Author Topic: Third Person Omni Present Tense  (Read 4332 times)

Offline ThomasC

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Third Person Omni Present Tense
« on: October 12, 2015, 12:16:25 PM »
Hello All:
I am brand new here, have searched through a variety of threads and also have done my own independent review of blogs and other message forums and found a range of opinions on the use of Third Person Omni in the Present Tense for genre fiction. 

I am finally getting down to the actual writing of the first book of a trilogy in the Psychological Thriller/Man Hunt genre that has been "under development" for a number of years. Now, while most of the books I have read for my own personal enjoyment, after a deeper examination, are typically in Third Person Past. I understand the use from a traditional story-telling standpoint, but I am also an avid screenplay reader, and those are all written in Third Person Present.

I began writing this in Third Person Omni Present, with the occasional change to past tense when describing a character's history, upbringing, or past, then quickly coming back to present tense. I had to be cognizant and continually check to make sure I didn't slip into past tense when talking about current actions or events, but for the most part, it seems to work, especially because the story will begin to speed up and as secrets are revealed and it becomes more fast-paced. I feel Present tense works better, as if I am watching it unfold on the screen.  The possible wrinkle is that the entire story does take place in the past, 1998 to be exact, so while past tense would be the likely choice, I am just not sure.

I have read how some readers find Third Person Present distracting, but if it is done correctly, it can work to where it really isn't noticeable to the reader and feels natural. 

I already have written in Third Person Present, but last night, I went back and changed the first two chapters to Third Person Past, which took more work than I had planned, and while it now has the tense and POV of most fiction books out there, I feel it won't have the same impact later on as the story progresses.

So, I'd like to share some example text from my original draft in Third Omni Present:

Quote
An intense and imposing detective steps out of the driver’s side of the brown, unmarked Chevy Caprice and looks at the barely controlled chaos in front of him. Squad cars are parked haphazardly near the North Wing entrance as some uniformed officers move about in different directions, while others provide a distinct security perimeter complete with barricades and yellow crime scene tape. Meanwhile, buses have been lined up at three separate off-load points since 7:00AM, but frustrated bus drivers have yet to be given the “ok” to send a single student off. Compound this by the arrival of two news crews both trying to be the first with “breaking news,” it seems too early for something of this magnitude.

   Jon Suggs, knows it must be serious if he is called to a scene. As a senior investigator in the Major Crimes Unit, he has pretty much seen it all, but nothing will prepare him for how this case will eventually play out. At nearly 6’, the imposing mid-50s detective, with a semi-dark complexion, keeps his curly hair cut very short to disguise his receding hairline. The by-product of that is it makes the scar on the left side of his head all the more visible, something that plays to his legend, but also as a subtle reminder to himself of how he got to where he is today.

   He made detective fifteen years earlier after foiling an armed robbery as an off-duty patrol officer. He was wounded in the process; some shots were fired and he was grazed in the head. As fate would have it, one of the suspects fled the scene and his cohorts would not give him up during their interrogation. When Suggs returned to work, and through his own investigative work, mostly contacts on the street that he cultivated over the years, he was able to track down and arrest the at-large suspect. He was promoted to detective the following week.

   His instincts and tenacity helped close many cases in his early years, but his aggressiveness sometimes gave him tunnel-vision towards likely suspects, some of which were eventually found to be innocent. They were put through the ringer for their troubles, and sometimes that delayed the eventual capture and conviction of the real suspect. Through the mentor-ship of the senior detective at the time, now the Captain of the Major Crimes Unit, Suggs was able to hone his talent and be more thoughtful. Still tenacious as always, he learned to cut through the chaff by effectively eliminating suspects until he found the one who did it. Much of that was done by good old-fashioned police work and following his gut when things became somewhat ambiguous. With nearly twenty-five years on the force, he has one of the best “close records” in the department. He may be the definition of old-school, but he hasn't lost a step as he always gets the job done.

So the question to the community... Distracting or not?

FYI... The rest of the prose I have written typically follows the same pattern, present tense for current actions, past tense when describing things about key characters and their background, with all dialog in the present tense.

Thank you in advance and I appreciate any and all comments.

TC

hillwalker3000

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2015, 12:38:34 PM »
The main distraction is not the choice of verb tense. I’ve just finished reading Jessie Burton’s ‘The Miniaturist’ set in the 1680s and written in present tense and it works remarkably well.
Maybe it’s unfair to make a snap judgement based on such a short extract but I’d say you have other issues to consider if you intend pursuing this style of narrative. Your opening sentence would normally be enough for me to stop reading right there. You mention your fondness of screenplays. This has screenplay written all over it.

I’d advise you to perhaps look at other samples of prose posted in the Review My Work threads in order to get a feel for the advice other aspiring writers are given on here . . . and maybe help you see where you’re going wrong.

H3K

Offline ThomasC

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2015, 02:10:33 PM »
Thank you for your input.  I will follow your advice and check out that section. And you are definitely astute in your quick analysis, especially given the short example I provided. This was originally conceptualized as a screenplay some 20 years ago, but I wanted to expand upon it a lot more and the various characters by doing it as a novel.

Jo Bannister

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2015, 02:28:21 PM »
There's a reason most novels are written in either third or first person past tense: it's what makes most sense to readers.  Whatever your personal preferences, as a novelist you simply cannot afford to alienate potential readers (including publishers' readers) by presenting them with a format they're unfamiliar with and will struggle to adapt to.  I would strongly advise rethinking this.  Write screenplay as screenplay; write novels as novels.

Offline ThomasC

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2015, 02:34:17 PM »
There's a reason most novels are written in either third or first person past tense: it's what makes most sense to readers.  Whatever your personal preferences, as a novelist you simply cannot afford to alienate potential readers (including publishers' readers) by presenting them with a format they're unfamiliar with and will struggle to adapt to.  I would strongly advise rethinking this.  Write screenplay as screenplay; write novels as novels.

Hi Jo.  Thank you.  I have really been struggling with this decision the last few days and before I get further into the story, I want to decide on a POV and Tense and stick with it.

TC

Offline LRSuda

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2015, 12:07:29 AM »
I think writing screenplays is why present tense omniscient feels natural to you. But, I'd listen to Jo. Present tense (pick your POV) doesn't sound natural to readers unless it is exceptionally well executed. Not knocking you, so please don't take this the wrong way, but the sample you've provided does not live up to Jesse Burton's writing.

Like Hillwalker, I also see screenplay all over this. And I think it is going to cause you more problems than whatever POV and tense you choose. The reason: far too much description of things that don't matter in a novel. I suggest an exercise before you make your decision. Cut all the description and see what you have left. If you then think you have the elements of a good start to a novel, take it from there and post it on the Review board. I know members her who go above and beyond to help those learning the craft.

To answer you're question, no, present tense is not distracting. Jumping from present to past, as well as the overload of description, is.

Offline RamblingRose

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2015, 11:42:44 AM »
On the present vs past tense issue, I'd agree - it's not distracting if it's done well. The Miniaturist is a good example. Wolf Hall is another. Now, I love Wolf Hall, I think it's a brilliant book, but plenty of people didn't like it because of the present tense (and perhaps because of the way Mantel generally refers to Cromwell as 'he' which can be confusing). So even when done by the best, it can alienate. Read them, if you haven't already, and see what you think works and what doesn't.

 I'm no expert, but I think an omnipresent POV is rather out of fashion - possibly because it tends to create a distance between reader and character, and most writing now (I think) would tend to be character driven. Both The Miniaturist and Wolf Hall are very close 3rd person POV, and they do not move from that closeness to the main character. Perhaps the present tense works best if it is kept close to one character's POV - to the extent that most present tense books I've read are in the first person, not third. If you're writing in the present, the narrator cannot have any awareness of what is coming or what is happening elsewhere at the same time, which is what generally I would say an omni POV would bring and maybe why an omnipresent narrator would traditionally use a past tense - it allows that expansive overview and that story-telling traditional voice where the narrator already knows everything that has happened.  I think you need to decide what feel and tone you want your story to have, and decide tense and POV accordingly.

I'd second the advice to look at the review board, comment on others' work and post some of your own. People are immensely helpful in time and advice here.

Offline ThomasC

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2015, 12:00:35 PM »
RR, thank you! It makes sense and definitely gets to the heart of my conundrum.  I've taken a look at the Miniaturist, haven't read it entirely yet, and can definitely see how and why it works.  It really almost feels 1st Person. The only reason why I am gravitating towards Omnipresent is because there are many characters involved, not just the protagonist where their POV is required. The protagonist is a reporter who has a connection to the targets of the antagonist, but there are also detectives investigating the crimes at the same time, but are not always present with the reporter. Then there is the POV of the antagonist, whose past is the reason the story even takes place and actually plays into a specific twist. It's fairly complex and I never saw it possible as 3rd Limited.

The one reason why I contemplated Present was because as the story begins to turn a corner in the third act, it could lend to the pacing and suspense as it leads to the climax. Again, this goes back to the origins of the story development as a screenplay and always picturing the action and suspense play out visually, but suspense and action can work with 3rd as some of my favorite books are done that way.

Your comment about 3rd Omni Past is being a bit old and common, which was also why I was playing with the idea of doing it in Present to stand out, but as everyone has said here and elsewhere, it needs to be done correctly.

There are still things to think over and work out, but I am definitely going to present some samples for critique and work from there. 

Thank you everyone for your invaluable insights.

Offline bonitakale

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2015, 12:22:59 PM »


As far as the tense goes, what I run into right away is the use of past instead of past perfect. I would introduce past actions in past perfect before moving over to regular past.

He has been a detective for fifteen years, since capturing ....

If the book were in past tense, you would introduce flashbacks in past perfect (He had been a detective...).

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Offline ThomasC

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2015, 12:41:12 PM »

As far as the tense goes, what I run into right away is the use of past instead of past perfect. I would introduce past actions in past perfect before moving over to regular past.

He has been a detective for fifteen years, since capturing ....

If the book were in past tense, you would introduce flashbacks in past perfect (He had been a detective...).



Thank you, that definitely makes sense because of past perfect describing what happened prior to the event you're describing in the immediacy. The only thing I would have to be really aware of is to not fall into passive voice, which has always been an issue for me.

Offline RamblingRose

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2015, 12:46:31 PM »
The other option is to have different chapters from a different character's POV, rather than the traditional 'disembodied' omnipresent narrator. Then you can get close to more than one character. Perhaps this is what you meant and I misinterpreted. I think having multiple POVs is perfectly possible as long as they are clearly separated (new chapter or section rather than jumping heads mid-scene).

Offline ThomasC

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Re: Third Person Omni Present Tense
« Reply #11 on: October 16, 2015, 01:05:25 PM »
The other option is to have different chapters from a different character's POV, rather than the traditional 'disembodied' omnipresent narrator. Then you can get close to more than one character. Perhaps this is what you meant and I misinterpreted. I think having multiple POVs is perfectly possible as long as they are clearly separated (new chapter or section rather than jumping heads mid-scene).

Yes, that's essentially how it goes. For example, Chapter 2 follows the point of view of the two detectives arriving at the scene, and performing the initial investigation of the first murder.  Chapter 3 introduces the reporter and shows his POV, providing some background to the character, in the middle of that chapter, there is a section break and it moves to show the POV of the antagonist before he heads back out to do whatever he has planned. Chapter 4 is back to the detectives giving a summary to the reader about where they stand. Then a section break and back to the reporter... etc. 

It's definitely a linear story and takes a page from how the Star Wars Extended Universe books show multiple POVs during the same period of time, but still focuses on one POV in the scene. For example, when the reporter is interacting with the detectives or other characters it will primarily be from his POV and what he hears, sees, thinks and says.  When the detectives are sans reporter, it will be from their POV. Same with the antagonist, except when the protagonist and antagonist are together towards the end, where it falls back solely on the reporter.  Essentially there are 3 POVs total, but eventually the reporter's POV will take over as it moves through the middle and towards the end.