Writing

Past and Present

When we start to write a novel, there are lots of things to think about: appropriate plot twists, rounded characters, and a snarky antagonist or two. Something many of us don’t tend to give much thought to is what tense to write in. Some writers believe it’s a personal choice, while others believe it should be decided based on what genre we’re writing it.

For the most part, writing in the past tense tends to be the preferred method. It’s familiar and comfortable, not to mention that it’s the most popular tense of all the big-shot writers out there. Writing in the past tense allows the reader to feel more connected to the narrator, listening to him/her tell the story as everyone sits around a campfire or a kitchen table. It helps you invest in the characters and plot in a gentle way so that you’re hooked before you know it.

As far as genre goes, writing in the past tense is best for those books that are plot driven (ex: action, mystery) rather than character-based (ex: romance, coming-of-age). As mentioned, the reader is able to connect with the narrator as s/he tells the story. So, the writer can slip comments and prejudices to the reader (overtly or otherwise) and make the mystery a little trickier, or give the action story an extra plot twist.

Writing in the present tense can be jarring and distracting for the writer as much as the reader and cause all sorts of problems. Its intention is pure enough, it works to help you get in the head of the character as the action is happening, but the truth of it is that it isn’t always effective. It can allows you to get in the mindset of the character and go on the journey with them as it happens, giving the reader the feeling of making the decisions along with the character. The reader will put stock in the character and form a strong, emotional connection that way. Present tense writing can do a lot in the slower, more emotional plots that require you to invest in the characters. You may be thinking “but, I know all sorts of romance novels that are written in the paste tense,” and you’d be right. Choosing the tense doesn’t have to involve anything but personal preference for many writers out there, despite what I’ve been saying.

Personally, I much prefer writing and reading in past tense. When I’m reading, I can focus on the story without getting distracted by the writing itself. When writing, I feel much more confident in the past tense. The several times I’ve written in present tense, everything was choppy and awkward, not to mention that I randomly switched from third person point of view to first person. The bottom line for me is that writing in the present tense is just plain distracting, no matter what genre I’m in or what story I’m trying to tell.

Does anyone else feel partial to the past tense? Or, maybe feel that writing in the present tense is more comfortable? Feel free to say it all below!

 

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Image Credit: thearticulateceo.typepad.com (via Google)
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Writing

Part of my World

Writing involves many exciting jobs in preparation, like reading or researching, memorizing a thesaurus, or maybe even travelling. The best task, though, is the people watching. We all do it, whether we want to admit it or not. As writers, we have an excuse; to find new characters!

Image Credit: blog.shareaholic.com (Google)
Image Credit: blog.shareaholic.com (Google)

Characters can either make or break a story, do you have to make sure they’re great ones. The only way to do that realistically is by basing them off of ear leak people, am I right? What are some of the places that you go to in order to get interesting people to watch? I love going to the mall to do it, but unless you sit in the food court, you don’t get to see people for longer than 20 seconds.

The most important part of people watching is to get a variety, and the food court is a great place for that. Also, you can overhear conversations and not down some great pieces of dialogue. The quick turn over always offers lots of people to eavesdrop on and makers you inconspicuous because no one I will notice you sitting there for extended periods of time.

When I’m hunting for a good character, I tend to watch for big groups of people. The best thing about a large group is that it holds the most options for the perfect character. If you’re starting from scratch, the different options are endless in a group of just four people. If you’re starting from a few characteristics – shy, loud, gentle, brave – then that makes a group fun in the sense that you can take characteristics that match the personality that you want, and create a strong, round character.

Finding your protagonist in a crowd isn’t hard, but one character that can be hard (and a lot of fun) to find, is your antagonist. Usually, they’re loners that are obsessed with revenge, or maybe they’re the popular “it” girl with identical drones giggling at everything they say and do. Regardless, essentially every person exists at the mall, and with the right skills and knowledge, can be found.

Antagonists can typically be found in stores, particularly in long lines that are moving at a snail’s pace. Those bring out the ugly in just about everyone, so you’ll find the bad and shady characteristics there. The same thing goes for the ones arguing with the cashiers. They have all the traits you can want for a kick-butt antagonist.

The mall works in finding new characters so well because people tend to relax, they figure that there are too many people to worry about being watched. At first, the “prim and proper” personality is up in front of the real personality and everything is correct and polite. By the time they’re ready to leave the food court or the store, though, they have started to let their guard down and their real personality shine through, allowing you to get to the good stuff.

That all being said, the best dialogue, plot twists, or personality traits can hit at anytime, so, like all writers advise, always have a pen and paper on you for just such an occasion. Characters are crucial, so don’t use the stock ones because you can’t think of anything else. Possibilities are all around you, so there is no excuse not to have a great character.

What do you see as the most important element in a story? Do you prefer to read about stock or original characters? What are some examples of strong characters?