#EdenLit - Lessons: Combining First, Second, and Third Person Narrative

Airen Wolf Airen Wolf
So we've discussed what constitutes First, Second, and Third person narrative. The question remains: Can they be combined, or used together, in a narrative to form a coherent and easily followed story? The answer is: Yes, they can with varying degrees of difficulty.

When we speak we often switch between the different narratives easily but the print medium demands a bit more attention to details. When speaking we can flesh out the details with hand gestures, vocal inflexion, and facial expressions. The written word can be an imperfect medium for transmitting emotion which often defies description. This is why we have to be careful when we are switching between narratives in a written piece.

Unlike research papers or other forms of technical writing, the prose writer has much more leeway in how and when he or she breaks with convention. The real test is whether the writing is easily understood by the reader, and whether the emotions are being passed along adequately. Is the author allowing someone who is, essentially; blind, deaf, and sensory deprived to follow the story and create for themselves an image of the vibrant world being described? The problem with mixing narrative views begins when the reader becomes confused about who is talking or what they are talking about.

Let's begin with narrative tense and then move into a discussion about voice. Narrative tense (or narrative time) determines the grammatical tense of the story; whether the action takes place in the past, present or future. This is a common mistake for most writers and can lead a story astray fairly quickly, especially if your reader is picky about grammar!

*Past Tense- The events are fully formed, unchangeable and have already happened. All grammar must reflect this throughout the story. This has happened already and is now just a memory, remember this! Incidentally, this is the most common form of storytelling for English, Chinese, and Portuguese speakers.

*Present Tense- The events are evolving and occurring right now. This is a difficult tense to maintain, and in English this tense is known as "Historical Present." It tends to be seen more in narratives that are conversations rather than full stories. Poetry can make use of present tense, as well as song lyrics.

*Future tense- All of the action takes place in the future. This form of narrative is extremely hard to maintain and is rarely seen in literature. In this form the narrator is either completely omniscient, or thinks he/she is. Frequently, there is a sort of prophetic quality to the future tense story.

It is possible to write in the past tense,include what it happening in the present tense,and even include some speculation as to what the future will bring. The author just needs to set the scene and be sure that the tenses match!
Tenses are a great big bugaboo for many writers who are so busy describing what they are seeing that they forget when it all happened! Sometimes the author is trying to sound more "literary". Break it down, keep it simple for the reader, and you will rarely go wrong.

Once you have decided on a tense you can choose what "voice" you want to use. Often this sort of seems to flow without must conscious direction, but remembering to keep it simple will help you, as the writer, maintain a voice that is easy for the reader to follow. I’ll discuss voice in the next installment of Eden Lit Lessons.
08/27/2012
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