Because science into life doesn't go

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tense Negotiations

Okay, I came to a decision about the POV. The story will be written from the first-person perspective of the man under interrogation. I managed to find a critical question that both the interrogator and the interrogatee could plausibly both be in the dark about and still want to know the answer to. Hopefully, this will mean less artificial restriction of events the main character would clearly be aware of. And it allows me to hide some facts that the interrogator is aware of until the appropriate time.

The question has now moved onto what tense the two threads of the story should be written in. Personally, I don't have any problem with present tense, and I would be quite happy to write the present-day events in the present tense, with the scenes of the MC's recollections written in the past tense. This seems a natural way of enabling the reader to rapidly understand whether the current scene they are reading is past or present, and additionally gives an extra feeling of events happening *now* in the present scenes. For a first-person narrated story, there is one situation where present tense is mandatory -- when the main character dies before the end of the story. I don't think that's the case for my tale, but it is nice to keep that option open!

There are many successful examples of first person present-tense out there -- Ted Chiang's "Understand", and Frederik Pohl's "Gateway" immediately come to mind -- but it does seem to be a deal-breaker for some readers. Artistically I want to go with the present/past structure, but from a commerical point of view, perhaps the past/past structure is better. What should I do?

117 words. (Plus hundreds more in character backgrounds, plotlines etc, so not as bad as it sounds!).


Blogger Livia Llewellyn said...

For a novel-length work, I can see the argument for choosing a more popular tense, since so much rides on how many units it sells. But for a story? Go with your gut (artistic) instinct, and make it first person, present tense. Yes, it's a deal-breaker for some readers (and some editors), but if you chose a tense and POV that makes it more commercially viable, you could end up scrubbing away the qualities that might make it a superior story. I think it's prudent to write the best story you possibly can, in the exact way you want, and then send it off to the markets it deserves to be published in.

2:32 PM


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