Acrylic on canvas
© HMH, 2002
I never stop wondering why so many authors take issue with third person, present-tense. I can understand that the claim that writing in present-tense is more demanding, for the reader as well as the author. Should that persuade any author to avoid writing in this way?
The idea that present-tense restricts handling of time may be valid, and so is perhaps the difficulty of creating complex characters. In my opinion, much of this depends on the structure of the narrative.
Is it true that the use of present-tense encourages the author to include trivial events that serve no plot function? I don’t think that this must necessarily happen, but it forces the author to strip down the text to essentials. Personally, I don’t think that is a bad thing.
Is it difficult to create suspense in present-tense? Naturally present-tense narrators don’t know what might happen and that could have an effect. On the other hand, there are authors, who deplore the same thing in first person, past tense, because it is instantly clear to the reader that everything already happened: the narrator is safe and sound. The question remains how we create suspense. I believe that it is possible to do it in both tenses.
In Dr Faustus, Thomas Mann writes: The reader is already used to my anticipations and will not interpret them as muddle-headedness and disregard of literary conventions. The truth is simply that I fix my eye in advance with fear and dread, yes, with horror on certain things which I shall sooner or later have to tell; they stand before me and weigh me down and so I try to distribute their weight by referring to them beforehand.
So much for already lived through disasters. In present-tense there’s a need for other measures. The suspense must spring out at the unwary or it can sidle up to the reader as it overwhelms the character. Here’s an example from The Time traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger:
The pain has left but I know it has not gone far, that it is sulking somewhere under the bed and will jump out when I least expect it.
And another from Rabbit Run, by John Updike:
…he is unlike the other customers. They sense it too, and look at him with hard eyes, eyes like little metal studs pinned into the white faces of young men […] In the hush his entrance creates, the excessive courtesy the weary woman behind the counter shows him amplifies his strangeness.
Perhaps the real question is, how to present immediacy in past-tense. If a protagonist is dying and relives his or her life in dreams and nightmares, it isn’t possible to write this in first person, because it suggests that the character survived. It can’t be told in past-tense, because the person is already dead in that scenario. Who’d want to write this kind of story though?
The novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco may spring to mind:
I am traveling through a tunnel with phosphorescent walls. I am rushing toward a distant point that appears as an inviting grey. Is this the death experience? Popular wisdom suggests that those who have it and then come back say just the opposite, that you go through a dark, vertiginous passageway, then emerge in a triumph of blinding light.
At the end of the day, it depends on the author to make his or her writing work. It isn’t a matter of tense, present or past.
© HMH, 2018
The body, bereft of life,
Laid out beautifully:
A handkerchief covers the face
Flowers give perfume;
The cross, suspended
In the background,
Lend caution or
The silent mourner.
Questions amass but there are no answers
The soul, gone, cannot turn back
Lost in the wilderness of beyond.
How can life go on while
This silence lingers?
Yet seconds drop, one by one
The hourglass runs out
Time congeals, leaving us
Caught in breathless agony
Until we say goodbye
From Aspects of Attraction
© HMH, 2014
Sometimes my mind goes blank. All ideas abandon me, and I sit, staring miserably at the cursor on an empty document. It’s a writer’s worst nightmare, but I’ve come to believe that it happens when the eagerness to write becomes obsession.
Is there a remedy? A good question, but not easily answered. First of all, it doesn’t help to try forcing the issue. If you’ve ever tried to fall asleep on a restless night, you’ll know that the harder you try, the worse the insomnia.
Likewise, the muses can’t be tricked. So, how do we make them smile on us? Is necessity truly the mother of invention?
Finding inspiration is a personal matter, and every artist, writer, or composer have their own way of courting their muse. Still, there are sources, which lie embedded in our roots. Some authors swear by speed writing. Others have a talisman or need a special environment. Whatever it is, the important issue is to create a ladder, leading to our subconscious.
What are my inspiration triggers? As I write historical fiction, history plays a part. Not so much the dry facts, but the way people dressed, ate, spoke, and even what they believed, or how they spent their evenings. The list is endless. Here I must add that I research dry facts when necessary, but that is an exercise in patience. Naturally, facts are important when writing about a specific period. Also, they’re necessary for making characters believable: they lived with their historical circumstances.
For me, myths are important tools for finding inspiration. It may not matter which mythology, but I mostly see a relationship between the characters I want to portray and their preferred legends. As I see it, all myths are interconnected. Deep down they’re an expression of the collective subconscious.
Talismans are rooted in the dream world. They can take any shape or form. Again, it’s a matter of what resonates within. It is up to the individual, whether amulets work for them or not.
Personally, I can’t work with music in the background. My best guess is that it distracts me, because of years of musical training. I’m at my best when writing alone and in silence.
© HMH, 2018
intimate beyond borders
And lies become impossible.
Passion surges through bodies
I dance like a dervish
It’s not mine to keep
A magical connection is never for keeps
Through all the heartache
Through years of misery
And pure coincidence
Love that just is
It makes no demands
And just keeps giving
Just give it back
It’s a double helix
A full circle
Om Mani Padme Hum
Meditation and action
Tao and Heartbeats
Life and eternity
Death and Eros
Eros and Psyche
And pure life
Toes tingle, and the mind becomes blank
Stars fall, and suns rise
The moon dances, and life begins again
Better for what happened
Profound forces rush through the world
Leaving an open field.
Like autumn wind, they lay bare the branches
Like springtime heat, they bring blossoms to bloom
Buds open, and new life emerges
I bow down in silence and give thanks
The rest is never silence
The rest is a song