Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

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michaeljwyantjr
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Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby michaeljwyantjr » Mon Jun 26, 2017 9:33 am

I have a book I'm co-writing that has four main viewpoint characters. My main goal with these different viewpoints is the make each character desperately unique by adjusting not only the tone and feel of each character, but stylistic changes to the way I write a la The Sound and the Fury, though not as extreme; i.e. no stream of consciousness, etc.

The main reason I'm posting is because I'm hitting a bit of a mental barrier. Currently, everything is written from a third-person, limited, past tense viewpoint. That works well for three of four characters. However, there is one character that I keep writing in third person present and not realizing I've done so until I finish the scene and go back to re-read. Thus far I've been editing it back to past tense, but there's a catch: I really like the way the character reads from a present tense perspective. The character is pretty severely damaged emotionally and has an issue with thought beyond the moment and it just feels right.

My stylistic question is: if I have a book where 75% of it is past tense, would it be too much of a break in the narrative to switch to a present tense view for a single character?

My gut says yes, but then I read the scenes for this character in present tense and I just want to make it happen anyway.

I look forward to your thoughts. wotf007
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jficke13
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby jficke13 » Mon Jun 26, 2017 9:43 am

I vote that it would be jarring and likely knock the reader out of the story. Could it be done? Possibly, but I'd bet it's hard to do well. If you are considering leaving this character in present tense, I'd ask: Is there a compelling reason why this character would be presenting their POV in a present tense while all the others are past tense? If so, why is that? If that compelling reason outweighs the fact that people are likely to go, "wait, what? Present tense now?" then go for it, but I'd think long and hard before leaving it present.
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby michaeljwyantjr » Mon Jun 26, 2017 10:05 am

In response to your question about whether there is a compelling reason to use present tense, I believe there is. In this story, the character's actions and overall behaviors are controlled by a god. However, he doesn't know this and instead it just caught in a twisted internal monologue where he questions why he does things or what possesses him to perform certain actions. In a lot of ways, he portrays a lot of OCD behaviors, but those actions aren't actually his; he just doesn't know it.

It's for this reason that I think present tense fits him so well. Every thought, every moment of his narrative is plagued by aggressive self-reflection and panic; he never has a moment to truly absorb life because he constantly feels out of control.

I might just be too excited about the idea, which is why I figured I'd post this up. ;)

Regardless:
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amoskalik
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby amoskalik » Mon Jun 26, 2017 12:02 pm

I'm not answering from a editor's or a publishers point of view as I've never been either, but rather from a writer's and a reader's point of view.

I say go for it. Maybe even consider using first person present, based on what you've described. I've seen first and third person mixed together before (can't recall the titles at the moment), but it can work. Also, by changing to first person, it will be obvious that this is an intentional choice rather than a mistake.
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MattDovey
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby MattDovey » Mon Jun 26, 2017 1:42 pm

My opinion: you can do it if it's a small portion of the work (I'm thinking of China Miéville and Perdido Street Station, where each section opens with a brief 1st person segment). If it's 1 chapter in 4, though, I think it would get annoying to switch so often. All this is, of course, opinion.
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michaeljwyantjr
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby michaeljwyantjr » Mon Jun 26, 2017 2:17 pm

MattDovey wrote:My opinion: you can do it if it's a small portion of the work (I'm thinking of China Miéville and Perdido Street Station, where each section opens with a brief 1st person segment). If it's 1 chapter in 4, though, I think it would get annoying to switch so often. All this is, of course, opinion.


Opinions are definitely what I'm looking for here, so I appreciate it. :)
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby Jeremyteg » Mon Jun 26, 2017 2:49 pm

N.K. Jemisin did something similar in "The Fifth Season" and won a Hugo. If anything, what she did was more sneaky and disruptive of reader expectations. I say go for it, if you can make it work.

michaeljwyantjr
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby michaeljwyantjr » Mon Jun 26, 2017 3:00 pm

Jeremyteg wrote:N.K. Jemisin did something similar in "The Fifth Season" and won a Hugo. If anything, what she did was more sneaky and disruptive of reader expectations. I say go for it, if you can make it work.


I think I'm going to. After all, that's what drafts are for, right? The worst case scenario is that I have to convert ~25,000 words to a different tense. If it works, I think it'll definitely pay off.

Thanks for the input folks!

Feel free to keep on posting if anyone thinks there's something they'd like to add for future writers perusing this forum.
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Re: Mixed Viewpoint Styles Across Characters

Postby LaurieG » Sat Jul 01, 2017 7:59 am

Follow your gut and stick with 1st person. With many mental illnesses, everything is [i]now. [i] All of time is smashed together, past, present and future. It's all " right now". Sounds like present tense is exactly right for this character.
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