1. MaverickChaos
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    MaverickChaos New Member

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    Having some trouble with perspective and tense.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MaverickChaos, Dec 22, 2009.

    Hi there, I'm currently attempting to write my first novel and so far I've got a few chapters down. What I'm having trouble with is deciding whether my first person perspective coupled with the use of the present tense will get tiresome and repetitive eventually.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for myself and many other readers [including most agents and publishers], it's not just 'eventually' but from word one!... and not just 'tiresome and repetitive' but annoying as bleep...

    in addition, sorry to say, most of what you've written makes no sense whatsoever... you seem to be trying so hard to be clever, that you're not trying hard enough to make what you write make good sense to the reader... my best advice is to follow that age-old best advice for writers, 'less is more'... and its old army axiom version, 'K.I.S.S.!'...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  3. MaverickChaos
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    MaverickChaos New Member

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    If you don't mind me asking, how does this not make sense? I want this to be based around the observations of the protagonist, and I feel as if a third person narrative would detract from this.
     
  4. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    MaverickChaos,

    Since I didn't read what you had previously posted before it was taken down, I don't know if maia's observation of your writing making little sense is something I agree with. However, as for your question of tenses, writing first person is hard enough, trying to write first person present tense is probably one of the hardest styles of tense to write in for even seasoned writers.

    I prefer first person pov, both reading and writing it. Very few books that I have read in the first person pov have been written in present tense, most are past tense. One that stands out as being present tense is Time Traveler's Wife, written in present tense, if I remember correctly, for all of or at least most of the book. A few other stories I have read were written first person present tense in a few places where the MC is recounting the tale to another person in the present, but then actual story is told by the MC in past tense, so it is a blending of the two tenses.

    If you haven't written much, trying to start with first person present tense is probably going to be an exercise in frustration for you and in the end you will give up.

    There is no reason not to try it out but don't set yourself up for failure by trying to write an entire novel that way right off. Try it in a few short stories, get your feet wet first. Try past tense and present tense, both first and third person pov and see which you prefer.

    As with any writing question, quality is really key. It doesn't matter what tense you choose, or pov for that matter, if your writing is below par. You have to master the basics, find your own style, and learn how to convey an idea to your audience without confusing them.
     
  5. MaverickChaos
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    MaverickChaos New Member

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    Thanks a lot for the feedback, I'll give that a try.
     
  6. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest posting your opening scene in the review room. Most people put first person present at the bottom of their list of preferred writing styles. That doesn't mean it can't work. The only way for anybody to assess whether your writing is "tiresome or repetitive" is if they actually see it. Also remember certain genres lend themselves well to first person present. Usually suspense/ thrillers/ hard-boiled can be effective in this form. Ask yourself is there a reason to go against convention and write in this style. If you can come up with a legitimate reason then go ahead. If you can't then maybe you're indulging in something pointless.

    The book I'm currently working on is first person present, and I have to admit, I find it much easier than anything else I've written. I feel more in control of the character and the moment... if that makes any sense. Now I'm tempted to write every piece like this and have to actively fight the urge. So my advice takes a different slant from the others. If you're like me and seduced by this style, just constantly ask yourself: Is it enhancing the story? Remember, by employing this form, you're setting yourself up for an additional obstacle. The reader's prejudice.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First person is a more difficult perspactive to do well than third person, so I never recommend it to a new writer. Put another way, first person is much easier to do badly than third person is. However, there are many good writers who use first person well, so new writers are very tempted to dive into first person anyway, thinking it is an easier perspective. Usually that is because they are doing it the wrong way.

    So what is so bad about present tense? What is bad is that you are locking the pace to the reading pace of the reader. That lack of flexibility makes for very flat writing, and it quickly becomes tiresome to the reader. You can probably get away with it for a very short piece of writing, but te same story written in past tense is invariably stronger.

    Writing in past tense allows you to modulate the pace and the passage of time. "Past" can vary from milliseconds to millenia, all under the writer's control. I'd recommend staying with past tense unless you have an overwhelming reason to break away from it. Te only reason I have seen for a present tense narrative style is in "how-to" books, were you want to lock the narrative to the reader's real time. I have not seen a good reason for it in fiction. Ever.

    Don't ever choose voice and tense to be different. It's not really that different. Publishers have seen it all before, and that kind of "different" is just a fast way to the reject pile.
     
  8. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I don't necessarily disagree with any of the opinions already offered, but I do have a couple of additional thoughts. One is that I sometimes try writing using a convention I have some doubts about just to see what it feels like. First person present tense is something I tried once (short story, mind you). Now, I write as I go, and I'm not sure if a preplanned story like a novel would serve the same purpose or create a similar experience. Anyway, I found it a fascinating "trip"; and the story that unfolded from my little experiment turned out to be a memoir that revealed itself at some point into the fictional future (can't get much less "present" than that). I've tried other things, too, like second person stories, with less interesting outcomes, though it does give me a better sense of where the potential problems are.

    Second, totally unrelated thought, is from the vantagepoint of a reader. One of the reasons I usually prefer third person over first person stories is that a first person narrator "owns" his own story, which sometimes keeps me (as a reader) more on the outside looking in, where a third person story allows me better "access" to well-developed characters and perhaps a little better opportunity for empathy. I think that's because the author is narrating a third-person story and doesn't "own" the story any more than the reader, and so it allows for some blending of reader & author imagination. And, because the first-person narrator owns his own story, "his" story simply must be exceptional! (I think it's harder to build one's own character.)

    By way of providing a good example (IMO) of an exceptionally well-done, first-person story, might try MIDDLESEX by Jefrrey Eugenides; and I think that was handled in first person to avoid pronoun gender discrepancies (because of the storyline (the main character is a hermaphrodite); otherwise, I think Eugenides would have used third-person.

    I have not experienced "present tense" as a vehicle for creating immediacy really. In the best stories I've read where present tense is the choice, I hardly even notice it at all. So, aside from my own little experience with it (which turned into a story that was anything but "immediate"), my only real reaction to it occurs when it's the only writing quality I notice (and I don't mean that in a good way).
     
  9. Ali Shonak
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    Ali Shonak New Member

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    Maverick,
    no, the present tense doesn't quite work, unless you want to write a First Reader. The first person perspective works for me when I write anecdotal material in shifting tenses. All in the present tense? Hmmn, I never tried that. However, the following is a paragraph from my very first writing excercise, composed back in 1978), written in the first person and past tense:

    I met my instructor a week before the first class. She spoke of her own failures, revealing that she had fallen a bit short in making her own mark as a writer, which then forced her into the next-best thing--a career in building up false hope in aspiring writers. But it provided her with a steady income, for who on earth does not want to write a book?

    Looking back at this exerpt, now I find myself laughing. By the way, I still haven't sold anything--because, I don't submit. I write for fun. Actually, writing in the first tense may be a good way to prepare oneself for the BIG novel. After all, the "I" person is at the helm. Take care
     
  10. Jobeykobra
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    Jobeykobra Member

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    I've gotten so used to writing in first person present tense. It feels most natural to me because the things I write about feel as though they are happening to my character as it is being described, and it's happening as you read it, almost like a diary or journal. I've gotten so used to reading books in first person present tense as well such as Less Than Zero, American Psycho, Fight Club, Choke, and several other books. I guess it takes some getting used to, but it can be done and done well. I've written an entire novel in the first person present tense perspective and I think it reads pretty well, though it's narrated by a 19 year old college student like myself, so I'd need more adults to read it before I can really get an opinion on it.

    I wrote a couple short stories that I posted on here that were in first person present tense as well. They didn't seem to be disliked too much regarding the perspective and tense and several peers and my English professor in class weren't bothered by it at all in other short stories I've written in that POV and tense. As long as you are mindful about being repetitive and trying not to make it sound boring and droll, you should be okay. Of course testing out other perspectives works as well and may help you find where you're most comfortable.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are several award-winning novels which are written in present tense so I agree that it can be effective when used by a master.

    You say it's like a 'diary or journal'--but I think most people write their diary using past tenses, in fact, not present tenses.

    When you narrate something, also, don't you tend to use past tenses, not present tenses?--Unless you're telling a joke, e.g. 'This guy goes into a bar, and he sees a gorilla...'
     
  12. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Narration in past tense carries the implication that something actually happened. The storyteller is immediately challenged to somehow authenticate his tale and the characters involved. It has to be plausible on some level.

    Present tense is a synonym for "picture this." When you tell a joke, you're not trying to convince anyone of anything. All you want to do is evoke an amusing image.

    Picture this: A guy walks into a bar. . .
    Picture this: A dog is humping your leg and. . .

    Works fine for a joke or short story. Shorts are often just "picture this" scenarios, anyway.

    But a whole book in present tense? Just one epic "picture this" that goes on and on and on like an endless joke? At some point, I think I would get tired of "picturing that" and want to read something more tangible. For a novel to hold my attention, it needs to be more than a streaming video.

    Picture This, AKA present tense, seems inherently lazy. Perhaps that is why some people find it easier to write in.
     
  13. MaverickChaos
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    MaverickChaos New Member

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    That's funny, because Fight Club, Choke and American Psycho are three of my favourite novels. I think I've just been reading very similar material and I perhaps need to branch out to improve my writing style.
     
  14. Jobeykobra
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    Jobeykobra Member

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    Yeah. I've also been reading a lot of books in past tense and I've started another book that's written in that tense using first person and I find that works for me too. You should try to toy around with different writing styles and at the same time read a lot, and find what works best for you or if several different styles work.

    Personally, since I always write in the first person, I like to use a POV and tense that best fits the character's voice. If the character's looking back on events that happened from an end point, he's telling the story from the present using past tense. If I want things to be happening to my character as I write and read the story, I use present tense. With present tense the character often mentions how he's feeling at points in the story and it can become much more unpredictable since even the character doesn't know what will happen. But find what works best for your characters and stories.
     

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