Painting With Shotguns #54
In Defense Of The Present Tense (Part Two)
So, blah blah blah, some cranky old shrivs — the dueling Philips of Pullman and Hensher – have come out “against” the present tense, as if it’s a thing worth being against, like bear-baiting or cashmere sweaters.
My message to these two old crotchety crankmeisters: gentlemen, chill the fuck out.
“I want all the young present-tense storytellers (the old ones have won prizes and are incorrigible) to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective. I want them to feel able to say what happened, what usually happened, what sometimes happened, what had happened before something else happened, what might happen later, what actually did happen later, and so on: to use the full range of English tenses.”
Uhhh. He does realize that, in a story told in the present tense the narrative is still capable of talking about both (gasp) the past and (double-gasp) the future, right? The so-called temporal perspective is as wide as the author would like it to be regardless if the dominant mode of the text is present tense.
Then, he says:
“It’s an abdication of narrative responsibility, in my view. The storyteller, in film or novel, should take charge of the story and not feel shifty about it. Put the camera in the place from which it can see the action most clearly. Make a decision about where that place is. Put it on something steady to stop that incessant jiggling about. Say what happened, and let the reader know when it happened and what caused it and what the consequences were, and tell me where the characters were and who else was present – and while you’re at it, I’d like to know what they looked like and whether it was raining.
“But taking charge of the story is the one thing that some sensitive and artistic storytellers don’t want to do. They’ve come to feel a timorous uncertainty about the right-on-ness of something so politically dodgy as telling a story in the first place. Who are we to say this happened and then that happened? Maybe it didn’t, perhaps we’re wrong, there are other points of view, truth is always provisional, knowledge is always partial, the narrator is always unreliable, and so on.”
Oh, do shut up. While I recognize that Pullman’s reference to film specifically speaks to the use of the documentary-style “shaky-cam,” doesn’t he recognize that film is effectively a present-tense medium? It is happening as we watch it. (And screenplays are all written in the present tense, too. Are screenwriters inferior? Have they abdicated their, ahem, narrative responsibility?) If he doesn’t like the style that present tense affords (or offends), fine. So be it. But I call shenanigans on pointing to the authors themselves as if they’re weaker somehow than the author who writes in the past tense. Be advised: present tense is just as clear (and in many ways offers greater clarity) regarding what is happening.
Present tense can be plenty assertive, sir.
He’s no longer attacking the style. He’s attacking the writers.
Which, for the record, is a dick move.
Here’s the deal. Present tense is, as Chris Holm pointed out, another tool for the ol’ toolbox. Won’t always be the right tool. Sometimes might be the perfect tool.
When it’s done right, it’ll be great, and when it’s done wrong, it’ll suck.
By the way, this is true of all techniques. Present tense is neither awesome nor awful by itself: it is only made as such by the execution of authors who are gifted or garbage-fed, respectively.
(My original In Defense Of Present Tense post, if you care.)
Food Porn For Your Hot Sexy Mouth
Two quickies for your taste buds.
First, a sauce that goes on anything. I put it on cauliflower-and-cheese and it was awesome. Then I put it on my baked potato. Then on my chicken. I’d eat this shit on an asbestos shingle. I got some on my thumb and you know what? I bit that fucking thumb off. And loved every crunchy bite.
The sauce? Lemon Butter Roasted Garlic Something Or Other.
Roast a bulb of garlic. (Chop its head off, drizzle olive oil on it, wrap in foil, half an hour at 400 degrees.) Then, while that’s doing that, bisect a lemon, squeeze its citrusy life-blood into a dish. Also into the dish goes three or four TBsps of salted butter. When the garlic is done, squeeze it out (like popping a zit) into the dish. Microwave until butter melts. Stir around. Mash up the garlic real good. Now, put on shoe and eat it.
Second, you like okra? I didn’t either. Slimy, weird. Just roast it. Seriously. Take them. Clean them, but leave them whole. Throw them in a roasting pan and mix ‘em with a liberal greasing of olive oil (or any oil you like). Then, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast. Again, 30 minutes, 400 degrees.
“Vacation Hell:” Flash Fiction Reminder
Got a handful of entries already into the flash fiction contest. In case you forgot those details…
1.) Write a 1000 words or less piece of flash horror fiction set in and around vacation or travel.
2.) Get me those 1000 words by Monday, October 11th. You can email me the story at chuckwendig [at] terribleminds [dot] com. Please ensure that I know who you are and what this is for, yeah?
3.) I’d like at least 14 total entries, but if more arise, hey, no problem there. The more the merrier.
4.) I do not own the stories, so you are free to cross-post on your blogs. My preference would be that you wait until the day of posting here, however, but that’s entirely on you. Again, I don’t own the stories.
5.) I will do a contest at the end of it — people can come, vote on their favorites. This means I will post the stories as they are — word goblins, spelling goobers, and punctuation poo-poo included.
6.) Winner gets either a free roleplaying book of mine, signed if you care; a copy of Beauty Has Her Way, an anthology from Dark Quest Books that contains a story of mine, “The Moko-Jumbie Girl;” or a copy of Needle #2, the killer noir magazine with stories from the likes of Stephen Blackmoore, Julie Summerell, Frank Bill, and Chris F. Holm. (Which I didn’t write, but hey, if I can pimp great writers, I’ll pimp great writers.) For the record, Beauty Has Her Way isn’t out yet, and I don’t know the release date, but it’s all done and the cover’s out in the wild now, so I imagine it’s not on a slow boat or anything.
7.) The contest prize portion is only available to people who live in, say, the 48 “upper” states of these United States. International participants can still try out, but hey, you gotta pay the shipping. I’ll pay the shipping if you’re in America, but anywhere else, the bill’s on you nerds.
What I’m Working On
I got some projects in the ol’ pipeline. First, I have a little Werewolf: The Forsaken work under developer daimyo David Hill, a little something-something called a Chronicler’s Guide. Second, I’m doing up a Space Opera meets World of Darkness product for Eddy Webb, incorporating some of Stephen Herron’s work from World of Darkness: Mirrors. So, sci-fi WOD is knock-knock-knocking.
And you might be asking: “Hey, what about that that novel you’re working on?” Ehhh. Ehh. Well. I’ve written 60,000 words. Except. Except. The first 30,000 are for one novel, and the second 30,000 are for another novel. I know. I know! But I’m working on both. And they’re each totally different projects. So, we’ll see. Keep your grapes peeled.
And you might also be asking: “Hey, what about that book of writing advice you promised us?” Would you believe I’m working on it? In fact, Super Secret Agent Stacia Decker is in on that loop, so. Hang tight.
Film went through Draft 8.5 (just culled 6-7 pages the other day, back under 120 pages). Had a call with the producer last week, re: TV pilot, and we have a handful of options there, too.
I’ve got a short story to finish this week.
I’ve got another short story off to an editor waiting for notes back.
So, the game of inches continues. Wish me luck.
And, uhhh, as usual, if you know of work, I’ll love you forever if you tell me about it.
I’ll also pay my mortgage, which is awesome.
Matthew McBride gets apeshit with a chainsaw over at Plots With Guns.
Andrea Phillips would like to talk to you about conveying action in transmedia.
Jay Stringer wants to tell you why he wants to make love to Indiana Jones, why Last Crusade is weaker than you think, and why “Nuke The Fridge” ain’t so bad. Click on over to Matinee Idles.
A photo journey through the United States atomic bomb testing (whoa).
And that’s all she wrote, nerds.