Xander Davis's picture
Xander Davis from Downtown Tycho, The Moon is reading Casino Royale / Tomorrow Now May 18, 2014 - 3:58pm

So what's the depeche mode du jour on 1) tense, 2) volume of description, 3) person these days?  What's hot?  Why?  Is this a silly question?  Surely there is a current fashion trending.  Have you noticed?  Have you rebelled?

When I was immersing myself in Palahniuk Essays and Workshop culture years ago, past tense, description, and third person were so old fashioned, the kind of stuffy approach to fiction your grandma likes.  Not suitable for these warp speed-reading Gen-X'ers and Millenials:

Present tense is now now now.  Past tense was hitherto long ago religated to antiquity in forlorn ages prior.  Keep it short and keep it moving people; minimalism is in.  The objective third person was so sterile and detatched it was as numb as anesthesia, anathema to scatter-brained status update attention spans.  First person was personal, flawed, immediate, too-honest, and fussy, like we all are at times.

I'm technically a Millenial, born on the border of Gen-X and raised on the first Nintendo Entertainment System before ever reading an adult book (the first one being Jurassic Park).  Like most of us today, I don't have time to read.  But I make time.  And it usually involves Airplane Mode.

I'm getting older now, practically a dinosaur compared to the new iPhone a first grader will get for his birthday this summer, and maybe a paragraph that makes the finish on a door sound romantic is somehow more stimulating and savory to me than the latest fucking Xbox game, again.

Yes, I want to read a passage describing the decanter.  Please, do go on.  Describe how her eyes traced the triangular patterns embossed in the glass that refracted the light of the chandelier, how its glinting made her long for the sandalwood amber liquid within.  Mmmmmm... Just hearing the words in my mind puts a warmth in my heart like a wide gulp of bourbon, vaguely sexual even.  While this has absolutely nothing to do with the story, it has everything to do with the author's hypnosis washing over in mutual lucid dreaming.

Still, does this mean I'm a grandpa for liking the more romantic sound of narration that comes from an economy of detail, reviewed and dispensed surely from someone's wood office with a taxodermied bear in the corner, through the monocle lens of authorative past tense and objective third person?  That I think present tense feels, yes, more active, more exciting, but also more disposable?  That maybe a brain dump from (let's face it, a good vicarious character is always) a shitty person is less enticing than the editorialized taste-making of an omniscient disembodied journalist?

That maybe the old ways can, at times, be best?

Or I suppose it's really all a matter of preference and style choice appropriate to your work.  Like choosing a shade of orange for the sunset you're trying to paint in your reader's mind, you go on maybe a little long or short to describe the clouds, and how the sun is receding now or just receded distantly.

You choose, do you want a bullet-to-the-head speed in your writing?  Or do you want an immersive slow burn?  Is this first person speech or a thought bubble?  Is this a memoir?  Is this an objective invisible film camera behind a fourth wall?

Is there a right or wrong answer, like how there's a wrong answer today on wearing parachute pants?

...he wrote, pulling his hand away to lift the wood-tipped cigar, the bear in the corner fixed glaring.

—Xander Davis

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 18, 2014 - 5:18pm

I actually happily like third, second, and first. It depends on what your going for. Like an epistolary that's written in third person would just feel, ... not quite the same.

Also suicide letters of the protagonist, I tend to do in first person. I'm weird like that.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 18, 2014 - 6:32pm

I don't know what the trend is. Regardless of what anyone might advertise as "current", I think most modes of writing are still in use somewhere. If you actually want to know what's most popular right now, just read a few bestsellers. Similar or not, there's your answer.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 20, 2014 - 4:36am

Well you are right that present tense is in, but to me it just feels like someone trying to hard.  I don't buy it at gut level 99% of the time.  Neil Gaiman is the only major exception I can think of.

Angel Colón's picture
Angel Colón from The Bronx now living in New Jersey is reading A Big Ol' Pile of Books May 20, 2014 - 6:36am

I'll write the first few lines of a piece in present and past tense, first and third, to get a feel for the rhythm I want.

When I like the way it reads, that's what I go with. No need to chase what's in "style". That's a bad path to go down.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 20, 2014 - 3:55pm

Present Tense is for video games. Even then, if the games a flashback.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers May 20, 2014 - 8:24pm

I'm old school past tense, mainly because, espcially in 1st person, backstory becomes a pain in the ass in present tense. BUT..it really depends on the voice I'm trying for. I use "quotation marks" for dialogue and spell grey grey. I'm not all into the flashy shit because if there's no substance to back it up, none of that fru-fru shit really fucking matters. Trends come and go, but the old school is still rock and roll to me. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 20, 2014 - 10:29pm

It seems like it would be difficult to do flashbacks in present tense. Is this what you mean?

Of course the way I always thought of applying backstory is: A persons parent was murdered, they persue the person that attacked the parent. Then you lop off the part where the parent was murdered, and only leave the present bit where the person seeks out the killer. Though with that method, one could be confused why they are seeking out the killer.

Angel Colón's picture
Angel Colón from The Bronx now living in New Jersey is reading A Big Ol' Pile of Books May 21, 2014 - 2:19am

Interesting you mention flashbacks. My current WIP is in first person present, but flashbacks are in first person past. Makes it easier to denote and I don't have to rely on labelling. I can use the prose to signal the reader that we've jumped back.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 21, 2014 - 9:48am

Oh switching is the worst guys.  Why would you do that?

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers May 21, 2014 - 7:18pm

That's what I meant, you have to switch tenses to make a flashback work with 1st person present tense. Sorry I said backstory, but yeah, a flashback is backstory in scene form. Switching tenses in frowned upon, not even a rule, but if you do switch, your switching back and forth must be handled with full mastery of the scene. 

Some have a problem with 1st past tense, as in they can't make this mental leap as to how the reader got the story in their hands in the first place. Did the person telling the story write all this stuff down, like a journal or diary? Thing is, 1st person past tense can have the same kind of immediacy as present tense if written with the proper voice. Voice makes all the difference in the world. 

I pounded down the street and hooked the corner.--past tense with a strong narrative voice. 

I pound down the street and hook the corner.--present tense with a strong narrative voice.

The examples with strong narrative voice convey more action, but neither present tense or past tense gives either one a greater sense of immediacy. The action in present tense appears to be happening right NOW, but it's the same for both examples. It's just an illusion, in my opinion. These are shitty examples, but I hope you see that there's nothing to gain writing in 1st person present tense other than it's different. Bret Easton Ellis started that shit, and here we are twenty something years later and everyone wants to do it. Chuck Wendig is the only writer I'll read who writes in present tense, even his 3rd person present is badass. 

 

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 21, 2014 - 9:27pm

Style..  it's more than POV, but POV is a huge part.  I think first person works better for YA, third for adult.  

@ Dwayne- going with that, did you care for the Divergent or Hunger Games series-es?

 

But most importantly when talking style- it's time to do away with skinny jeans, especially when sagged.  Period.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 21, 2014 - 11:32pm

So what about for New Adult? Would that be handled like YA?

I'm sort of restarting a New Adult project I started when I was 19, before I new what New Adult was.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 22, 2014 - 11:21am

Well, Hunger Games was cool I guess.  Not insanely great, but solid.  

Divergent was just nuts.  I've never seen something so left wing it was anti science before, so that was impressive because it was so nuts.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 22, 2014 - 10:56am

^

Okay, I've only read the first Divergent book so far...  And I lost your meaning in your last sentence- what was impressive and why?  And... the book went anti-science?  Or..?

 

@Sarah-

Good question...

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 22, 2014 - 11:33am

How is left wing anti-science? I don't generally associate science with politics. Unless its political science of course. (But politics is a creed in itself.)

I prefer to challenge myself to read a multi-narrative, but I'm weird. That's one storytelling mechanism I haven't seen taken from video games to prose. I don't mean like a visual novel, I mean more that key items are located in different parts of a fantasy map.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 22, 2014 - 11:32am

I edited it that might help a bit.

It was impressive that someone wrote a world so crazy extremist left wing that it was willing/able to take it to the point that it seems every character in the book, including the scientists, thinks the only way to have more experiments is to take resources away from the poor.  I mean that was farther than Stalin took it.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 22, 2014 - 11:39am

Oh I see, my mistake.XD Yea true.

That's one thing I'm wondering, are YA dystopias suppose to be that unsubtle? At least with some of the adult novels I've read, you'll have something like that guy in Brave New World where he honestly believed he was helping people.

The fact that the dictator lady in the movie was so ... almost cartoony ... actually ended up making her seem much less scary overall. As much as I hate to say cartoony.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 22, 2014 - 1:41pm

No clue.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 23, 2014 - 9:45am

Hmm, now that it's mentioned, I think there's a fairly linear relationship between how subtle something is, and how old the intended audience is.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 23, 2014 - 12:22pm

@Thuggish - Some truth in that, but the lack of subtlety in Divergent made Hunger Games looked like the morality in something Matthew Woodrow Strover wrote.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 25, 2014 - 8:58pm

I have no idea who that is (I'm far from a connoiseur of authors) but that's probablyu why I liked Hunger Games more, and my fifth grader liked Divergent more.

 

EDIT

Oh THAT guy!  I happened to read his Revenge of the Sith novel adaptation...  Ha ha, now I get it.  Amusing.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 26, 2014 - 7:31am

I'm wondering if I were to read both, how divergent would compare to Fatherland. The first dystopian I was taught was actually 1984, and then Neuromancer. (Neuromancer being the more subtle dystopia.)

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 28, 2014 - 6:35am

You know I forgot he even did those.  I guess I should have said, "Something original MWS wrote."  His own work is really subtle regarding right and wrong.  IMO he is probably the best living author sci-fi/fantasy author, I'm amazed he isn't a best seller.