Before you start writing a book or even a short story, you have decisions to make. You will need to decide on:
- The Tense (timeline) of your story and
- The Perspective of your story
You can write a story as if it happened yesterday, years ago, or even as if it is happening right now.
What you cannot do (unless you are stupendously clever) is write from more than one angle at a time or change the time frames willy nilly. These mistakes can make an otherwise good story go bad. They disrupt the flow and leave the reader confused.
When I first submitted my book, I thought I would write it as if it was happening now. I thought I was brilliant. It seemed immediate, interesting, and more exciting that way.
Then I came across some problems.
A chapter might start with me talking about two adorable Burmese cats eating upmarket whitebait as if it was happening right now, and then talk about something that happened the next day or a week before. My script was full of segues like “a few days later” or worse, “sometime earlier when I was ….”
Luckily I had an editor to look it over. I knew it was a problem, but I had not realised it would eclipse almost everything else. My book was not worth reading while the tenses were all wrong.
It is crucial to choose a time frame early. Either it is told as if written as it happens, or it is told in the past tense. Even futuristic stories must be written in one of these ways.
Stories written in the past allow more flexibility than stories that are written as if they are happening now. It takes a skilled writer to move to recollections of past events or focus on future activities when a story is supposed to be happening now.
I chose to rewrite everything in my book, except the introduction, in the past tense and to sort out the stories based on similar themes pets, homes, travel etc. Now it has story chapters and other sections full of helpful advice for those who are interested in house sitting.
Writing in the past is often easier.
Writing allows you to be the God of your own little story world. You can write from inside your main characters head, or from several characters perspectives at once, or even as an omnipotent being who sees everything that every character thinks and does.
My book is written about my adventures as a house sitter, so the decision was easy. It is from my perspective.
If you are writing a novel, you might not want to write from the perspective of only one character. This means you can only speculate what someone else is thinking and always from the framework of your character. It is probably easier, and is certainly more flexible, to write as if you are outside the story and can see everything.
It is also possible to write from the point of view of several characters, and change in each chapter.
These are decisions that are probably best made before you put pen to paper. If you have already written something, check that you have been consistent in both tense and perspective.
You will want your reader to concentrate on the story. Your reader should always know exactly where and when they are. That way they can relax and enjoy the story you have worked so hard to tell.
They don’t seem like exciting subjects, but both tense and perspective can make a huge difference to the tone and the quality of your book.