time they are addressed. Few stories are suited to constant commentary from the narrator and can frustrate and tire the reader.

The use of YOU reminds readers of children’s fiction, blog posts, and self-help books. The Tale of Despereaux has a wonderful narrator voice that explains difficult words and concepts to young readers and helps them understand the story. When adult readers are directly addressed, many feel they are being condescended to or instructed on how to read or enjoy the story. Both can be major turnoffs for readers.

It is difficult to develop characters and a story that suits second person narration. The narrator is limiting to watching from a distance with second person narration. Even when omniscient, the reader never truly gets inside the characters’ heads and feels less involved in the story.

Second person narration is difficult to maintain in pieces longer than a few pages. Second person narration is tiring for readers to read. It feels like they are being asked to answer questions or be actively involved in a story rather than enjoying it as an observer.

For a list of more things readers don’t like, check out the link below!

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing tips

3 Tips for Researching #Paranormal (for your writing) #research #podcast

For Halloween, I decided a paranormal themed podcast was in order! Read the transcript or listen to the podcast for tips on researching paranormal for your writing and incorporating what you learn into your story.

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The blending of fiction genres has led to a variety of paranormal subgenres, from paranormal romance to paranormal military fiction. Readers love paranormal fiction, but they expect it to be either factual or wholly unique. Now, when talking about factual paranormal fiction, what do I mean? I mean researching the common theories, terms, mythos, and culture. Writing paranormal may sound as easy as throwing in a few ghosts or vampires. Writing paranormal that truly draws in readers takes a little more than that. Today I’ll discuss how to research paranormal and incorporate what you learn into a convincing story that will capture reader’s attention.

Research

How do you find reliable information on your chosen paranormal topic? That’s a tough question, because when you type “ghosts” into a search bar, you’ll get anything and everything. There are two important aspects of researching the paranormal for a work of fiction.

First:  You’re not looking for a scientifically proven set of facts. You’re looking for the general consensus among a community of believers. What are the hallmarks of belief in ghosts? What do most accept as standard and what are the outlier theories? What is dismissed outright? Talk to people who actually believe and participate in the culture. It’s important to understand the core beliefs of a paranormal topic in order to ground your story in the basics. Then you can take it where you will.

Second: Learn the culture. Given that I’ve been working of The Ghost Host: Episode 2 lately, I’ve been researching ghosts, ghost hunting, and concepts of the soul and afterlife. Even though Echo doesn’t need as many physical tools as the average ghost hunter who can’t see ghosts, it’s important that she knows what others are using to confirm her talents and explore their own paranormal experiences. I need to know about EMF, EVP, protocol for séances, what herbs are involved in ritual cleansings, and more. Know the terminology, tools, and implements of your topic so your character can convincingly belong to that world.

Applying what you’ve learned

The tough part of research is that you learn thousand things when you only needed to know about one. A mistake writers sometimes make is trying to cram everything they learned into their book. Just because a reader is interested in ghosts doesn’t mean they want a chemical breakdown of why salt disrupts spiritual energy.

When incorporating your research into your stories there are two questions to ask:

Is this integral to the plot? If it is, blend your research into the story as needed. Don’t info dump. Give the reader only what they need to know in each scene in order for them to suspend disbelief and stay involved in the story. Add research as you would leave pieces of a breadcrumb trail: Just enough to follow along.

The next question you want to ask is: Will this help create a believable setting or world? In The Ghost Host, I mention that one of the characters sleeps with a hex bag under his bed. Other than a brief mention of what “might” be included in a hex bag, I don’t go into any more detail. The story itself doesn’t deal with hex bags. I used it only to add to Kyran’s character and illustrate that he comes from a family who believes in the occult and doesn’t think twice about what others would consider odd.

If a bit of research doesn’t enhance the story or help with world building, save it for something else.

Suspend your own disbelief

Writing paranormal fiction, by its very nature, requires authors to write in a way that convinces readers to put aside typical logic and science and accept the unexplainable as fact. You can’t convincingly do that unless you as the writer can do the same thing. Now, just because you write about vampires doesn’t mean you have to believe in them. You do, however, need to believe they could exist in the world you’ve created in order to convince a reader to believe.

This requires the paranormal aspects of your story to hold equal weight with the plot and characters. A brief mention of one character believing in something paranormal during the course of plot and character development doesn’t constitute a complex blending of story and paranormal. If the main resolution of the story hinges on the paranormal, it can’t come as a surprise to the reader. No one likes to get involved in a coming of age story only to have a horde of ghosts jump out at the end to resolve some critical plot point. Trust me, it happens.

Even in “The Sixth Sense” where the twist is that Bruce Willis is in fact a ghost, the entire storyline revolved around the viewer believing that ghosts are real and involve themselves in the world of the living. Had there been absolutely no mention of the paranormal and the story focused only on a young boy receiving counseling for behavior issues, only to have Willis suddenly figure out he’s a ghost with unresolved issues and the boy knew it the whole time, would have been confusing at the least.

Just as when an author researches another culture, specific location, scientific breakthrough, or historical event, due diligence is required in order to fully capture what they are researching. There are many people around the world who believe in the paranormal. If you intend to write an authentic account of someone experiencing paranormal phenomena, treat it the same way you would write about anything else. Your fiction may be someone else’s real beliefs, and they’ll spot lazy or halfhearted work a mile away.

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