1. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    Characterization in a Subjective 1st Person Novel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MarionRivers, Aug 1, 2008.

    My most recent most successful attempt at writing a novel (attempt as in my hardrive got erased) involved a novel set from the point of view of a nameless character, where the novel was pretty much about his perceptions, interactions, and psychology over an extended period of time.

    What I realized in writing this novel, which I filled with opinionated tangents, dreams, and fantasy, making it quite the subjective 1st person * novel is that a lot of times the only character you can really give the audience perspective on is the protagonist. You define their thoughts and aspirations and the way they view the world, so any description of another character becomes just an extension of their perspective. You're pretty much writing in a state, where the characterization of just this one character is really the whole novel. As their life progresses, so progresses their mind, and that is the point.

    I've found this is the only type of prose I can extend to novel length, because I can't write descriptions. Instead I page-fill with memories, musings, and ideas.

    *as opposed to an objective first person novel, where the "I" tense is used but the story is portrayed as it happens instead of how our character thinks it happens
     
  2. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    Retaining Immediacy, while still Using the Past Tense

    One thing I've noticed in recent novels I've attempted, all of which use a type of steam-of-consciousness that aims to be easily understandable verseus esoteric, is that the present tense sounds awkward, when used excessively in narrative. At the same time, I've found that the immediacy of events of extremely important in a stream-of-consciousness novel. You can't have stream-of-consciousness told in recollection, or you can, but the thoughts can lose their edge. They no longer seem nearly as significant as realizations, when they supposedly have already taken place.

    That's why I've worked out a system for the past tense versus the present tense that allows you to keep a novel in the present so to speak, while avoiding a glut of the literal present tense.

    A lot of people probably already do this, but I don't think it's been explicity mapped out. Basically I figure that all actions are done in the past tense and all thoughts are done in the present tense. Therefore, if I have the lines:


    I took out my gun. It's a beautiful gun. I wonder what it will be like to shoot the bastard to death. That doesn't matter, however. I just have to focus on what I need to do. I walked into the bar.


    What I'm doing is basically telling the story as if if all actions occur so quickly that a person cannot describe them in thought as they occur, and therefore can only think fast enough to mention them after the fact. Since every word is pretty much a character's thought, the non-action setences would be in present because they are occuring live so to speak.

    Now, this can be applied to likely many styles, and I personally find it the ideal balance of tenses. What say you?
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Both threads say essentially the same thing, and are really General Writing, not Character Development.

    I'm combining the threads in General Writing.

    But I agree with what you are saying, My blog entry What's Your Point (of View)? touches on this as well.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    I took out my gun. It's a beautiful gun. I wonder what it will be like to shoot the bastard to death. That doesn't matter, however. I just have to focus on what I need to do. I walked into the bar.

    the tense switches don't work at all, imo... just make the thing a jumble that makes no sense and reads like the writer didn't know his/her grammar...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem with the tense switches is that you are mixing first person narration in past tense with internal dialogue in present tense, without giveing the reader enough of a cue. The same text, with strategic paragraph breaks and an added tag becomes:
    The That doesn't matter, though sentence doesn't sound right to me. I can't imagine the character actually thinking those words. Also, I wonder is confusing - is it a tag or literal thoughts. Better to leave it out. So my final edit might be more like:
    Notice, though, I do NOT fall back on italics to mark internal dialogue. That's a personal pet peeve.
     

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