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  1. Ginny

    Ginny New Member

    Apr 26, 2015
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    Style Prologue, Epilogue and General Story Tense...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ginny, Apr 26, 2015.

    I started writing what I intend to finish as a novel two years ago, when I first started it was just a short story because I was bored, so the style wasn't very important and because I write to escape my world, I simply wrote what I felt.
    I've looked through my story many many times since I decided to turn it into a novel and I've developed it immensely. However I've been having difficulty with the tense of it.
    The general perspective is that it's from the POV of the protagonist, it starts off with a prologue, which is obviously him explaining what had happened prior to the beginning of the novel. The whole novel is a story being told by the protagonist. It is a story within a story, so obviously the prologue is actually in present time, along with the epilogue (which is/will be him ending the story he's telling as well as the resolution of the story), and the rest of the novel is in the past.
    So my confusion is this: I personally feel that if he's telling a story but the story is actually what the novel is based on, then that aspect of it should be in present tense.
    Does that mean that my prologue and epilogue should be in present tense as well? Or should the prologue be in past tense, because it is a prologue and that's what it is designed for?

    In the structure of a very generalised narrative my novel goes as follows:
    Introduction - Prologue and beginning chapters
    Complication - Most of the main chapters
    Resolution - Epilogue

    I think that the whole story, prologue and epilogue included, should be in present tense. What are your opinions on this?

    Also, in regards to the epilogue, in my very basic draft of the novel the end of the novel had a couple of chapters that were included in the main body but were part of the resolution as well as an epilogue explaining what happened after the inevitable happily ever after. I would much prefer to have the whole resolution in the epilogue for various reasons including the type of novel it is and the structure that I have used being an unusual and unique structure. Is there any way to make this happen? Is it acceptable to have an epilogue that is a few chapters long, and if so how do I structure this?
    Do I start an epilogue chapter sequence (Eg. 'Epilogue Chapter 1'), do I continue with the chapters from the main body but with the epilogue title also (Eg. 'Chapter 39 - Epilogue'), do I just have an incredibly long epilogue, or is there something else I could do?
    GuardianWynn likes this.
  2. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    This sounds like you're introducing a lot of structural complications - enough that I'm not sure I'd know what to suggest, because it sounds like you're just doing your own thing, in which case you kind of have to keep making your own decisions rather than looking for some sort of model.

    In general, though, I think you may be overthinking the verb tense issue, if I understand what you're saying. The relationship between verb tense and the timing of the actions being described is pretty tenuous, generally. I mean, within the story, once you've decided on a default tense you change tenses for different sections in order to show that the events happened at a different time. But while deciding on a default tense? I don't really understand what you mean by your MC telling a story that is based on a story and therefore you should use present tense...?
  3. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Jun 13, 2010
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    Queens, NY
    What's your goal? I ask because you said:

    What's changed? Are you now writing with an expectation of publication? If so, traditional or self? Or do you simply mean that you now want to pay more attention to structural issues, with no concern for publication issues?

    Tell you a story. Many years ago, in the midst of many midlife changes (won't call it a crisis, because it was more like the resolution of a long term crisis), an old friend invited me to join a group of his musician friends in a band (I play drums). The stated purpose was to get together periodically and play, with a vague hope of perhaps playing out at some point in the future. I was ecstatic, and in each session I felt myself growing as a musician. We stopped the session over the summer (we were all "family men" and had obligations), but when I asked about getting the sessions started again in September, I was informed via e-mail that they had decided to move on with another drummer to a set of gigs. As a means of coping with it, I decided to write a novel about a group of middle aged musicians. The result was an ill-planned and somewhat meandering story, the writing of which got me past the episode, ego intact. It also yielded some very interesting and likable characters, but in utterly unpublishable form.

    I've since looked at that ms a few times, wondering how in God's name I might pull it into something respectable. And, with my most recent project finished and me querying it, I'm looking at it anew. I've just finished doing a timeline and outline on what I've got. It will take a lot to work it into shape, but I think it might be possible. The point is, what was acceptable as an exercise in coping with a severe personal disappointment is a far cry from what is acceptable for publication. So it's good to know what you're after.
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    Not obvious at all. Everything can be past tense. If my dining companion comes back from the bathroom, I use past tense to tell him what the waiter said to me three minutes ago about the specials. I also use past tense to describe what happened at work earlier that day. And for the story about something that happened when I was three. And to talk about what Shakespeare might have been thinking when he wrote the dialogue for Hero in the dance in Much Ado. And getting back to my dining companion, if I reach across and steal food from his plate, he may say, "You stole my scallop!" while I'm still chewing on it. Past tense.

    You'd don't get one and only one "past tense" in a book.
  5. daemon

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jun 16, 2014
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    My novel has exactly the same structure. Well, almost the same:

    Chapter 1: protagonist prepares to tell her story to another character as a way of talking herself through a big decision.
    Chapters 2-(n-1): that story.
    Chapter (n-1): the other character reacts to the story, and the protagonist makes her big decision.
    Chapter n: the protagonist lives with the consequences of her decision.

    Right now, I am writing chapters 1, (n-1), and n in present tense, and the rest in past tense. Mainly, it is because I want to write the present tense chapters in a moment-by-moment style and the past tense chapters in a more summarized "recap of what has happened the last few years" style. Also, because it is occasionally a powerful narrative technique for the narrator/protagonist to reflect, in present tense, on the story she is telling in the past tense. (e.g. "I was wrong -- I now realize that _____.")

    But honestly, I like present tense so much that I am not totally committed to writing the middle chapters in past tense. I might rewrite them someday. The decision is not fundamental to the story. And I do not agree that the bulk of the story should be in present tense just because it is "actually what the novel is based on". Unless your choice of tense is intended to make a point to the reader.

    There is nothing wrong with splitting an epilogue up into several chapters. You do not even need to label them as an "epilogue". Those chapters are just as much a part of the story as the chapters before them. I definitely recommend short chapters over long chapters.

    The structure of my novel is not set in stone yet, but I am considering dividing the novel into volumes and then chapters. Volumes would have titles like Les Misérables; chapters would not. Most volumes would be novella-length (each one focusing on the protagonist's relationship with a different character); chapters would would be 1k-2k words long. It would look like this:

    Volume 1: <Protagonist's name>
    • Chapter 1
    Volume 2: <Character A's name>
    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • ...
    Volume 3: <Character B's name>
    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • ...
    Volume (n-1): <Secondary character's name>
    • Chapter 1
    Volume n: <Name of the city where the story takes place>
    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • ...
    Now that I think about it, in my case, it might be better not to divide the last volume into chapters, since it is supposed to fast-forward seamlessly through the rest of the protagonist's life.

    Anyway, I hope that gives you some ideas.
  6. VirtuallyRealistic

    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

    Mar 20, 2015
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    Wisconsin, USA
    It sounds like you're trying to do what Patrick Rothfuss does in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Maybe an even better example is Black Cross by Greg Iles.

    In The Kingkiller Chronicles, the story begins in the present. Then the main character begins telling his story, but the chapters chronicling his story are still in present tense. Instead of him telling the story, it's as if you are dragged into his past directly. Then, occasionally, there are chapters prefixed with, "Interlude," which means we're back to present time.

    In Black Cross there is a prologue of a character meeting another character. Then the rest of the book is sending you into the past, but still written in present tense. That is up until the epilogue, in which time you're pulled back to present time. I think this is more what you're going for, so I'd recommend it for you. It's a World War 2 novel, and I really enjoyed it.

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