Tales from Sark’s World: Past & Present Tense

When I got serious about writing, I started with scripts. I started with TV scripts, then went to feature film, and eventually ended up writing comic book scripts for my Infinatum characters. One of the first things I was told was that format was very important. If the format wasn’t right, or not the standard, people wouldn’t even bother reading it. With TV, there was 30 minutes, sitcom or hour-long dramas, which are like feature film, except broken up into acts. There are two kinds of ways to write comic books, plot and script.

Making sure I had those correct was pretty important to me. I’d try to write a script and if it didn’t look right, it would affect how I wrote. I’d stumble to a stop and double-check things. But once I got used to the format, I breezed through my stories.

As much as I enjoyed, and still enjoy, writing scripts for whatever medium, I knew it was going to be hard to get my favorite ideas and characters out there. Feature film scripts require money, and convincing others to like my story enough to shell out big bucks. Early on, someone told me to write smaller-scale scripts, which are easier and cheaper to develop. Well, if you’ve read the loglines for my completed scripts I posted two weeks ago, then you’ll know “Pedro’s Coffee is the only cheap one, then “Unsound” and maybe “Through the Never”. But the others would require special FX and double-digit, million dollar budgets. TV, especially in Canada, requires a lot of support from government funds. Trying to write a spec script for an existing series that may not be on by the time you get it sent to the right people is kind of a waste of time. Comic book publishers generally aren’t looking for new material, but there’s better chance of getting something published with them. In the end, I just began to realize that it might take a long time to get my ideas and stories out there.

That’s when I took a look at the “Black Wave Event”.

I originally wrote it a few years earlier, but I was never happy with it. So, I went back to it, and added a lot more stuff. Then I added a little more. Then, it was finished! I was quite happy and proud.

Then, I started to worry. Not about whether people would like it or not. I wrote for me. If others like it, cool! What worried me, was the tense.

I wrote the Black Wave Event in present tense. The majority of written work is in past tense.

Thus began my fear that I had just spent  many, many months writing something I’d either have to get sent to an editor or… someone, to undo my present tense, or redo everything myself.

But, as it turns out, writing in present tense isn’t as kooky as I original thought. Although it isn’t the norm, there have been a few successes, including: “The Time-Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffeegger, “Rabbit, Run” by John Updike, and probably most famously, “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney. 

Although, one blog I read had the following comment attributed to a person known as “Fiction Master”: “Writing fiction in the present tense is the reality television of literature- It’s an unfortunate trend that hasn’t gone away because there are people dumb enough to give it the time of day.”

Ouch.

First off, anyone with the pompous name of “Fiction Master” isn’t to be taken too seriously. He’s probably the kind of person who speaks in Olde English, walks around in Renaissance tights, and hasn’t seen a naked woman (or man, whichever his or her preference swings), in his/her life. Or, he’s read everything there is to know about writing, yet just can’t seem to finish, what he no doubt thinks is, the greatest novel ever written!

Secondly, the following comments after “Pompous Fiction Ass Master” gave me hope. I’m not the only one writing in present tense. Even an English professor commented, saying “Writing in present tense is most powerful and most entertaining.” 

But I think the most important part one has to remember when writing anything they have created, is that there really isn’t a wrong way to write. There are some conventions one might have to adhere to if one intends to get published. But being in the 21st century, with e-publishing, self-publishing, social media, and an internet full of places to post your creations, writing however you want  and  showing it off to anyone who stumbles across it has never been easier. Some may think that true written art is reserved for the most learned or elite.

Well, screw them!

Writing is a form of expression. Whether it be about your kitty named Mittens, traveling across distant galaxies on a toaster oven, the hardship someone has faced in their lives, or retelling the horrors seen in a Third World country. Writing them in past or present tense doesn’t make them any less valid! If “Pompous Fiction Ass Master” pulled his head out of his ass long enough, he’d know that.

Having said all that, everything I’ve heard about writing in present tense indicates it is a difficult way to write, unless you already have a knack for it. I suspect my knack for writing in present tense stems from my writing in scripts.

I think I’ll write the way I want to write. But, I’ll also work on writing in the past tense as well. Expanding one’s knowledge and skill is always a good thing.

The important thing is to always, always, keep writing!

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