first present, and looking back

Jo Zebedee

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Okay, this is irking me. I'm writing first present (not cos I wanted to, but it's what the story's liking, so there we go...) and I have this at the end of chapter one:

'I leave, but when I reach the path beneath I stare up. He’s not watching the camp anymore, but me, and I know that he’s disappointed in me. That, for some reason, he believes my answer was wrong. I’m sorry I disappointed him but I don’t stop to tell him that. He’s wrong, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like him. I step away, intending to keep my mouth shut. Will trusted me; I won’t blag on him. But I don’t ask him to tell me anything more. Maybe it would have changed things if I had.'

That last sentence. Is that okay in first present. Obviously it indicates that the story is actually being told in retrospect. Is that a breach of every writing rule or okay? Thoughts.

(I don't need a rewrite of it, thanks. If it feels wrong to many people, I can sort it out.)
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I think it will confuse readers. And isn't the point of writing in first present a sense of immediacy, an impression that the story is not being told in retrospect? That sentence anticipates the future, it tells us that there will be a time when unfortunate things will occur because the POV character didn't ask to hear more. But in first present, it's a breach of POV, because how could the narrator know that at this point in the story? I think you are trying to have it both ways, and for me it doesn't work at all.
 

HareBrain

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I don't mind using present tense to tell a story that's already taken place. It's done quite often in real life (I call it "pub anecdote" first-present), and to be honest I'd find it quite refreshing in fiction, because a lot of first-present stuff reads just like converted past-tense anyway (rather than the kind of stream-of-consciousness that would genuinely carry more immediacy). But I think you'd need to make it clear from the outset that this is what you're doing.
 

CTRandall

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I agree with AlexH. The past tense in "Will trusted me..." followed by present in "But I don't ask him..." throws me more than the subjunctive at the end (is that the subjunctive? I'm guessing there.).

If the sense of retrospective is made clear elsewhere in the writing, I'd be fine with it. I like that kind of thing, as well. But if we've read 150 pages of present tense and this is the first sign of retrospective, then it'd be a problem. (You're a good enough author, I'm sure you haven't done that.)
 

Jo Zebedee

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I’ll clear up the Will trusted me as I muse on the other comments - Will has just told Harry a secret, one that could be dangerous. So that statement is a past tense for what just happened :)
 

Cathbad

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Don't we reminisce in the present? I see nothing wrong hrere (though agree the "will trust" thing might help).

I don't think I've don't think it's possible to currently reminisce in the past tense. :p
 

Phyrebrat

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I'm not the best at this kind of stuff but I wanted to say I didn't have a problem with it, nor the Will bit. As you say, Harry's reporting in present something that has already happened. However the final line makes me feel a bit like it needs something - maybe it would change things if I had (?) rather than would have. But I'm probably wrong and missing some context.

pH
 

Ursa major

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A question. Does the reader already know by this point that the tale is being told in retrospect, not in real time?

If they don't know, they may wonder if you've lost control of your tenses (or your strict present point of view) in error. That's a bit of a risk, particularly if it's just so you can hint that the story is being told in retrospect rather than being up front about it.

If the reader does know, why not replace that regret with something more apporpriate to the context of the rest of the paragraph? Like the PoV character showing that they're not convinced that they've made the right decision, but the moment has passed and there's no going back. Or perhaps have them force themselves to believe that they have taken the right choice, but done in a way that makes them as if they're trying to hide their doubts from themselves. That way, you may be able to give the reader a sense of foreboding, one that they might believe they have discovered for themselves rather than you pointing it out.
 

Ursa major

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It isn't really a cliffhanger** (i.e. an immediate danger from which there appears to be no easy escape), though, is it? It may be suggesting a future regret, one that, for good or ill, underlies your PoV character's future actions.


** - Other than that it may leave the reader hanging with regard the presence, or otherwise, of what may turn out to be a cliff at some time in the future.... ;)
 

Jo Zebedee

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It is a little bit of a hint things are about to go wrong though.

I’m still musing.

Essentially I agree with @Teresa Edgerton that this is not the way to do things. Which is why I posted it.

But I also agree with @HareBrain that doing things this way puts a different emphasis on the story.

I don’t think I’m using first present for immediacy, as it happens, but for character closeness. But I am now leaning towards there being a reason for the past element - and wondering if there is a ‘frame’* element to the story. That moves me on considerably in terms of my planning and makes a lot of sense.

If the frame does come into being then this is okay, I think - it is the frame speaking. If it doesn’t, then this is wrong and needs to go.

Onwards I think then and see what transpires.

*frame stories are stories set within a different narrative with both supporting the reader’s understanding of the overall story (like The Princess Bride)
 

zmunkz

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If we’re being technical, I believe it is a POV break. It’s a shift into a first person retrospective narrator, away from the first person immediate of the rest of the paragraph. If you do that from time to time I don’t think it’s a problem, but if this is the one and only place you do that, it is a little jarring. How does this person know what’s going to happen?

You could make it to speculative to get across the same point: “I suspect I’ll regret not asking for more.”
 

tinkerdan

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I've done this in my work-which is first present and third present mixed. Of course I've done a lot of things that are considered wrong so I'm not a good example.

Since this is the end of chapter one.

What I would do is give the last line it's own paragraph and perhaps an extra space between to stamp it outside the rest.

This way you are making it clear that you are doing something[whether they will know that it is deliberately dropping out of POV or make them think you lost the POV is another matter]and in the process you may be setting the reader up for a realization that this not really being told as it happens.

In my work it was wedged into the middle of a scene in a coffee shop where the main character orders black coffee and the wait-person makes gives a sour expressions.
The lines go like this:
"What do you like in your coffee? Sugar? Cream?

"Black." I don't think about it, I just blurt it out.

Angel makes a face, and I'll only understand this a bit later.

:: however I suppose one could argue that this is ratiocination on the part of the narrator and I chose to leave it in.

Perhaps you could end with something like.
--------------------------------------------------------------
I wonder if it would alter what's about to happen.
or
I wonder if it would alter the consequences.
--------------------------------------------------------------
Just a thought
 

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