1. Ippo
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    Ippo Member

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    Switching tenses when changing POV

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ippo, Nov 16, 2015.

    Hello everyone
    So I was thinking about adding a subplot to my current WIP and doing so would require adding a second POV.
    The story is written in the present tense with a first person narration from my main character.
    Now I was thinking that if I was to add a second POV it would have to be in the past tense since my MC who's doing the narration can only know these subplot events in retrospective (he can't know what is happening in that very moment somewhere else since it's his voice narrating and not an omniscient narrator)

    So basically it would look something like this:

    I turn sideways and slide between the masses out of the crowded bus into the city grey.
    Meanwhile Henry was sitting alone in his room engulfed by a silence that trembles with fear. The door knocked, making his whole body shake. That boy went through hell, every single day of his life. We all did but for him it was different. He didn't deserve it.

    I was wondering if this seems correct and if you think that this works well.
     
  2. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I am intrigued. My first instinctive response was 'No way in hell that would work' because first person is so personal, but the more I think about it the more I realize it really would make sense when done skillfully like in the example you posted.
    The only thing which I would like to caution is if you think that the second POV is necessary to the storyline. But if that is so - go for it :)
     
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Unlike Lifeline, I don't think that works well, and it takes too much of a mental shift for a reader.

    I also don't understand why your MC has to know about these events at the moment he's narrating? Can't he learn about what Henry was doing, while he was wandering around the city, at a later time?

    I think if you want to do this you have to separate the two POVs clearly, by starting a new chapter. Even then I'm not sure the different tenses will work - I think readers will get confused over what's happening now and if the past tense is a flashback or what. I suppose you can try it out, send a few chapters to somebody and see if they can follow.
     
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  4. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    I am not sure whether it's a good idea to mix the POVs. Your "narrators" have a different level of knowledge (omniscience), therefore it's almost like reading a novel about mental illness.
    I'd advise separating the POVs to mark the change, preferably by scene or chapter. Readers need that, otherwise they become irritated. The shift in tense seems quite possible. Could be interesting. Good luck with that.
     
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  5. Ippo
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    Ippo Member

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    Thank you very much for the kind words. This was actually just an example that I just made up and I have yet to get to that point where "Henry" (idk what to call him yet) appears.

    These were my initial doubts, as well. The idea with the new chapter is a really good one since it would allow me to let go of my MC's narration. The problem was that I was stuck with my MC narrating the story from his POV since I started with that. it would have felt too awkward to suddenly switch the perspective of narration.
    So you basically advise to not switch tenses at all and to just add another narrative and let the story hop between those two narratives from time to time?

    I'm open to new ideas or maybe functional examples for this task
     
  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Bit in bold - not necessarily, I'm just confused as to why you think you need the tense shift. If it's all happening at the same time it seems to me it should be in the same tense otherwise it's going to sound like the stuff Henry is doing happened in the past, even though you say "meanwhile". You only posted a few sentences but I think it would take some mental gymnastics for readers to get their heads around what is happening when.

    Present tense is an unusual choice for a novel. Not saying it's inadvisable, but that readers generally aren't used to it so it may feel awkward to them even if they can't pinpoint why.

    I do think two POVs is a good (or at least not a BAD) idea. It's refreshing for the reader and the writer and it's always interesting to see things from two perspectives. My favourite is when two POV characters meet and you see them through each other's eyes.
     
  7. Ippo
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    Ippo Member

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    I wanted to switch the POV to make it more reasonable for the narrator, which is the MC, to know all this. It's understandable if he knows this stuff in retrospective but makes no sense for him to explain it as it happens (since his POV can't be omniscient). Now you mentioned just introducing a new narrative voice in another chapter to solve the issue but I wonder what that's supposed to look like.
    Right now it is the first person in the present tense - the MC's POV basically. I feel like it would be awkward to the reader to suddenly have a third person omniscient narrative take over out of nowhere. Basically I think the reader will get attuned to the MC as main narrator so if there's a sudden change it might throw the audience off and make them think that something's wrong, don't you think?

    Hm, this is puzzling...
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Plenty of books have dual narration (or even... thrual...?) although they're usually in the same tense. I certainly think it's less confusing to make two different POVs (and tenses if really necessary) than to have a first person narrator suddenly become an omniscient narrator for someone else. I'm pretty sure most readers won't understand that the MC is narrating in the third-person sections. I certainly wouldn't :D

    You know who's really good at explaining technical tense stuff? @rainy_summerday
     
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  9. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    Am I? Usually people tell me afterwards that they didn't understand a thing but that it sounded great :)

    Not sure what you are asking me to explain, though. Still, I'll give it a go...


    The feeling Tenderiser is describing probably stems from the fact that the shift in tense makes her doubt the temporal relation between the paragraphs.

    Shift in tense is always a tad problematic. Tenses are used to express the relation between events in term of their position on the time line. They express whether something happens before, during, or after another event. In a novel, chapters are usually in chronologic order unless they include flashforwards and flashbacks. Once you mess with your tenses, you imply that the scenes/paragraphs don't follow one another. If I understood you right, Ippo, that is your intention, though. You want to tell the events in chronologic order, but with a shift in tense. The contradiction confuses the reader. Changing the tense is like a traffic light turning to yellow. You expect it to turn red, right? Well, your story is like the traffic light switching back to green, even though it turned yellow already. Once you change the tense, the reader expects the event to not follow the one before. If it does, then you possibly created mayhem in your reader's head.

    Have you considered writing an explicit flashforward scene? That way, your MC is able to tell the story in retrospective. And the frame of the scene allows the reader to put it in temporal relation to the other events.
    What I mean by flashforward (I cannot tailor my example to your story, because I don't know what your story is about): The chapter is set thirty years in the future. Your MC suddenly feels the urge to tell the other character in the room about the subplot events. Either in direct or in indirect speech (using past tense since to him, the events have already happened ). The next chapter continues with your MC in his younger years and present tense, because it is still happening.

    This is merely a suggestion of how you could keep the shift in tense.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see the switch as awkward. I'm reading The Martian right now, and it switches frequently between the MC's first-person narration and a third-person POV. It works just fine.

    Edited to add: Yes, they're both past tense, but I'm taking this as being about switching narrative POV.
     
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  11. Ippo
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    Ippo Member

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    Wow, okay, so first of all: Thanks! You guys really tried and succeeded in being helpful. I got something out of this!
    To clarify though: It is not important to me to switch tenses. I am just looking for good way to show the subplot (with a different pov of course) while my main narrator is the MC himself. Had I started out with the omniscient third person narrative, I would have had no problem going with that one all the way. But now the tone is set and I don't want to confuse the reader by suddenly shifting from limited ego perspective to an omniscient 3rd person view.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm just going to assert that doing just that didn't exactly cause The Martian to go down in flames as an abject failure...

    Other people must have other examples?
     
  13. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    The Martian is a great example. I remember feeling a sort of relief when it first switched to the third person sub-plot POV because it was getting a little repetitive being with Mark. A shift in tense however would have been very confusing because I wouldn't know if the two POVs were running in sync or not.

    I can't think of any others off the top of my head... but most of the books I read are in third anyway.
     

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