Skip to main content

The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #393

Good Golly Miss Molly

There’s an old joke about the weather here in Olympia. It goes something like “if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes and it will change.” And that was certainly true this past week. We had snow, we had torrential rains, we had sun, freezing rain, and some fairly-strong winds. Last night the eight inches of snow we had melted under a two-inch pounding of rain, and this morning the rivers are rising, there is talk of floods, and the closest mountain pass, which has received a record amount of snow this winter (260 inches since Thanksgiving), is under an avalanche warning.

Welcome to Western Washington in January!

I have to walk our dogs this afternoon, and I am quite certain I don’t have enough layers of rain gear to keep my body dry. The dogs don’t care about getting soaked, but I certainly do.

Those are my thoughts this Thursday morning as I write the 393rd installment of this series. I hope life is well for all of you. Thank you for joining me as the countdown continues to the end of this series, a series you all get a major portion of the credit for. Without your questions, this series would have been a one-and-done years ago, so thank you!

It’s a small Mailbag this week, but a good one, so let’s get started.

The Mail Room

The Mail Room

1st AND 3rd PERSON

From Linda: “I have a question about writing in the 1st or 3rd person; is one preferable? I've been writing a story that takes place in the Middle East in the 1st century A.D. The first chapter and all succeeding odd-numbered chapters move the story along, told in the 1st person, by one of the characters, so we know what they are seeing, thinking, saying, and feeling.


“The 2nd and all succeeding even-numbered chapters are in 3rd person, the author's perspective, providing historical perspective, explaining customs and religious practices of the time, etc.

  • Is that too cumbersome?
  • Will it bog down the action too much?
  • Should I switch to 3rd person presentation for the whole thing?
  • Or, go back to writing cookbooks?”

Whew, Linda, that was a mouthful!

No, you do not have to retreat to your cookbooks, although you are quite good in that genre.

Without actually reading a sample of what it is you are talking about, my inclination is to say yes, that is a cumbersome and potentially confusing way to write a book. That’s not to say it can’t work, but it is a much more difficult approach to achieving what you are attempting to achieve than I would have chosen.

Michener did the same thing, basically, without all the back-and-forth. Pick up his book on the Chesapeake Bay and see how the master approached your dilemma.

Personally, I would write it in the 1st person, and intersperse customs and religious practices throughout the book in a conversational way. That way the narrative can flow smoothly, interrupted occasionally by a historical fact. 1st person gives you more freedom to conversationally bring up historical facts without it seeming contrived and cumbersome.

But that’s just me, and I’m just a bear of very little brain. In the final analysis, this is a decision for you and you alone. What are you comfortable with? What feels right to you? You are the storyteller and you have to be satisfied with the story you are telling.

I'm a big fan of 1st person

I'm a big fan of 1st person

What Is the Goal of Flash Fiction?

From Randall: “I love writing short stories, although I’m challenged, at times, to write a complete story in such a limited number of words, which leads me to wonder why anyone would attempt flash fiction. How can you write a complete story in 1000 words or less? Or are there shortcuts you can take?”

It’s a challenge, Randall, make no mistake about it. No, there are no shortcuts. The goal is to write a complete story, with developed characters, in a very compressed form. That is the challenge of flash fiction. Although it may appear to be easier because it is shorter, in my opinion it is a much-harder genre to master than normal short story writing.

But it is a great writing exercise, and I encourage you to give it a try. Many writers I have read are too wordy. Writing flash fiction would cure those writers of that malady very quickly. LOL

What Is Stream of Consciousness Writing?

From Bobby: “I heard that term the other day, in a book review I read, and it referred to the author’s style as “stream of consciousness” in nature. What were they talking about?”

Welcome, Bobby, to my favorite style of writing. I have morphed, over the years, into a “stream of consciousness” kind of guy, and I love it.

Here’s a definition I found online for “stream of consciousness” writing:

“Stream of consciousness writing refers to a narrative technique where the thoughts and emotions of a narrator or character are written out such that a reader can track the fluid mental state of these characters.”

Make sense? Want an example? How about this excerpt from “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner:

“It's because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box. Where she's got to see him. Where every breath she draws is full of his knocking and sawing where she can see him saying See. See what a good one I am making for you. I told him to go somewhere else. I said Good God do you want to see her in it. It's like when he was a little boy and she says if she had some fertilizer she would try to raise some flowers and he taken the bread pan and brought it back from the barn full of dung…”

I love it! It’s like being trapped inside the head of the main character. Give it a try. You just might fall in love like I did.

Stream of consciousness....get it?

Stream of consciousness....get it?

That’s It for Today

That’s all I’ve got this week. I can only answer what I’m asked. If you have questions for the final seven installments of The Mailbag, email them to me at holland1145@yahoo.com, or find me on Facebook, under Bill Holland, and ask them there.

Some of you have asked about my new website and social media sites, but I’m going to delay telling you about them until they are up and running and looking like I want them to look. It won’t be long now, and then I’m going to ask a favor of you, one favor from an old man who is slowly going to fade into the HubPages background and start a new literary life.

Until then, have a great week, stay safe and dry, and remember to do all things with love.

2022 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Related Articles