Friday, November 21, 2014

First Person, Present Tense

How do I improve the “immediacy” of my novel? The request has me thinking. Do I go with first person point of view over third person? There are advantages and disadvantages.

I like third person. It goes a long way in shaping the story. I can reveal information and have multiple characters speak their minds. Important stuff on the way to developing theme, motivation, as well as action. Works well for the new writer.

But, I can see how first person shines the spotlight on the protagonist and forces his or her character formation to take center stage. A pretty good thing for me to consider.

However, what becomes problematic about this quest for “immediacy” is the use of present tense over past tense for my verbs.

Using present tense flies in the face of most writing advice. To avoid fuzzy abstractions and passiveness, I get lots of encouragement to “swat your Bs.”

The Bs in this case: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

I’m currently reading two books for local book clubs that feature first person, present tense: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. I’m finding lots of Bs in both books. Lots. But they don’t appear to stand in the way of developing action or story. Every once in a while, there’s a really awkward sounding sentence that makes me pause and reread. Not good for the flow of the narrative, but then I am being picky.

I have to be picky if I’m going to consider such a drastic change in my manuscript. After all, it is one thing to practice first person, present tense in a small piece such as a blog post, it’ll be quite another to keep it up for an entire novel. 

And what about all those other voices I want to hear from? Those voices I feel the need to hear from. I have to find a way for them to speak their minds and add other dimensions to my work, more layers of meaning.

Such is my experiment in progress for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Wish me luck. I’ll need it. 

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