Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Present Tense

I was excited to read John’s post about writing in present tense since that’s the route I took with the young adult novel that Harper Collins will be publishing next year. The comments that follow his post were also quite interesting, so before you read this, go back and reread those as well.

In her comment, Vicki noted that present tense sounds forced because that’s not the way we tell a story. That’s true, yes, but the way we write isn’t the way we tell a story either. No one says things like “Jack said as he lifted the gun from the case, the light raising an oily sheen on its dull blue finish.” And no one – I hope – describes sex scenes the way they really happened. This is obvious stuff, sure, but it makes a case that when we read we are not really looking for a story the way people tell story. So first person, third person, third person limited omniscience, second person…they’re all correct because they’re all wrong.

Dana suggests that present tense doesn’t work because our minds are too well aware of the fact that what we’re reading can’t be happening now since, well, we’re reading, not seeing what’s supposed to be going on. True, but that falls in the suspension of disbelief category. I’m not the most disciplined thinker in the room (any room), but if I can let go enough to believe that there’s a race of Hobbits fighting for survival against dragons and wizards and magic rings, I think I can believe just about anything.

I don’t think that there’s any right or wrong voice, just like I don’t think there’s any right or wrong story. In the past year I have read (and have written) stories that follow the traditional format that fell flat. And I have read (and have written) stories that aren’t what you’d call traditional but that still rung true. Either it works or it doesn’t.

Dana wrote that when it comes to stories, “Anything that happened in the past is fair game.” To me it’s all fiction and that means that everything is fair game.


Stan said...

Touche to No one telling a sex scene like it really happens.

Rick Blechta said...

I did once, but I fell asleep in the middle of writing it.