Whose Skin Am I In

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A picture with a person extending two hands, palms upward. From upsplash.com.

I love first person present tense. For me it’s the most demanding of any point of view and tense, because it requires the utmost discipline and agility to work effectively.

There are plenty of utilitarian examples of first person present tense. The one which springs readily to my mind is The Hunger Games. It was first person present tense in name only. In reality it was first person past, or, third person past, simply in the way that it handled action, emotions, and description. This is not a bad thing. Collins was writing for a young adult audience, and the choices she made in her use of first person present tense were appropriate and helped her appeal to more readers. But it is a good example of utilitarian first person present — that is, a first person present which acts a first person past, or third person of any tense.

The rules of first person present are vastly different from those of first person past, or third person, and even second person. You don’t stop and describe the main character’s house, for instance, especially if that house is not new to them. You never stop to describe your own house. Why would your main character? Why would your main character stop to describe anything that wasn’t important, or cursory? And if they did describe something, would they really pause and go “gosh she is so pretty, with her blonde hair and legs that go on forever”? Probably not.

Location, Location, Location

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(Image courtesy of kpgolfpro on Pixabay.)

Yesterday, I spoke excitedly with a work friend about a short story I’m working on. It’s a story which I’ve had to rewrite completely, because the first draft was entirely abysmal — even beyond the point of rescue.

The current draft of the story takes place in Florence. I was explaining this to my work friend, who astutely asked me: “Why Florence?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just like it.”

Later, I was reflecting on the first draft, comparing it to the current draft, and I realized one of the major reasons the first draft didn’t succeed was the setting. The first draft was set in a small mountain ski town during off season, where the events of the story would not have been logically possible. Oh, technically they were possible, but it’s a stretch to imagine it. But in Florence, the magic and beauty of the city adds a grandeur and sense of heightened reality. Anything is possible in this magnificent city. The action of the story thus makes much more sense. Anything can — and does — happen.

This just served as a reminder to me about the importance of setting. I often work with interior and intimate domestic settings, so sometimes I forget the importance of that, and what the setting does within the story. It can make such a dramatic difference that the setting can literally determine if a story works, or doesn’t.

I’ve since finished that current draft of the story, and I’ll be revising it over the next week or so. But it’s already taught me a lot, and I look forward to seeing what the revisions teach me.