Resources for writers; "everybody" and "nobody" -- singular or plural?
Published: February 9, 2010
Q: Thanks so much for going deeper into third-person narrator information. It spins my thinking into tornadic twists. But now you leave me with new questions. I feel that I'm on the brink of a great new discovery. Can you recommend books that would lead me on?
I’m glad I could help start those fierce winds. It often takes a while before a writer is ready to comprehend new information, especially with something tricky like point of view. I see this over and over as a teacher. It sounds like things are coming together for you on this topic.
Let me rattle off a list of books that cover point of view and narration in helpful ways. I appreciate the way Valerie Vogrin breaks down the logistics of point of view in Gotham Writers 'Workshop’s Writing Fiction. (Full disclosure: I have a chapter on characterization in this same book.) Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction has two chapters on point of view that address the larger concerns relevant to exploring any point of view strategy. James Wood’s How Fiction Works has an excellent discussion of the intricacies of the third person narrator. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction covers this subject in a way that reminds readers that every element of craft is impacted by and feeds into every other element. Perhaps one of these books will contribute to that great new discovery you mention. I hope so.
The larger question here is also worth addressing. How does a writer find resources that inform, inspire and make those ideas click right into place? The path to understanding is highly individual and quite slippery. A given reading won’t have the same impact for every writer. Certainly look into recommendations and common “must reads” for the fiction writer, but do a bit of your own investigation, too.
Look at the bibliographies of accomplished authors you admire. Have they written about the craft? Not all authors turn to this kind of endeavor, but many do. For example, in Ron Carlson Writes a Story, accomplished short-story author Ron Carlson documents the intricacies of his writing process on one particular short story. Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Building Fiction focuses on plot and structure. Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House explores common problems in contemporary fiction. Don’t be dismayed if you find your list is filled with authors long gone. This practice of authors writing about their craft goes as far back as Aristotle.
Read authors’ memoirs, essay collections and published letters. Selections from Flannery O’Connor’s correspondence from 1948 to 1964 are collected in The Habit of Being. Joyce Carol Oates’ The Faith of a Writer includes essays on inspiration, failure and the relationship she’s found between writing and running. Anthony Doerr documents Four Seasons in Rome, including his journey into both fatherhood and a new book. Craft elements won’t be broken down into neat chapters with descriptive headings, but a lot can be gleaned about a writer’s process and approach in such writings.
Don’t stop at just books. Subscribe to writing magazines like The Writer, where articles on a variety of topics—some you may not even realize you urgently need to think about—will arrive in your mailbox regularly. Or stop by your library and search through back issues. Scour the Internet. Some authors keep blogs. Others use social networking sites. Robert Olen Butler broadcast the writing of a short story in real time on the Internet and took questions from viewers. The archive of this experience is at: www.fsu.edu/~butler.
Seek out the instructional material that interests you. You never know what you’ll find and how it will crack open your understanding of the craft.
Q: Is the word “everybody” plural or singular? What about the word “nobody”?
These words—“everybody” and “nobody”—are indefinite pronouns, meaning they don’t refer to a particular person. Both these indefinite pronouns are singular. This is important information, as you need to know if the subject is plural or singular in order to use the correct verb form. This sentence is incorrect:
Everybody know the chickens are fed by noon.
This is correct as the subject and verb agree:
Everybody knows the chickens are fed at noon.
Indefinite pronouns can be tricky. Some are singular, such as “everybody” and “nobody,” as well as “nothing” and “something.” Some are plural, such as “few” and “many.” Still others can go either way depending upon usage.
There’s no easy way to identify whether an indefinite article is singular, plural or variable just by looking at it. You’ll need to consult a dictionary and commit the information to memory. Many grammar books have a handy list that you might keep for reference.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University, University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
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