1. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Issue with past tense and knowledge at time of telling

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by HorusEye, Sep 12, 2009.

    Hey,

    I'm writing in first person. The story is written somewhat like the MC is looking back on his life.

    Problem is, at the time of telling the story, he knows alot more than he did when the events occured.

    An example: "It remained a mystery to me."

    Is that proper language?

    Bringing it into present tense by saying: "It remains a mystery to me." won't work, since at the time of telling, the MC does know the solution to the mystery.

    "It was a mystery to me." doesn't quite do it either, since it remained a mystery to him for the duration of the story. However, after the story has finished, the reader can assume that he would know the answer (indirectly).
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like it was probably a poor choice of POV. It's a POV that can be expected to know the outcome of events.

    A better choice might be a floating POV that remains moments ahead of story time. That way, the POV has no way of knowing what will happen next. It eliminates the awkwardness and rigidity of present tense without introducing foreknowledge.
     
  3. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does that require 3rd person narrative? I'd really like to avoid that, since this is an internal struggle type story and telling it from outside the MCs viewpoint will somewhat detract, I think. Could you give me some examples of the POV you suggest? Thanks.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's not always clear in an excerpt, but simply don't telegraph anything you wouldn't know at the moment the action is taking place.
    The first version lets slip that the POV knows what is coming: That there is danger in the room, that Walters was the assailant, that the protagonist realized he had been slugged. The last is the most subtle. The character wouldn't draw the conclusion he had been slugged until he woke up. He would only know the sudden pain in the last waking moment.

    That's the key to keeping a tightly focused past tense. Keep all the knowledge consistent with present tense, but always keep the narrator JUST ENOUGH in the future to speak in past tense verbiage.

    Note that observing the room had been tossed BEFORE mentioning the scattered papers and moved paintings is not inconsistent. The protagonist noticed the mess in the room instantly, and his experience told him it was the result of a hasty search. THEN he identified the separate details that he knew led him to that conclusion.
     
  5. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I think there’s been a discussion of frame stories in another thread. Anyway, that might be what you want to use. That way, you can use the first person to talk to the reader in the present tense, then shift to a past tense scene, where the narrator is unaware of what will happen.

    Example: I remember when I was young. It was the night I met her, the woman would first make me the happiest and then the saddest man alive. It’s like it was yesterday…

    I walked down the street in a hurry, trying to get out of the rain. As I entered the building, I slipped on wet tile and crashed into a girl with glasses…

    But that only if you really need to have the shift between present and past
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah I see, thanks very much. That would be the best way to go, and I'll definitely keep this in mind at all times.

    The reason I wanted to use "It remained a mystery to me." instead of "It was a mystery to me", was for it to cover the whole duration of the immediate scene. It's a build-up to a minor climax similar to "There is no way I could have foretold the events that ensued..."

    Does this make sense?

    Is "It remained a mystery to me." a bad sentence?

    Cheers
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nope, it's a perfectly fine sentence. It implies the mystery has persisted up until the moment the POV refers to. "It has remained a mystery to me." would extends it to the moment the POV exists in, i.e. the moment the POV says or writes the sentence.
     

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