Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Present vs. Past Tense

Almost immediately after NaNoWriMo 2014 ended I discovered a large error in my new story; an error caused partially by my new method of writing. That error? Tense.

To all you non-writers, choosing a tense to use while writing a fiction novel is no small task. It may come easier to some writers than to others, but the use of tense is not as simple as picking between "do" and "did." The difference between present tense and past tense when writing fiction reaches far beyond simple grammar.

Writing in present tense sort of forces you to, as you might guess, write all about the now. Present tense can be great for writing a story where the entire plot unfolds in a short time span, but otherwise it can cause you to get bogged down in details and events that don't matter. I've run into this problem already with my previous novel, where I had to teach myself how to turn a character walking from one location to another into a compelling scene, as well as decrease the time span of the overall story from several months to several days, but those were both challenges that I was ready, willing, and able to take on. Unfortunately I've just gotten to a point in my new novel where a large leap in time is absolutely crucial to the story, and present tense just isn't going to make sense for that.

So how did this happen? Why didn't I think ahead? Well that was sort of the point of this story. I really wanted to write something from beginning to end without looking ahead or back too much and just let it go wherever it takes me, so I didn't really put much thought into what tense I should use before I started writing. I thought that by doing as little planning as possible I would avoid many of the issues I've been having with my last attempt at a novel.

Who was I to think that I could actually get through writing an entire story without having to go back and make at least one huge revision? It seems to happen every time. Changing the story to past tense will make it much easier to make leaps in time throughout the story, but then I have to contend with the fact that my word count might drop significantly as I eliminate scenes that were written specifically to keep the flow of present tense going smoothly.

It feels kind of like I've put myself between a rock and hard place. I'd love to just go sailing forward, but this seemingly small oversight will and has been causing huge problems in my storytelling so far. My only hope is that I can counteract the loss of scenes with additions of others, but we'll just have to see how that goes.

I'm sure it will be worth it in the end, but right now it really sucks.

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