Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tenses make me tense...

I've been reading the back posts of the Miss Snark blog, and ran across this entry:

(P.S. - Read the comments, too!)

This is a discussion on tenses, and how editors HATE to get submissions in First Person Present Tense.

Some subsequent posts in the blog go on to talk about some very successful tales told in this tense, one that is in Second Person Present Tense, and another that was FIRST PERSON PLURAL Present Tense.


But I was wondering about your experiences in this, or your thoughts.

My POV: I utterly detest most writing in the present tense. Note the word "most." Not all. But most. I usually detest First Person POV, too, but not nearly so much as present tense. Put them together, and if I were an editor, that ms would be outta the slushpile and into the shredder before you could speak the second 'B' in "Bob's Yer Uncle." I would instantly return a book that I bought if I opened it and saw such a travesty on page. Blogs or news articles or nonfiction can work with this, but not fiction in my opinion.

Perhaps because it's my years of gaming, and that's how you talk during a game, ( "I roll this d12 in an attempt to successfully wield my +18 hackmaster against this harmless bunny." ), or maybe because I've seen this type of hack fiction before ( when I was 13, an awful writer, and this was staring up at me from my finished pages ), I'm so unimpressed with it now.

Personally, I've never seen it work. I can't get out of editor mode long enough to enjoy it. A master might be able to make me forget with his or her craft, but I have yet to meet that presentation of work. It just seems inappropriate for the fiction page. It's like going to a play and the lead actor is wearing nothing but a rubber chicken... you're going to have to work VERY hard to make me forget that rubber chicken. It just might be impossible.

Another person mentioned on the blog how it's possible that people write like this because this is how they talk in life. Again, not necessarily appropriate for a page in fiction.

I picked up a book called The Witch of Cologne. I cracked it open and nearly screamed in fury. Present tense. In HISTORICAL FICTION!! I mean, really, this is about religious crap from 500 years ago, and that's hardly acceptable to write in the present tense. I forced myself to read the whole bit, and the story was quite good. However, I don't suggest this book to anyone, and I do not plan to reread it. From me, that's a horrid review. I reread everything. I got suckered in by the title and the hot photo on the front of a girl in an open corset with no undershirt. Never again.

I noticed some stories in an anthology lately, and they had the same problem. I liked those stories the least.

I recently read the new "V" book, and finally understood what my 10th grade English teacher meant when she said "Third Person Omnicient run amok." This book had that quality, and fortunately Kenneth Johnson is a good enough writer to make you forget that. I can't deny that I had to scramble to keep up with what was going on with whom, though. The head-jumping between nine (yes, nine) characters across just two pages was enough to make my own head spin. Good story. Well told. Lots of head-jumping.

Maybe I'm just curmudgeonly and hidebound, but I'm kind of fine with third person limited past tense. Works for me. It's comfortable, and I like to read and write in that POV/tense combo. If I want to change character view, I limit quite arduously to just that character's POV for that scene. Or I try to, anyway. We all fail sometimes.

So what do you think? What's your favorite POV or tense?
(neato tense list here: )

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