What the tense?


I’m looking out my window right now and the sun is shining, the sky is blue, there are some puffy white clouds on the horizon…and it’s pouring down rain.  It’s such a strange sight.  Kind of magical.  I like to imagine that it’s somehow intentional.  That it’s nature’s way of tricking us into running outside without an umbrella and getting soaked.

This has nothing to do with my intended post, but I thought it was worth a mention.

On to the point…  As you probably know, if you’ve read any of my previous blog entries, I’m working on a mystery novel.  I’ve written the first small chapter and have since been outlining.  All that is going fine, except for my plot keeps running perpendicular to my tense.

For whatever reason, I chose to write this book in 1st person.  It’s something I’ve never done before.  I went through some of my old writing and I’ve never written in 1st person before.  I chose the perspective because it’s a very intimate story and I thought 1st person would match the tone I’m trying to achieve.  Part of me also wonders if it subconsciously has something to do with all the blogging I’ve been doing.  Who knows.

When I’m writing, everything goes swimmingly.  It’s a very comfortable tense to work in, much like telling a bedtime story to my two spawn; except a bit more graphic.  However, 1st person just so incredibly limiting.  While outlining, I’ll come up with a great idea that I will quickly realize is impossible to show in the 1st person.  Structurally, it’s a much more challenging tense to work in.  In fact, part of me has started resenting 3rd person; looking down on it for it’s sloth.  3rd person doesn’t have to think about how to fit tidbits of information in.  All you have to do is throw it in there.  Is something happening 437 miles away from your protagonist while he happens to chained and dangling over a pool of electric eels?  No problem, you just cut-away and let that plot-building, suspense-creating tidbit be known to the world.  But in 1st person, you’re stuck inside the hero’s head as he wonders how the hell he’s going to keep from being electrocuted eel bait… which is still very interesting, but not so revealing.

I recently finished Child 44 (which I enjoyed immensely) and it was an excellent example of how beneficial 3rd person can be in the mystery genre.  I don’t want to talk too much about it, in case you haven’t read it, but the back story, the secret life of the killer, the ‘surprise’ twist at the end – it would have been impossible to get to any of those places in 1st person.  It would have just been Ex-Agent Leo Demidov running around from clue to clue like a connect-the-dots puzzle.

I’m not about to run off and change tenses or anything – I still believe that 1st person best fits the tone of my story – but man, it’s presenting much more of a challenge than I thought it would.

Published in: on August 30, 2011 at 5:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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