Earlier this week, I sent off a completed manuscript, and then the next day, I started the idea I formed a month or two ago, a story that I am excited about. Except for the fact that this story seems to want to be told in the first person, present tense.
I can't help it. I sit down, and there it is, flowing right out of me, this woman, her life, all happening now, now, now.
The first person AND the present tense seem to really irk some readers. Once I wrote a novel in the third person, present tense, and one reviewer went off on it, talking about the tense as if it were a disease. "Pre-sent tense!"
A former student went to my web site once and critiqued in an email he saent me a short story I have posted there. Later, he wrote on his blog that I was a hack (he didn't like me much, as you might have been able to tell).
And people talk about the tense and the 80s and minimalism and all that in one dismissive sweep of critique.
But here's the thing. Tense and POV find us. I don't sit down and think: Okay, now I am going to write a novel of 300 pages in s shifting, third person, past tense POV kind of thing. I sit down with a story, and the story tells me how it wants to be written. What am I going to tell my story? No? Get a life, story? My student from creative writing in 2002 HATES present tense, so knock it off!?
I must say that sometimes the story is wrong--I have about a half dozen novel and novel starts hanging in my C drive, not open for public viewing. Maybe it wasn't bad POV or tense choices that sent them there, but there are all kinds of slightly battered stories that just didn't ripen correctly. But I allowed the story to be what the story is.
There are so many things that keep a story from making it into the world. Once I'm done with it, my agent and editor have a few things to say, and now and again, the thing they say is "No." But I have to honor the POV, the tense, the characters, the flow, and then later--if it doesn't work--use the guts of the story to revise. Or not. The C drive is a fine and quiet place!
Off to tell a story not mine in a personal pronoun I often claim in a very Zen verb form!
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