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    Fırst person present tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Meta, May 15, 2008.

    Hello all,

    New to the forums, nıce to meet you and all that.

    A questıon that has been botherıng me for weeks now (sınce I started thıs partıcular short story): what ıs/ıs there an effectıve devıce for showıng long passages of tıme ın fırst person persent tense?

    As I wrıte the story, I'm fındıng thıs perspectıve to be somewhat confınıng temporaly. In the past tense the narrator pıcks and chooses what parts of the story to tell because ıt has already happened, and whatever ısn't told ıs unımportant. But ın the fırst person present tense, the story ıs unfoldıng ın front of the reader as well as the narrator (we are seeıng through theır eyes as they see ıt). So ıf I'm wrıtıng about a partıcular ınstance that's happenıng rıght now to the protagonıst, how can I then jump two weeks ınto the future?

    It's easy to skıp small bıts of tıme (--I walk ınto Mıller's Market. I buy two oranges and an squash-- there I skıpped walkıng down the ısles and pıckıng the fruıt)
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First person present tense is almost always a terrible writing choice.

    I know someone will come along with a counterexample, but it's a choice that starts you off at a terrible disadvantage. Part of it relates to the very question you are asking. Both first person and present tense (especially present tense!) are so restrictive you will almost immediately feel the creative walls closing in on you.

    It's a misconception that present tense is better for describing action currently taking place. Well written past tense can seem to be nearly simultaneous to the action,and it is much more natural for the brain to listen to.
     
  3. Meta
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    Sorry my post may have seemed cut-off at the end. Dınner was burnıng.

    I thought many of the responses mıght be lıke yours Cogıto. I know there's not much love for the style I'm attemptıng. However, thıs ıs how the story wants to be wrıtten. İ can't argue wıth that.
     
  4. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    I'm writing my novel in first person present tense. I'm not finding any problems with writing it like this. As for jumping into the future, a line break, perhaps? Or change it to a different chapter and write "Two weeks later"?
     
  5. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I've never tried writing First-Present, but I know that I have a great deal of trouble reading it. I keep getting a mental picture of the main character walking around describing their actions into a tape recorder. Distracts the heck out of me and definitely pops me out of the story.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree in toto with cog on this...

    btw, he almost always seems to write what i would have, had he not gotten there first... saves me a lot of time! ;-)
     
  7. silverfrost
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    silverfrost Member

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    Same here. Third person present tense bothers me too, although not as much as first person present tense. Even when done well, I can't really enjoy reading it.
     
  8. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a reason there are so few novels out there written in first person, present tense--it's difficult to do right.

    I think that with a short story, Meta, you might be able to avoid many of the pitfalls of first person present tense, but as Cogito indicated, you're adding additional hurdles to the task by taking that route.

    There is one book that I would recommend you take a look at that was written in first person, present tense: Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring ( http://www.sandrakring.com/ ). It can be picked up at bookstores pretty easily, or online, but also two of the three libraries in the county where I live have a copy (one is large print version). Libraries around you might have it as well.

    Terry
     
  9. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I'm writing a novel in 3rd person, present tense, and have no problem whatsoever with it. I like its immediacy. Those who've read it haven't had a problem either, at least with that aspect, so I'm happy enough to keep at it. As for the 1st person, experiment as much as you can; writing is workshopping. I've often written the same short story in past and present tenses, using both 1st and 3rd person pov, simply to learn from the process and to see how it compares. Workshopping is a good way of developing writing skills. Anyway, the main thing is to write, and if what you're doing works for you, go for it. :)
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, if it works for you, go for it. If you are the exception who can succesfully write in present tense, more power to you.

    For every guideline, there is an exception. But consider the possibility that no matter what writing style you choose, you could run up against a wall with it if you enter more competitive markets.

    No matter what the guideline, there is no point pushing it on anyone who considers their writing good enough. Any discussions of alternate approaches has to be aimed at those who are continually trying to make their writing better.
     
  11. Meta
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    Thanks for the replies.

    Cogito I just noticed your first post in this thread which gave me quite a laugh considering the topic at hand. An amatuer I am, then!!!!!!! (I would throw in some adverbs with the exclamation points, but I'm too lazy).

    My reason for choosing this particular style is that I would like it to sound exactly like the character is telling their every action and thought to a tape recorder.

    Kaji, the line break may have to do it, but being as short story new chapters won't. Any more suggestions are welcome and appreciated.
     
  12. Thekherham
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    Thekherham New Member

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    I wrote an entire novel in first person, present tense. It just seemed the best way to go.

    (The novel I'm working on now, though, is first person, past tense.)
     
  13. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to address only your specific question above.

    When writing in first person, present tense, it is quite natural to skip periods of time through dialog. After the present scene ends, you can build a dialog between virtually any two characters who, as part of their discourse, reveal the passage of time. For example:

    I do so love the ocean. As I wade into the shallow surf, little bubbles of sea foam tickle my shins and the receding wave threatens my balance as it sucks sand from beneath my feet. I find peace here, even knowing that I can only enjoy a few more days until the storm season begins. This summer is the best I can remember.

    "Kerry, look at the display I made with the shells you collected this summer." Mother takes the shells that I find on the beach and she makes them into decorative bowls to sell in her curio shop. Tourists love them.

    "I like that one, Mummy. It should sell fast." Recalling those special days being barefoot in the sand, "I miss summer. These gloomy clouds depress me and we're only half way through winter. Do you think it's true...what they say about California being sunny more than three hundred days a year? Is that really possible?"

    "Lord no, sweetheart. If it was true, everybody would have moved there, long ago. It's just some writer's exaggerated notion. Now, come help me fire the kiln."

    I didn't spend a lot of time crafting this example, but it should illustrate the point. In this transition, the reader becomes aware of a passage of time as the MC talks about being half way through winter. Yet, all the voice remains in the present. Dialog makes this possible. You can involve the MC, or you can even use dialog between coincidental characters to reveal the time passage. For example, people in a market can run for cover during a thunderstorm and the MC listens to their complaints about what an unusually wet winter this has become. The MC might simply listen or she might respond.

    .....NaCl
     
  14. Meta
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    Thanks for taking the time to write that up NaCl. It is very helpful and may solve my problem. In conjunction with the good old line break it may be the answer I've been looking for. It seems so simple now, but you have no idea how I've struggled with this.

    Thanks to all.
     

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