20 July 2014

First person present vs past

As I work on my new novel, I've been thinking a lot about the differences between first person past and first person present viewpoints.

To me, past tense is filled with a sort of nostalgia.  It becomes memory, and lends itself perspective and, to a certain extent, reverence.  This happened, and this is what it meant, and this is how it affected me.  Present tense is full of tension, of ambiguity.  This is happening, and this is what I think it means, and this is how it's affecting me now, but maybe later I'll think back on it and realize how wrong I was.

It reminds me of early works of digital cinema.  There's something about a movie captured on actual film that makes it look like a window into the past, whereas many digitally shot films (with Star Wars Episodes 1-3 being a great example) look so immediate and in your face.  Both are valuable tools of storytelling.  The question is, when to use which?

I've decided to try using present-tense narration for my new novel.  I've never done it before, and it will no doubt be a challenge.  But sometimes the most challenging things are the most rewarding.  Hopefully it will be so in this venture.