Partying, presents…Our Lips are Sealed
The week kicked off with a much-needed change of scenery in Rhode Island: a couple of days with my friend Heather, whom I’ve known for years. The good news is we chilled out! And…the bad news is we chilled out. We enjoyed a nice CRIMINAL MINDS binge-watch session, ate Chinese food, and reveled in the fact that most of the snow had melted…what a difference a week makes!
I also got some feedback on a short story I’ve been working on (Heather and I have been critiquing each other’s work for years). A piece called “Drunk Talk,” which I wrote in 2013, has been undergoing revision on and off for a while now (often stories that get into your hands are the final product of months or years of work. I cannot tell you how many published short stories I read that clearly have no business being out there because they aren’t polished. Be leery of anyone who brags about writing a story one day and submitting it the next—that’s a palm greaser, not a writer. And no, I’m not afraid to make a generalization. In my experience, it’s always been the truth. Even the super-pros give their work some space). “Drunk Talk” had more than a couple of issues, but one came up that I wasn’t expecting.
It’s tough to know sometimes whether or not the tense you’re working in is the best fit for the story. Sometimes, the tense it “speaks in” in my mind is the right choice. Sometimes, it’s an okay choice, but not the best one. Others, it’s definitely the wrong choice.
As a writer, how do you know? If I’m unsure, the easiest way is to play with it. I write the first few sentences in a few different tenses and decide which one works for me.
“Our Lips are Sealed” (which is what the title for the story “Drunk Talk” became) “spoke” to me in past tense, and during the course of revising, that felt correct to me. With this last revision, though, a new problem surfaced: I have three timeframes in the story: the present (what Robyn is currently experiencing), the recent past (anything that has given rise to her current situation) and the distant past (things which happened so far back that the reader doesn’t “see” them happening). This can create confusion in the reader, because he may not be able to tell where in time he is: if the story is penned in the past tense, then anything which happens BEFORE the time of the story should be rendered in the pluperfect.
Yeah, that can make for a klutzy mess.
I had just encountered this same issue—only on a much larger scale, because I was dealing with distant-past flashbacks rather than just referrals—in another story I’d written. The solution? Place the present time of the story in the present tense, the recent past in the past tense, and the distant past in the pluperfect.
I gave it a try with “Our Lips are Sealed,” and was surprised to discover—probably because of the nature of the situation being depicted in the story—present tense, which can automatically create a sense of urgency and therefore ratchet up the tension, worked better than the original past tense. I feel much better about this piece and hope to have it heading toward “polished” pretty soon.
Another project that’s been cooking for a couple of years is the pulling together of my next short story collection—not Disney-related this time around. Two years ago, I realized that a few pieces that were out of print and some new pieces I’d written had a common theme: Loss. While I didn’t have enough, at the time, to build a collection, I knew that as time went by, that would change.
I am, finally, very close to that point.
In non-writing news, I finally pulled my sister’s birthday box together. It turns out I didn’t have to purchase any gifts, because I have a tub in my basement that had plenty left over from Christmas—she’s REALLY easy to buy for; I can’t go anywhere without picking something up for her. Lots of people ask me how I can afford to ship her so many giant boxes, so I’ll answer that here: I use FedEx Ground, NOT the Post Office. Huge heavy boxes go all the way to Texas for a way more reasonable price than the Post Office, and they’re guaranteed. Example? A box twice the size of the large USPS Priority Box which weighing 12 pounds will get to Texas in three business days for $25.70, a cost which includes $100 worth of free insurance. While they say you can put any weight into USPS Priority Boxes, I’d have needed at least two of them (possibly three) to ship the quantity I needed to ship, which would have cost me anywhere from $34.90–$52.35. And oh, yes, ANY insurance costs extra, and the two-day ship is considered an estimate rather than a guarantee. I use FedEx Ground now for all my package shipping and I’ll never go back.
With all that savings? I went to Target and got a cute cabinet for my writing office.
Posted on March 20, 2015, in The Writing Life and tagged FedEx Ground, picking the right tense for a short story, poet Heather Sullivan, Postal Service Priority Shipping prices, present tense vs past tense, wine glass collections, Writing advice. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.