Last week in Twitter's kidlitchat, the subject of narration tense came up. In addition to the traditional 3rd person past tense and 1st person past tense, some authors also use 1st and 3rd person present tense.
This discussion reminded me of A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, which incorporates a clever use of tense switching. The novel weaves together two narratives: a flashback and a more current narrative about the main character. Each chapter is written in 1st person past tense or present tense depending on which narrative it belongs to.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about that strategy. It's a nice subtle way to signal context to the reader, but it might have been a bit too subtle. I was a few chapters in before I realized what was happening. Nevertheless, it's a nice technique to be aware of.
What tense do you prefer in your reading or writing? Have you read any books that employed tense to its advantage?
Jhumpa Lahiri uses the present tense very effectively in her novel, Namesake. It gives it a much more contemporary feel than past tense. But not all stories give in to present tense narrative.ReplyDelete
I usually don't write in present tense (and by this I mean never) but I don't mind reading it if it is done well.ReplyDelete
I usually write 1st or 3rd past tense for my fiction works.
What do you use?
I write almost exclusively in 3rd person past tense. Once in a while I'll go to 1st person, but it's harder for me.ReplyDelete
I usually write 1st person past or 3rd person limitted past. With my current WiP, because of plot considerations, I'm writing it 1st person present. It's an adjustement.ReplyDelete
I find 1st person present really hard to pull off well in books. Nick Hornby can manage it and I was pleasantly surprised how well Hannah Moskowitz handled it in Break (which is what I'm currently reading).
1st person present is a favorite of mine, but I seldom use it because it sounds too chatty. "So I'm walking down the street, right? And then this animal JUMPS in front of me..."ReplyDelete
What a cool discussion for you writers!!! I can't even carry a daily conversation with the correct tense! Surely I am learning something here.ReplyDelete
Both tense and point of view emerge at the same time when I am writing a story. I ususally hear the first line of the story in the narrator's voice, so both the narrator's point of view and the tense the narrator will tell the story in best come to me in the same inspiration. Sometimes I just hear the line, and I have to ask, "Who would say something like that? Is this person part of the story, or witnessing it from outside? Does this person see and feel all or just report from a specific perspective?"ReplyDelete
Sometimes a line will come to me in the third-person point of view, but after more of the story is revealed, I will see that the story will be more compelling if the narrator is part of the action.
But back to tense: Stories narrated in the present feel more immediate, more urgent, to me. Sometimes the tense choice is related to the character and voice of the narrator - you probably know people who narrate stories in the present tense:
"So I'm on my way to work and I see this bus parked on the sidewalk. And I walk over and I ask the driver, 'Are you OK?' And you know what he says to me? He tells *me* to get off the sidewalk, he's got to finish his route!"
I find that I'm much more comfortable with past than present tense, possibly because the majority of what I read as a kid was in past. When I read something in present tense, I'm almost always very conscious of it as a stylistic choice; if I *don't* notice tense, that's the mark of a really compelling text.ReplyDelete
I always write in past tense whether I'm using first or third person. I occasionaly read novels written in present tense but struggle to get through them. It's as though I'm constantly stubbing my toe over what seems like a grammatically incorrect sentence. It bugs me.ReplyDelete
Not very into present tense. I much prefer to both read and write past tense, particularly in 3rd person.ReplyDelete
If only I had read this earlier. I just wrote a short story using that same technique. Critiques have proven that it is too subtle.ReplyDelete