Wednesday, March 21, 2007

future tense

I’m writing a short story in future tense. Here are some built-in problems with the tense choice: wrinkled chronology (i.e. inserting back-story and not losing the reader is tricky); authority (is it all a dream, or did this really happen?); intimacy (distance in tense = distance between reader and writer).

At workshop last night I got some great ideas on how to minimize the above issues. For instance, attend subjunctive mood with clarity of purpose, and treat back-story with overt syntactic decisions e.g. make it clear if the character is speculating by using words like “perhaps” or “maybe,” and be careful how I use “will” vs “would.”

Here’s the current opening sentence: Mid-morning, Pedersen will fish the Razr out of toilet with the full scoop of his hand.

The camera hovers, but at an ironic distance. Playing with tense, pov and the shifting camera, just to inform the level of intimacy I’m attempting, I could write:

Yesterday, Pedersen fished the Razr out of the toilet with the full scoop of his hand. Boring and flat.

How about: I fished the Razr out of the toilet with the full scoop of my hand. Problematic. Immediately by choosing first person, I realize I have to make the sentence less self-conscious and foreground the object. Maybe: The Razr’s slimy silver case felt like a bar of nearly-spent soap in my hand as I pulled it from the toilet.

Intimacy attained! And there’s enough of a hook for the reader to lightly wonder about the phone in the toilet. But, still, pretty typical.

So, what does future tense buy me? Suspense? And more than that, perhaps the invitation to suspend disbelief? In order for that to pay off, I have to figure out a way to close the gap between Pedersen and the reader. Here’s where Chuck had a great suggestion. Why didn’t I up the ante? Show Pedersen in some sort of moral dilemma using the phone, and what’s on the phone, as a costly conundrum that might cause the reader to ask: What would I do in this situation?

I know this means nothing, since I haven’t revealed the plot…. Perhaps I will at a later post.

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap. What a great post! Wow. You just taught me a lot--there's an entire semester in this discussion of one sentence. Absolutely marvelous.



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