Tag Archives: science-fiction

Letters on Literary Devices 8: Back to the Present

Howdy y’all,
Just kidding. I’m not from Texas (Sorry if I offended any Texans… don’t hurt me).

Tonight I’m writing to discuss a topic that gets some folks a little bit ‘tense’ if you know what I’m sayin’. Yes, that’s right, this post is all about using tenses in fiction. Present tense, past tense, past participals, present participals, futures, perfects, the whole lot of ’em. Now I’m not going to go through all the definitions. That would be mundane. Trust me, I teach them to high school students and no one ever seems very interested.

So instead, to save us all a little boredom, we’ll just assume that everyone here knows their tenses – well, at least the two basic umbrella tenses (my term, I use it for teaching high school) used in fiction: Present and Past.

First off, most fiction is, in fact, written in past tense. There are some exceptions, of course, the most popular being the Hunger Games series. I haven’t read it personally, but it’s pretty popular I hear and written completely within the present.

Now, that’s all fine and dandy but what’s the point?

The point is this: A novel can be written in the past; a novel can be written in the present, but it is a major faux pas when an author goes back and forth.

Why though? Well, if done poorly it makes for a pretty sucky book. Seriously, if an author goes back and forth too much, their book is probably going to be hard to follow, hard to understand, and totally sucky.

However, there are some awesome authors who have gone against common wisdom and jumped from the present into the past within their fiction: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Dickens to name just three. I actually just finished a novel by Aldous Huxley last night, so I’ll throw him in with all the others transgressors.  And No, it wasn’t Brave New World. He wrote other books too, apparently. Ape and Essence was the book I finished last night and, guess what? That one’s a tense changer and a damn good book.

So, what am I saying here? Simple, I’m saying this: If they can do it, if they can change tenses within a novel, it should be possible for other people to do it as well.

So you’re probably thinking this: those are some of the best writers of all time. Of course they could do it. Those guys could do just about anything with words. Well, yea, but it wasn’t  their names alone that accomplished the feat.

The trick is this: They didn’t try to hide it. They didn’t jump from present to past between paragraphs or in the middle of one.

Fitzgerald did it using simple paragraph breaks. If you read The Great Gatsby or The Beautiful and the Damned closely, you’ll find several examples. In To Have and Have Not, Hemingway wrote whole chapters in the present. Chapter breaks make for a really clear transition. My favorite example can be found in A Tale of Two Cities. The final chapter, when Sydney Carton is described rolling out to his fate, the guillotine, Dickens makes a sudden shift to present tense, making his readers, his millions of readers feel as if they were rolling out to the guillotine too, at the same time in the present.

Another way to do it is through Framing. If you don’t know what framing is in literature, check out this old blog post: Framing a Story. In Ape and Essence the story begins in past tense. Two characters find an old movie script. They read the script. Guess what? Scripts are written in the present, so the rest of the story is written in present tense.

Well, with that in mind I tried incorporating jumps from present to past, from past to present in my recently published book (I hate when people say released) The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited. The tense jumps only occurred in two of the chapters. This specific example is from the chapter titled “The Bench Made of Green Recycled Plastic”. I actually showed the ‘seams’ on purpose in the beginning of this chapter and then let the transitions become ‘seamless’ as the chapter continued. Check out this short excerpt and let me know what you think!






from The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited
The boy was twelve. He didn’t know it, but that’s how old he was. Hanky Wilson. That was what the other boys had called him. But that was years and years ago.
The boy no longer goes by the name Hanky Wilson. He calls himself Hank to those who ask. How many years has it been? That is a question he never considers, never thinks about.

At twelve, Hank is thin, short, dirty, ugly, malnourished, and smells like shit and body odor. His skin is dark, not only because of the quantity of time he spends out in the sun, but because of the quantity of dirt that is caked to his skin.

Sitting alone within the crumbling remains of the Church Peak Hotel, Hank is nothing like the six year old Hanky Wilson, a boy ridiculed for an over-attendance to personal hygiene.

Hank can’t picture himself at six, no, he can never see himself when he reflects on his past. But that is the last age he remembers. After six there are no birthdays. After six time is still. He is alive, but time is still. It is the present, always the present.

Hank reflects. He sees images frozen in time. There is no progression. There is no cause and effect. There is no order. He sees these as things, things that he can think about, call into existence.  It’s like images but not just images. There’s emotions and some fleeting thoughts too. There is how he felt in the moment. But not always. It depends.
Here is an example:

Hank saw two boys, sometimes three; other times it was just the one. He couldn’t remember that one’s name. He tried sometimes at night when he was alone. He tried to remember that name, but all he could see was the face, a red face with freckles and angry blue eyes. “Oh, no! Hanky Wilson got a wittle dirt on his shoe,” the face said in a jeering whine. “Oh, no! Better wipe dat wittle dirt off with a hanky, Hanky Wilson!” There was always a drawn out, dramatic pause between hanky and Hanky and then extra emphasis on his last name. It was always the same words. It was always that same face.
Back to the present:

Hank’s shirt is a rag. The left sleeve is ripped at the seam. The right is still attached. His shorts are new. Well, new to him.

The crotch of his old shorts had ripped when he was climbing a rock. He hadn’t worn underwear since the first year, so one of the two men that he’d been staying with kept ribbing him for having his, “thing,” out.  “We really ought to figure out some way to get those shorts mended. Get that ‘thing’ put away.”


Well, that’s it. That’s the excerpt. Hope you liked it and please let me know what you think by commenting below!

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale for a dollar a piece. Check out these links if you’re interested:
















Eric James-Olson

Seein’ that its Tuesday

Seein’ that its Tuesday, I figured I’d dig up an old blog post and re-post it for all you who’ve just recently started following me. Since this is my first time doing this, I figured I’d do it right. I’m bringing y’all all the way back to my first foray in blog writing, my very first post.

You’ll Notice that I wrote the post to a much narrower audience. This was when I was only writing to my fans on Goodreads; it was written as an introduction to the types of posts that I would be writing in the future. So, for those of you who’ve followed along with Letters on Literary Devices and found yourself asking the question “what the f***, here’s my original explanation for writing those posts:

April 21, 2014

Letters on Literary Devices: An Introduction
To Whom it May Concern:
Just like everyone else in the world, I’ve decided to start a blog. Why? Well, because why the hell not. It was a few months ago when I got the idea. I thought to myself, “self, why not start a blog about something or other.” At the time I had no intention of actually doing it. I figured I had enough to do already (Don’t worry. I won’t list all the things I was doing already. It’s annoying when people do that). I was busy but that wasn’t the real reason. The real reason was simpler than all that. The real reason was, well, I didn’t know what to write about. I figured that with all the other blogs out there, what the hell else IS there to write about.
Allow me to flash forward. This past weekend I was fishing. Standing alone in a creek, casting a fly at a fish that either wasn’t there or wasn’t interested, I was struck suddenly with an idea. I would have preferred a fish but the idea wasn’t bad. At the time it took the form of a question. It was this: Why not just write about the shit I know? Now, I know what you’re thinking. This guy’s going to start a blog about fishing. Why the hell’s this guy going start a fishing blog on Goodreads? Good news. I’m not. Fortunately for me, and anyone unfortunate enough to still be reading this, I’m a terrible fisherman and am totally unqualified to write about it.Instead, I’m going to write about the stuff that I DO know: literary devices.Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: Seriously dude? That was the punch line? That’s what you’re going to write about? I ignored all the lectures on that shit when I was in high school. Why would I want to hear about that shit now? Seriously, I think you’re better off with the fishing blog.You’re thinking that, I’m sure, but if you haven’t left the page yet, if somehow you’re still reading this, allow me just a paragraph to explain. Here it goes.


Some of the most common threads that I’ve read here on Goodreads have to do with complaints. In reviews, in group discussions, in personal messages, us readers love to complain about the annoying errors in judgment that writers often commit. Whether it’s too much head-hopping, too little character development, clunky prose, flowery prose, too much unattributed dialogue, or too much explanation, there are thousands of opinions out there on how writers should and should not write. My goal in writing this blog is neither to judge how books SHOULD be written, nor is it to comment on any specific work of fiction. Rather, my goal is to better inform the Goodreads universe on the underlying literary devices that often contribute to the most common of complaints. Every other week I’ll scour the conversations of Goodreads groups and the comments posted on popular books searching for common complaints. And every other week I’ll do what I can to explain the devices used, or in this case, perhaps, misused by Goodreads authors.


My first post will be next week. Hope you come back and check it out!

Eric James-Olson

P.S. If there is something specific that you think I should write about, I’d love to hear about it. Just send me a message.

P.P.S. I know it’s weird that I wrote this in the form of a letter. It’s called epistolary… deal with it.


Well, that’s it. My very first post. Hope you liked it. I write a new “Letter on Literary Devices” every other week. Oh, and one other thing. All four of my novels are still on sale. This is includes the Amazon bestselling But the Angels Never Came. Just click the pictures:







Not sure which order to read them in? Check out this post: What Order do I Read These In!?!

It’s Monday…How about a book excerpt?

Hi folks,
Recently a reader commented that she liked “the clean style of writing” in But the Angels Never Came,

If you haven’t read it yet, But the Angels Never Came is a post-apocalyptic re-contextualization of “The Binding of Isaac.” It’s been on the Amazon bestseller lists for both Dystopian  and Post-Apocalyptic fiction in the months of April and as I write this.

So, anyway, I figured I’d find a passage that I thought was particularly clean and share it. Here’s the one I picked:








from: But the Angels Never Came

The interior of the plateau held a diversity of vivid greens. The plant life was never taller than the waist of Abraham. There were no flowers. But the greens were richly varied and beautiful to look upon. As the day carried on, the sky above cleared. The clouds separated and there was more blue than gray.

At midday the family watched as the clouds cast long moving shadows on the low, wavy hills ahead. The path that day went in one direction; the shadows always moved towards the family, coming to meet them.

Each shadow could be seen from a long distance off. Each moved slowly, very slowly, yet each was inescapable, for each cloud moved in the direction the wind took it, and Abraham and his family were restricted to a singular narrow path.

Abraham felt the breeze on his face; he felt the moments reprieve from the sun’s brightness when the shadow passed over. Both felt good, but only as a negation of an overexposure. If he was given a choice between the sun’s brightness and could have only that, or the choice of permanent shade, he would undoubtedly take the former. He has no choice though. The shade will come when it comes. The sun shines when it shines.

He chose to walk forward with shadow approaching. If he turned around, the same shadows would overtake him. To meet darkness head on, or to turn his back and allow himself to be caught, that was the only choice he was free to make.


And that’s it. That’s what I picked. Let me know what you think. And if you’ve read one of my books and found a line particularly “clean” feel free to mention it below.

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale for a dollar a piece. Check out these links if you’re interested:










Series Giveaway

To my friends and fans:

Two years ago I set out to create a series of novels describing a parallel universe to our own, a universe where globalism mysteriously failed and mankind reverted backwards into a savage state of nature, a state where each man fends for himself, each nation fends for itself. As an initial influence, I took the world as described in Orwell’s 1984. In his parallel world, democracy failed and totalitarianism took over. It’s like if the whole world was North Korea….weird.

Anyway, in his world he divided the globe up into four territories: Oceana, Eastasia, Eurasia, and lands that were still in dispute. I took this basic premise in creating the world for my novels: The United-Americas, Euro-Russia, The Democratic Republic of the Pacificese, and the conquered territories in Africa. The names were chosen to help readers visualize the geographical position of each super-state, not to imply anything about future relationships among nations. I figured that this would save the reader the long-winded explanation that Orwell had to give in his book (What the fuck’s Oceana anyway?).

Well, I digress. Initially I didn’t want to give a name to my series of novels. I thought a name would cheapen the whole thing, make it seem like all the other series of books out there today. But, for me, practicality has finally outweighed ideology, and I have decided to give the series a name. At first I thought that I should call it the Francisco Cain series. But, he’s really not in every novel and I hate when series are named after a protagonist. It just sounds stupid. Then I thought I’d call it the United-Americas Series. Unfortunately, that sounds stupid too.

“So”, you’re wondering, what’ll he call it? Well, I’ve thought long and hard on it and the following is what I came up with: “From the tChip of EJO.” Now, if you haven’t had a chance to read The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited yet, that name probably makes no sense. You don’t know that these books were all actually written by some guy, well, two guys, in the distant future. It’s cool. The introduction of The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited will get you caught up.

Now, if you’re still reading this, you’re about to hear the best part. To celebrate the naming of the series, I’ll be selling each book for .99Cents on Amazon from July 20 – 26. That works out to $3.96 for everything I’ve ever written: But the Angels Never Came, Farmers and Cannibals, Just After the Fall, The Church Peak Hotel: Revisited. Check out the links above, read the descriptions, read the reviews, and see if this series is something you want to get into. If it is, you can use these links to get to the Amazon page for each book:












Oh, and one last thing. Thanks to all of you who have supported me and my writing. Thanks for checking out my blog posts, commenting here on Goodreads and on Twitter, reading and reviewing my books etc. I couldn’t do this without you. Please help me out a little bit more by tweeting this out to your followers, liking the page, telling your friends about it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To Everyone and their Mother:

I’m writing this to inform you that I, Eric James-Olson, have recently acquired a new location for my blog, a new location for my millions (well, hundreds) of readers to gather. While I promise to continue my weekly posts at Goodreads, I’ve come to the realization that there just isn’t enough space for all my ramblings there. Well, that’s actually not true at all. There’s plenty of space there. Let’s face it: I only have so many ramblings. But it’s unorganized space. The blog format is just too simple, and I require a greater degree of orderliness.

Now, don’t worry, I promise to continue posting my “Letters on Literary Devices”, random promotions, book excerpts, and the like there on Goodreads. However, in my new space, I’ll be starting two new types of posts: “Writing Books Like a Man” and “Books for Men”, the latter being a review based post. So it’s worth taking a look.

Also, in this new blog space, I’ve included old posts, links to the books I’ve written, a way to follow me so posts get sent directly to your e-mail, and several descriptions of myself (You can never have enough of those).

Check out the site, help me out with follows and facebook likes. Come on dude. It only takes a second. Help a brotha out!

%d bloggers like this: