1. Roux
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    Roux Member

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    Present Tense in 3rd Person?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Roux, Feb 15, 2012.

    I have a pretty simple question that will have hopefully just as simple of an answer. Is it possible to write a novel in present tense and still have it be in 3rd person? The reason I ask is because I don't ever remember reading a book written that way. Have you ever found a book like this?

    Thanks Guys :)
     
  2. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course it is possible.

    Almost everything I write is written in third person limited/present tense.
     
  3. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    Yes, of course. I can't think of a book written that way either, though. I don't really see the appeal of it personally.
     
  4. Backbiter
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    Backbiter Contributing Member

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    Going along with joanna's comment, I do believe that it is possible. In fact, I know that it's possible. However, I do feel like it's not the most appealing choice.

    Just to confirm my suspicions, I played around with it for a little bit, but I feel like the scene I typed out just didn't sound right.

    While it is entirely possible, it may just not be the most captivating way of telling a story.
     
  5. Show
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    It's definitely possible. I've seen it done. But more often than not, it really just does not feel right, IMO.
     
  6. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    No.

    The gods will intercede should you attempt such a vile thing.
     
  7. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Yes, it can be done. It's not difficult, or even rare. I am reading a short-story collection right now, actually, that is mostly done in this style. It reads quite well. The book is Shiloh & Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason, in case you're interested.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is possible, but I would not recommend it. Present tense, regardless of the narrative person, rarely works well in fiction.

    Some authors do it anyway, but I haven't seen anyone do it well.

    Others may (and probably will) disagree. But there is a reason that most fiction is written in past tense.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If you want a well-written (and modern) example of this, check out Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree with all who say it can be done but doesn't work/read well...
     
  11. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I beg to differ. Personally, I like when first person is written in present tense.
    Third person on the other hand, I'm not too sure. You could try it out, see how you feel about it and if it flows well.
     
  12. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    The book I mentioned won the PEN/Hemingway award. But hey, maybe that's not good enough. :rolleyes:
     
  13. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    A common style often employed in classic lit. is where the prose is essentially a narration of an event from an observer separate to the characters themselves. Generally the voice is qu8ite cultured and often a self proclaimed expert in the required field for the story. If not, they are most certainly a gentleman or gentlewoman. It sounds quaint today, but it could be a great hook.

    Imagine the same today though -- today's gentlemen. Plenty of writers use clearly wrong or unconventional techniques, punctuation, grammar etc in order to convey character or mood. The True History of the Kelly Gang is a great example, written in the voice of a near illiterate man.

    So I imagine an extreme use of present tense in third person could be a compromise of sorts like this, from something I wrote a while ago --

    And so Jimmy jumps the fence and runs like mad. His legs, pumping pistons beside the long stride of his friend. "Slow the hell down," he yells, but the words get stuck in is throat. The gap begins to widen, and behind him the siren is getting louder, weaving between buildings. Hard heeled boots pounding the pavement. Closer and closer. Then Dave skids and spins about -- "bloody pigs!" he yells, whipping out that old butterfly knife he stole from Stinky Bob in grade ten. A lot of flesh, its tasted, but never a cop's. Jimmy's heart thumps a tattoo between his ears, and his guts are like medicine ball. He can see the end coming. The cops' batons snap out, and on their faces, it seems their Christmases have come all at once.

    Scale it back, and it would be fine.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    exceptions don't = a rule... nor do they make it wise to go against the flow, if you're just starting out...
     
  15. Show
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    Well, I got my own issues with the "exceptions/rule" idea altogether coupled with the "read, read, read" advice.

    I don't really think there are many hard "rules" when it comes to writing. (Which doesn't mean there are zero, BTW. ;) ) If somebody wants to write in 3rd person present, let 'em try. Some people actually seem to like that style for some strange reason.
     
  16. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I've read books in first person present tense that were good (a few were even great), but their greatness didn't have anything to do with the fact they were in present tense. Most of them in my opinion would have been better if they were in past tense. They were either great in spite of being written that way, or at the very best, the tense had a neutral effect, making the story neither better nor worse.
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would disagree that present tense is "not uncommon". Very few books are written in that way, and in my opinion, they suffered for it.
    I suppose some people made it work, although winning an award is no guarantee of a successful novel (plenty of books who won awards went out of print because there just wasn't a demand for them, and usually the reason is that the readers didn't enjoy them).
    If you are just starting out as a writer, you should probably avoid anything gimmicky, as it is likely to backfire and before you know it, you'll be focusing more on the style than the story.
     
  18. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The few creative writing courses and competitions I've been involved in seem to absolutely adore present narration. Like it's more 'artsy' or something. I've read some good novels that use present tenses, like The siege by Helen Dunmore and most of Penelope Lively's novels, but maybe they are exceptions that prove the rule--actually, IMO they were so well-written that I wasn't thinking about the tense anyway, and they certainly wouldn't have been better in past tenses.

    I would say present tense is a fashion of the times, but of course older novels use present tense narration sometimes, e.g. Jane Eyre and some of Dickens' work had chunks of present tense. But they didn't write the entire novel in present, they just used it for some kind of immediate contrast effect. That's partly what people object to with present tense novels--there is less nuance with time and immediacy.
     

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