Monday, June 13, 2016

Back to the Future - Playing with Tenses

Swirling ClockI've been working on a project for a little over six months now. It's gone through several reiterations and I've just revised the first chapter for the umpteenth time. 

One of the things that I've struggled with most is who's POV is it? How many POVs and what tense am I using? 

At first I was writing solely in the main protagonist's POV in first person present tense (FP-PT). It felt comfortable and with my work in film and television, felt right when I first started the project. 

However, the problems soon became apparent. Not so much in that FP-PT was a bad choice (there are a lot of popular FP-PT novels such as THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and FIGHT CLUB), but it just didn't feel right for me. The main benefit of FP-PT is the immediacy of the format. You're walking in your protagonist's shoes and there is great opportunity to play with an unreliable protagonist. That unfortunately can also be a disadvantage and it becomes more difficult at times to slow down the pace and to manipulate more complex characters and their ability to tell the story.

One of the things I also noticed was the way writing in certain tenses made me feel. Because of the immediate inherent nature of writing in FP-PT, it made me feel anxious. I would put off writing because I didn't want to get in that "zone". 

Another difficulty I had with writing in FP-PT was the idea of "who is the protagonist telling the story to?" In that present tense moment, the storytelling (to me) felt unnatural.
So what to do?

If a POV doesn't seem to be working for you, change it. Play with your material, rewrite in using different tenses. 

I experimented by writing chapters using:

First Person - Past Tense
Third Person - Past Tense

I shared these chapters with my critique group and their comments were invaluable. 

As a result, I've settled on first person past tense. It's helped me to slow down my writing and to tell the story without worrying about who the protagonist is telling the story to. So we'll see how this plays out. After all, I can always change it again, right?

What tense do you like to work in? Feel free to share here!

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