Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Present tense equals walls or freedom?

A lot has been said recently about the lack of correctness or lack of natural feel with a novel written in the present tense. What if a book written in past tense feels false for the very tense that's being acclaimed as right and best?

There are many writers turning to the present tense, especially in young adult novels. Is it a trend or a desire to stay in the "now"?

For me, writing in the present tense if done right, will leave readers feeling like they are reading the messiness of a possible real life. Much like reality t.v. shows that rope people in, it's real and it can get messy.

And it's current.

In the past tense, an author is  telling the reader, "I shaped this story, I wrote this." In the present tense, there seemingly isn't an author, just a point-of-view character. This character makes mistakes in his or her summation of events sometimes. Sometimes those mistakes are very clear to the reader and sometimes they aren't. But in the character' actions in a present tense novel, the reader traverses this life. In a past tense novel, the reader is told about this life.

Much like reality t.v., in a present tense novel, the watcher sees the action as it's going down. Whereas in a constructed television show, the watcher is conscious these series of events are shaped, edited and portrayed by actors. And none of it's real.

Of course, many believe (including me) that reality t.v. is just as constructed, however, to the regular watcher tuning in, they don't believe it. Or else they don't care because it feels real. After all  it is real. Snooki does get drunk; Brad does actually have a huge fight with Jennifer. And in present tense books, the characters are fighting, eating, barfing--right then and there. There's no waiting, there's no being told about it after the fact.

I think a present tense novel allows readers to feel like they are living this moment in life with the narrator, or even fall into the story so thoroughly they feel they are living these moments themselves. It's current. And even re-reading, it's still current--it's still there. It's not over.
I wish there were studies done on how often people put a present tense novel down vs. past tense novel (or would a study like that even be possible?). In my opinion, more people would continue on reading a present tense book without pausing because they have the uncomfortable feeling it would continue on without them. They might miss something with the story that they are in. But in a past tense novel, there's always that division, that line - "I am being told a story. I can take a walk then pick this back up when I come back."

This is just my opinion. What do you think?

Some say present tense writers are following a trend. What about the story with a girl who dies at the end of the story? This story almost has to be written in the present tense. She's not around afterward to tell the story, so factually, this story has to be told in the present tense or else in third person (which I desire to do less than write in past tense). Trend here, no, just a desire to keep the writing correct in that she couldn't be retelling this story from the grave...unless she's a vampire.

I have no problem with past tense writers, either, and I don't automatically endorse present tense writers.
I'd merely like to open up the conversation...and maybe even take up for us writers who've delved into present tense works. There's been a lot of negative talk about writing in the present tense. Maybe I'd just like to balance that out. And clear the air about it too as there is plenty of incorrect information out there about it.

A popular fallacy with present tense novels is that they have to be told in a linear, non-breaking fashion. No, they don't. A reader can be dropped into a scene that's halfway over in order to view the important things. Days can be skipped, weeks even, just like in a past tense novel. No boring small talk just because we all know that would happen in real life. We just skip it and cut right to the stuff the moves the plot forward, just like any other narrative.

With that said, my favorite novels are written in past tense because my favorites are classics--it has nothing to do with the tense. I think I might like DAVID COPPERFIELD in spite of its tense now, not because of it.

Books written in past tense used to be easier for me to read. But now that I've gotten used to present tense books, it's not as fun or in the moment to read a past tense book. Many people just don't like present tense because it's different. Change is bad...right? I once had someone tell me she'd only read first person, past tense. I thought that was a good way to close yourself off to many good books, but we all have our preferences. What's yours? Past or present tense? First, second, or third POV? Have you ever read a book written in second person?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Another year older… Another year wiser

October has always been my favorite month of the year because it is rockin’ with fun stuff to do. There’s football, oysters, fall festivals, Halloween parties, scary movies, scary pranks and haunted houses. And when I moved to Alabama I was introduced to even more fun things - the Peanut Festival, Harvest Day Festival and all kind of other events held in the month because the weather is just better.
But even though all of these events are great, they can’t surpass a very important day in my life - my birthday!Yes, your beloved newspaper editor and author will turn thirty-seven tomorrow, and I am not afraid to admit it.
As a little girl I never understood the propensity for adults to dread their birthday coming. Now I understand it but, nevertheless, disagree with it. I understand you don’t want to get older. I’m sure you've heard the saying "Want in one hand and…” AA members have a more polite way of saying the same thing, “God give me the strength to accept that which I cannot change…” My point is your birthday is going to come no matter how much you wish it away, so find the good in it.
I have compiled a list below of reasons to enjoy your birthday no matter how old you are turning. Hopefully this will make that inevitable turning of age just a little bit easier to swallow.
1. You are a year wiser now. You've made mistakes and watched others make them. Hopefully you've learned from them and are that much wiser for it. Also, eventually you will be out of mistakes. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.
2. Reverse psychology. Everyone else is overjoyed that it’s your birthday and loves to make fun. If you act happy about it, people don’t have as much fun giving you a hard time. It’s like pretending you aren't ticklish so someone will quit tickling you.
3. It is actually the day of your birth. Aren't you happy your parents had the forethought to bring you into this world? Of course you are and so are your friends and family. And for the people belonging to the "oops" category, and this includes me, your parents were still just as happy to see your screaming, red face on delivery day. So get happy about it too.
4. And my fourth and final thought about celebrating your birthday - enjoy it, rejoice in it, revel in it. You do realize what the alternative is….