Friday, October 19, 2012

Playing with Tenses

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With NaNoWriMo fast approaching I've been considering my comfort zones as a writer, and particularly the use of tense in my writing. For clarification, while I'm sure all of us here know what that is for our readers, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which is exactly that, write a novel in a month, sort of. The goal is to push yourself to write 50,000 words in a month. The main website link can be found on the right hand corner of the blog.  That is neither here nor there however, so let me get back on track. In response to Skoora's most recent update, and several other conversations I have been a part of recently where tense is  point of topic, it has truly had me wondering about my own use of tense.

Let me start by saying, that there are a great deal of tenses, far more than I ever anticipated, such as the 9 past tenses Skoora introduced yesterday, there are also many different forms of Present Tense, and then future tense is just a whole different ballpark I don't even want to enter. Mixing the tenses with Point of View (POV) also creates an interesting albeit complicated algorithm for writers.  What I mean by this, is there are just so many, how do you choose? Some tenses come naturally, such as past tense. We as humans are just so at ease with writing in this form. It just comes - as Skoora said - naturally.  However, what about the often neglected Present Tense?

As of recent I've been reading more and more Present Tense stories, these stories are difficult to read a great deal of the time because they take so much thinking to write, and on that same token, they are also extremely difficult to write.  I have started dabbling in Present Tense writing, with a story that I started writing in 2009 that I've neglected for a long time.  This story originally started out in Past Tense, Third Person, Limited Point of View.  A fairly standard approach.  Yet inspired by some of the  Present Tense  stories I've read - yes I am intentionally capitalizing these even though it is not grammatically correct I want to bring focus to them - I decided to tackle the story again from a different angle. I must say I was surprised by how different, and unnatural Present Tense feels.  There are many rules to flow I've discovered - though haven't read up on - that stuck out to me. First, 'is' vs 'was' these words in Present Tense are obviously not interchangeable, because one clearly signifies the past.  'She was dancing' vs. 'She is dancing,' and so on. However, when I'm writing, my fingers long to use the latter.  'Was' feels natural, while 'is' feels like I'm trying too hard.

Is also makes the POV feel that much more close, which in some cases, is a wonderful dynamic between author and character. For example, mystery novels. Many thriller writers make the mistake of letting us see more than the protagonist thus losing some of the mystery, however with Present Tense, a boundary is made, because it is very difficult to create a fluid paragraph in Present Tense that is far away.  This tense seems, at least to me, to push towards limited or close point of view.  I am not sure if there are grammatical rules that follow this assumption, and I will be looking into it and writing a research article on the idea of tenses for Detangled Writers in the near future. Yet I cannot help but wonder.  I have decided for NaNoWriMo that I am going to attempt to write 50,000 words in this tense, and see where it takes me. So now I pose a question to you:

What have you noticed about tenses? How have you dabbled, as well as POV, are there any among us who actively write using Present Tense, if so, how do you work with the limitations this tense form presents.  What about future tense, which is something I rarely see done, if ever now that I think about it. What are your experiments with tense usage, and how have they helped you grow as a writer.

This article is strictly contemplative with no empirical backing, but simple observation, however I am still interested to know if any of you have had the same experiences as myself. What other experiences have you had?

Please look forward to a more indepth and research based article on the topic of Tense and POV in the near future.


1 comment:

  1. I just read up on this and the reason past tense third person POV is so ingrained in us is because that's how we've been telling stories from the very beginning. It really is a time honored and multicultural technique. And it's safe. It's probably the best way to write if the immediate goal is publishing. BUT, like you said, it's good to move outside that comfort zone from time to time. I think it's a great idea to work with first person and even second person. When I mention second person however, I am meaning more like a Sabatini novel where the author is speaking as though he's reporting directly to the audience (making the audience a character as well), rather than the 'you did this' 'you go here' 'which do you choose' type stories. And as for tense, there are certain times when present tense works amazingly and other times when it isn't necessarily the best way to tell a story. However, regardless of if it's the best or not for something you will never know unless you try and it's in the trying that we grow as authors. I have dabbled in present tense third person and found it worked fairly well for suspense. It's a real trip. I'm glad you are focusing NaNoWriMo on first person! ^^ It will be fun to see how it all turns out and also, no matter if you end up hating it or loving it, it will be an awesome growing experience.