1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Question about tense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Alesia, Jun 2, 2013.

    If your story is going to be in the third person, past tense, are there any rules against writing the prologue in third person, present tense? I only ask because so many people have harped at me to stick with one tense and one tense only.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    China Mieville's Perdido Street Station begins exactly that way.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The prologue is a prologue because it isn't truly part of the story. So yes, it can be written in a different tense than the actua story.

    But also ask yourself, and ask repeatedly as you develop your novel, whether the prologue really adds to the story, or merely delays entry into the story.
     
  4. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    In this case it is unless I want to resort to flash backs, which I hate doing because it's so hard to transition in and out without it looking forced.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are many, many ways to introduce information from the past into a story A prologue is among the worst.
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I remember seeing the film version of Arthur Miller's play, "All My Sons", in which the key event - the father's sale of faulty aircraft parts to the US armed forces during World War II that caused the death of a score of pilots - has long since occurred. But the facts come out bit by bit over the course of the play, some of which were known by his family but the key one - that the father knew the parts were faulty at the time - comes out near the end. The entire play is an exercise in exposition and a very good one at that.
     
  7. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    I agree with Cog. Especially if you are writing about events that are happening now in the PL and the story line leads up to that point.
     
  8. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    This.

    Writing in a different tense certainly can be a great approach for a prologue, in my opinion, particularly when your prologue actually adds a lot to your story. Otherwise maybe not so much.
     
  9. Lucas
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    Lucas Member

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    It wouldn't be structurally wrong. I think there is a technical grammar fact about placing three asterisks in the middle of the page after something like that. I think a reader may find the switch from present tense to past tense jarring (without realizing it's because of the tense). Usually, when writers use the wrong tense readers notice something is "off" but can't put their finger on what it is. To avoid jarring your readers I suggest calling more attention to the switch from the prologue to the rest of the story. Maybe the POV could also be different in the prologue from the story. For example, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is written in a third person limited POV and focuses on Harry's experience, except for the first chapter which focuses on Mr. Dursley's experience. The first chapter shows Mr. Dursley's confusion about people wearing wizarding robes, talking about the Minister of Magic etc. The change in POV is purposeful and significant because it shows the difference between the wizarding world and the Muggle world. Simiarly, you should only change the tense if there is significance behind it.
     
  10. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    This is an interesting topic for me as well. In one of the short stories I wrote recently I change tenses and POV multiple times. The story is divided into four parts with the first part being 3rd person, omnipresent, present tense. The second part is first person, present tense (due to one of the characters telling a story, which occurs in the past, obviously). The third part, taking place in the present again, is after the story and is third person, omnipresent, present tense again. I follow the same POV and tense for the fourth part, which is actually in the future.

    Confusing? I feel like I pulled it off, and my reader has stated she wasn't confused. But...the question is does this "jar" the reader without them realizing it? As stated before.

    I'm very interested in the topic of POV and how it relates to tense changes throughout different aspects of time in the story. Mainly because I do this often in my stories.
     
  11. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    What is your prologue all about - what role should it play? Is ti information dump, mood-setting, character introduction, something else? A back story, a historical lesson, a hospital record, an internal monologue of a dying character? Does the prologue exist IN your story, as a memory of a character, a text on its own, a document of some kind (video, audio recording, written letter)?
    If you decide to change the voice of your narrator, there must be a good reason for that, and it's your job to justify it through your story.
    Sometimes, there is no way to actually achieve the same effect with "scattered exposition" or by building tension and resolving mysteries. Sometimes you need an introductory chapter, a prologue, a first paragraph, maybe even a citation from another book. Maybe even an epilogue, or appendix, addendum, whatever. Or even a few chapter printed in different font, or even on a different type of paper! It depends on what kind of story you're writing - what kind of book do you want to hold in your hands one day!

    One rule: there are no rules. NO - RULES. Only advice, opinions and suggestions. And occasionally a rant :)
     

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