Third Person Present-Tense?

I never stop wondering why so many authors take issue with third person, present-tense. I can understand that the claim that writing in present-tense is more demanding, for the reader as well as the author. Should that persuade any author to avoid writing in this way?

The idea that present-tense restricts handling of time may be valid, and so is perhaps the difficulty of creating complex characters. In my opinion, much of this depends on the structure of the narrative.

Is it true that the use of present-tense encourages the author to include trivial events that serve no plot function? I don’t think that this must necessarily happen, but it forces the author to strip down the text to essentials. Personally, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Is it difficult to create suspense in present-tense? Naturally present-tense narrators don’t know what might happen and that could have an effect. On the other hand, there are authors, who deplore the same thing in first person, past tense, because it is instantly clear to the reader that everything already happened: the narrator is safe and sound. The question remains how we create suspense. I believe that it is possible to do it in both tenses.

In Dr Faustus, Thomas Mann writes: The reader is already used to my anticipations and will not interpret them as muddle-headedness and disregard of literary conventions. The truth is simply that I fix my eye in advance with fear and dread, yes, with horror on certain things which I shall sooner or later have to tell; they stand before me and weigh me down and so I try to distribute their weight by referring to them beforehand.

So much for already lived through disasters. In present-tense there’s a need for other measures. The suspense must spring out at the unwary or it can sidle up to the reader as it overwhelms the character. Here’s an example from The Time traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger:

The pain has left but I know it has not gone far, that it is sulking somewhere under the bed and will jump out when I least expect it.

And another from Rabbit Run, by John Updike:

…he is unlike the other customers. They sense it too, and look at him with hard eyes, eyes like little metal studs pinned into the white faces of young men […] In the hush his entrance creates, the excessive courtesy the weary woman behind the counter shows him amplifies his strangeness.

Perhaps the real question is, how to present immediacy in past-tense. If a protagonist is dying and relives his or her life in dreams and nightmares, it isn’t possible to write this in first person, because it suggests that the character survived. It can’t be told in past-tense, because the person is already dead in that scenario. Who’d want to write this kind of story though?

The novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco may spring to mind:

I am traveling through a tunnel with phosphorescent walls. I am rushing toward a distant point that appears as an inviting grey. Is this the death experience? Popular wisdom suggests that those who have it and then come back say just the opposite, that you go through a dark, vertiginous passageway, then emerge in a triumph of blinding light.

At the end of the day, it depends on the author to make his or her writing work. It isn’t a matter of tense, present or past.

© HMH, 2018

Departed

The body, bereft of life,

Laid out beautifully:

A handkerchief covers the face

Flowers give perfume;

The cross, suspended

In the background,

Lend caution or

Admonition to

The silent mourner.

Questions amass but there are no answers

The soul, gone, cannot turn back

Lost in the wilderness of beyond.

How can life go on while

This silence lingers?

Yet seconds drop, one by one

The hourglass runs out

Time congeals, leaving us

Caught in breathless agony

Until we say goodbye

 

From Aspects of Attraction

 

© HMH, 2014

 

Seeking Inspiration

Sometimes my mind goes blank. All ideas abandon me, and I sit, staring miserably at the cursor on an empty document. It’s a writer’s worst nightmare, but I’ve come to believe that it happens when the eagerness to write becomes obsession.

Is there a remedy? A good question, but not easily answered. First of all, it doesn’t help to try forcing the issue. If you’ve ever tried to fall asleep on a restless night, you’ll know that the harder you try, the worse the insomnia.

Likewise, the muses can’t be tricked. So, how do we make them smile on us?  Is necessity truly the mother of invention?

Finding inspiration is a personal matter, and every artist, writer, or composer have their own way of courting their muse. Still, there are sources, which lie embedded in our roots. Some authors swear by speed writing. Others have a talisman or need a special environment. Whatever it is, the important issue is to create a ladder, leading to our subconscious.

What are my inspiration triggers? As I write historical fiction, history plays a part. Not so much the dry facts, but the way people dressed, ate, spoke, and even what they believed, or how they spent their evenings. The list is endless. Here I must add that I research dry facts when necessary, but that is an exercise in patience. Naturally, facts are important when writing about a specific period. Also, they’re necessary for making characters believable: they lived with their historical circumstances.

For me, myths are important tools for finding inspiration. It may not matter which mythology, but I mostly see a relationship between the characters I want to portray and their preferred legends. As I see it, all myths are interconnected. Deep down they’re an expression of the collective subconscious.

Talismans are rooted in the dream world. They can take any shape or form. Again, it’s a matter of what resonates within. It is up to the individual, whether amulets work for them or not.

Personally, I can’t work with music in the background. My best guess is that it distracts me, because of years of musical training. I’m at my best when writing alone and in silence.

 

© HMH, 2018

Song of Songs

Two people

intimate beyond borders

Gaze deeply

And lies become impossible.

Harmony liberates

Mutual respect

Passion surges through bodies

 

I dance like a dervish

Deliriously happy

 

It’s bittersweet

It’s not mine to keep

A magical connection is never for keeps

 

Through all the heartache

Through years of misery

And pure coincidence

Lightning struck

 

True love

Love that just is

It makes no demands

And just keeps giving

 

Just give it back

 

It’s a double helix

A full circle

Om Mani Padme Hum

Meditation and action

Tao and Heartbeats

Life and eternity

Death and Eros

Eros and Psyche

 

Deep silence

And pure life

Toes tingle, and the mind becomes blank

Stars fall, and suns rise

The moon dances, and life begins again

Better for what happened

 

Profound forces rush through the world

Leaving an open field.

Like autumn wind, they lay bare the branches

Like springtime heat, they bring blossoms to bloom

Buds open, and new life emerges

 

I bow down in silence and give thanks

The rest is never silence

The rest is a song

©HMH, 2018