It’s All Happening Now… Maybe

There are a lot of aspiring writers out there and one of the first things a lot of them do is post short stories and novellas up on critiquing websites for fellow writers to applaud, rip apart and generally give lots of really bad advice. Back in the good ol’ days of writers’ groups you took your own writing life in your hands asking other wannabe writers what they thought of your work, because putting the boot in was much more fun, a lot easier — and their own writing was crap anyway. At least nowadays the online forums and communities are very supportive, which sort of isn’t a good thing because you need valued criticism, not just pat-on-the-back “you’re doing awesome” feedback.
So for what it’s worth I’ll offer some guidance on a basic component of any writing. One that is missing from so much new writing I’ve seen lately that it drives me nuts. We can use the dread passive voice versus active voice argument, but that just scares people, so I’ll simplify it for you.
Everything in your writing has to be happening now. It’s that easy. Here’s a few examples:
Wrong: “He took a deep breath and opened the door”.
Right: “He took a deep breath, opening the door”.
Wrong: “He closed his eyes and wondered what would happen next”.
Right: “Closing his eyes, he began wondering what might happen next”.
The whole point throughout your writing is to give the impression things are happening now, so that no result or consequence is decided — that no one knows what is happening next, because it hasn’t happened yet. Any hint that your narrator or the “voice” of your book has already survived to tell your tale takes away all the suspense.
But it doesn’t just apply to any major plot devices. Everything, such as dialogue, driving a car, drinking a beer, robbing a bank… it all has to be happening now so that nobody knows what happens next.
Every time your writing suggests that something has happened, change it to something is happening.
Okay, it’s not a perfect science and often you’ll find yourself locked into a past tense “voice”, but make it a high priority and you’ll have readers turning the pages until the end.
And yeah… apologies for the over-use of the word “happen” and the italics. It happens, right?

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