1. Charmichan
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    Charmichan Member

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    POV flashback tenses

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Charmichan, Apr 1, 2011.

    Hi! This is my very inquiry post and I'm very nervous to ask. This might be a silly question but I really am lost and need any help I can get. :redface:
    Here's the thing, I'm experimenting on writing a story on first person POV with flashback scenes. I'm not confident if I should use past tense and then go back to present tense on the flashback dialog. Or.... use past present continous... I hope you get what I mean. HELP!:confused::confused::confused:
     
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  2. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    I would stay away from past/present continuous when in real time. "I am verb" get's really tiring on a reader after much more than a page. (That's what I think anyway.) The same thing seems to go for long bits of First, Present.


    So, I'd go First Person, Past Tense for the main scenes then First, Present, Continuous for the flashbacks. Here's my example :)

    -----
    I went to the store today. It was robbed. The burglar pointed his gun at me and the first time I met you flashed before my eyes.

    I’m standing on a cliff looking out over the ocean. The birds are tweeting up the sun…

    I was snapped back as the burglar demanded my watch and wallet. I gave them to him without a fuss.
    -----

    If your planning to do pages of flashback, I'd recommend doing the whole thing in First, Past and just taking the time to be clear about the setting.

    EDIT
    -- PS - Glad you posted. It's a good question. I also think this is one of those cases where being able to ask, and be understood, means you're most of the way to solving the problem.
     
  3. Charmichan
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    Charmichan Member

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    thanks!


    THANK YOU FINHORN!

    I noticed that you used Italics when you did the flashback scene. You answered the other nagging question I had, I thought of doing the same.

    Just to make sure, here's my example. Please correct me if I got it wrong

    I closed my eyes as the sweet intoxication of her memories tortured me. The sweet orphan girl; the teenager I saw in London; then to the sunny nurse who saved me from my own oblivion.


    In Italy I was passed from a field hospital to another. No wonder, I have lost my memory and nobody knew who I was.

    “When you recover your strength, your memory will come back. You should focus on your fast recovery.”

    I looked intently at the young nurse; her words assured me in more ways I could ask for. Her presence was the only warmth and welcome company I had since I came to Chicago...
     
  4. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I think you can do anything if you do it well. I'm reading "The Hunger Games", A YA sci-fi by Suzanne Collins, and the whole book is written in first person present tense. It's not present continuous, but it is simple present and I think it works really well.

    Here is an excerpt (page 4, paragraph 2):


    I'm writing a story that has a lot to do with dreams. I'm writing it in third person, but when I do dream sequences I switch to first person. I think it works pretty well to bring the reader into the dream.

    I think even if you're writing a story in first person, it could still work to keep the flashbacks in first person. And, anyway, isn't your main character narrating the story? Wouldn't it be still in first person, because its a flashback that happened to them?

    And while we're thinking about telling it from the narrator's POV, when I tell stories, I usually speak in past tense: "This happened to me; I did this; I did that." But sometimes I tell it in present tense. For example, I was telling my girlfriend the other day about my boss, and it went something like this: "So he walks up to me and says, 'This is unacceptable. When a student cancels, you have to notify the office.' I keep my cool. I pull out a note from my bag and say, 'I got this from the office. I assumed you already knew.' That shut him up."
     
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  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to write in present tense (my writing tends to be very dialogue heavy and big visuals present tense sets both off very well) and it would be another option is to write the work in present then you can do the flashbacks in past tense.
     
  6. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    To be honest, I do not use italics nor use continous tenses to do flashbacks. I find that flashbacks are almost like dreams to me. The exception to this technique that I use is that you can always tell your readers that you are in a flashback through the actions of a character. (I'm not really sure that italics and continuious tenses are required to indicate a flashback), but I don't follow it if it is a general rule. If I'm writing in the past tense, I stay in the past tense. And if I'm not using italics in the narration, I don't use it at all. That's just my personal taste. My readers would already know that my character is either in a flashback or in a dream sequences. "I'm sorry, but I have to let you go," his manager would tell him. That works just fine for me. But I'm sure that you have different taste of using past/present/italics.

    Here is an old draft example of the flashback I used with my novel. (The one in bold is the flashback), but I don't use bold in the actual story, this is just an example.

    Here's a dream example.

    Notice that in my example it's a dream.

    I will agree with Franky on this. I really thought that we had to stay stuck on the italics, but I don't like the use of them, just thought it was against writing rules not to do so until Franky answered my question.

    All that is said, I don't use italics nor any form of tenses to indicate the readers I am using flashbacks and dreams to tell the story.
     
  7. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    It's not wrong. Your flashback is past continuous while mine's present continuous. The easy thing to look for there is "I am" for present and "I was" for past. If you like past better, don't change it.

    You should do whichever you're more comfortable with. We should both probably also read "The Hunger Games" (thanks funkybassmannick). I've heard that it's a good story and an excellent example of first person writing.

    For the italics, I'd recommend not using it. I did just to emphasize the tense change. I think the tense change is enough to set it apart without a visual cue. Though if you're doing pages of flashback at a time, consider an extra blank line between the sections, or three asterisks, or some other kind of break. This lets your reader know that you're not coming back for a while.
     

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