The Tension of Tense and Naughty Narrators

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Tense. It has several meanings. Right now it is the pressure in my shoulders. Sometimes it’s that feeling that hangs in the air and lets you know that something is about to happen. And for writers, it’s the tone that sets an entire book.

And don’t get me started about those damn narrators.

You read a book and one of the first things you notice is who the hell is telling the story and when is it happening. When I read the first line of a book, I stop and ask, “God?” But no. It’s not my god, or your god or even Khorak-nazir, patron deity of the humanoid ant creatures.

No, it’s the little guy in the corner telling you about the first day of school, and how nobody wants to be his friend, or it is the god of the book, telling you every detail, every action and every tiny little thought that passes through the main character’s head, along with his girlfriend’s, her cousin’s and that damn humanoid ant in the corner wondering why the hell  he’s about to be stepped on by the kid on his first day of school.

We’ve all read a hundred blog posts about the different tenses and narratives that a writer can use, so I’m not going to lecture for the hundred and first time about it. I’m here to ask you a simple question. What do you prefer?

I’ve read fantastic stories where the narrator helps me truly visualize and live in the moment that is happening in a book. I’ve also read great tales where Timmy Two-shoes tells me about the first day of school, and how he took down the entire alien armada that came to probe all of his teachers (suck up).

I’ve also read two amazing books by a great writer, no names here *cough* Rothfuss *cough*, where the tense and narrator switches around so fluidly, that for a minute you have to stop and say, “Wait. How the hell did I get here?” Yeah, he’s that good.

All of this aside, for my own work-in-not-so-progress, I cannot settle on a narrator or tense. Some days all I want to do is jump into the main character and let you live the day in his shoes and see the world through his eyes. But then, BAM!

The antagonist shows up and its fight time, BITCHES!

Now I’ve got to tell you about a fight scene, a part of the story that should be beautiful and descriptive, only to be held back by the limitations of the narrator’s mind and scope. He knows how he feels about the fight, about how he is doing and about how his enemy is doing, but it has to look way more amazing to the bystanders. Joey Bystander is bystanding in the other corner watching Timmy chop an alien in half with a shank he sharpened out of the ruler in his desk, and he can’t tell you a damned thing, because this is Timmy’s story.

Now, giving you a slight peek into my brainchild of a story, I’ll let you know that on my current novel, my main character has something else inside him that, under the right conditions, turns him into something else.

So I’ve started playing with the idea, like Rothfuss, of having multiple tenses and narrators. I’ve thought about having a Narrator 1 for the back flash chapters that give a sneak peek into the events that led up to current events, and Narrator 2 is my main character telling you the story in the present day. Then, when my narrator turns into something else, Narrator 1 is back to tell you what’s going on, since Narrator 2 is currently indisposed.

(Damn coffee ran right through him!)

But I can’t tell if this is just a nonsensical hoping on my part, or if this actually has potential.

So, that’s your homework. Two simple questions that I want answers for.

What’s your favorite tense and narrative and do you think I’m crazy?

So, feel free to leave your comments down below so I and the handful of other readers on this here fancy blog can read em’ and respond or feel free to hit me up on my stalking grounds.

Ahem, I mean on Twitter.

I’ll just be waiting here anxiously in the corner with my laptop hoping Timmy will get over his whole first day angst and stop this damn alien from probing me…