Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tense? Yeah, just a bit.



My name is Debs Riccio and I have a problem with the past and the future.  

I’m stuck in the present, which is a good place to be according to counsellors and psychiatrists, but NOT writers.

I can’t seem to move on no matter how I word it. 

I can set a whole sentence, paragraph, chapter in the past but I have a struggle getting it to move onto the present without feeling like I’ve cheated potential readers out of the bit ‘in between’ – you know, the parts where, okay, so nothing MUCH happens, but life has gone on enough for it to arrive at this NOW point. 

 You see the thing is Nothing happens all the time, does it?  But what if I’ve missed out pertinent parts like the arrival or departure of something, someone, somewhere and my Dear Reader is feeling like I’ve swindled them and misinformed them with smoke, mirrors, sleight of  key; they’ll think me a fraud.  Oh god… hand me a tissue*. Thanks.

too tense (and a horse)

It wasn’t always like this I’m sure.  I think I’ve written a whole book where the past moves on to become the future and the present becomes the past and we all live happily ever after, but I think that was a fluke.  I might have been drunk.  I certainly didn’t get an agent out of it that’s for sure.  I think it might even have had chapter headings like ‘October 1986’ which, come to think of it, is cheating, isn’t it?  (Adrian and Bridget excluded of course because they were just brilliant and nobody can write a diary like those guys).

Oh how I envy and hate the able writer who can take a reader seamlessly through a childhood, skip gaily through a coming-of-age-experience and end up turning death into myriad of exciting possibilities.  

Yes, thanks, this *one’s a bit wet.

I mean is this why War and Peace is so long – because the author wasn’t sure how to skip the boring bits and included every trip to the loo and cup of coffee?  Sometimes I  worry about ending one chapter with the night falling (quick – duck!) and the next one beginning with the dawn of a brand new day because, surely MC would’ve dreamt? Something must’ve happened during the night? Why aren’t you telling me this?  It could be important.  MC may have had a protein-rich wee and be on a slippery slope to Diabetes – THIS would matter.  Well, wouldn’t it?
Oh god, I’ll be doing a Gillian McKeith soon and shifting through the…. Oh cheers*.

One ‘criticism’ that an agent made with my last book (the one that they had for AGES and loved – no, seriously, they did.  Just “not enough” – you know those… yep them’s the ones) was that the entire book happened over the course of 4-5 days and she found it a little far-fetched.  I remember feeling like my wrist had been slapped a bit and it still smarts if I’m honest.  Because this MC had a ghost in her house and you can’t tell me that Nothing Happens during the night when you’re living with a GHOST.  Surely?  Really?  A LOT of stuff happened at night – every night. For oh... 4-5 days. Anyway….. like I said, I have trouble moving on.  As did my ghost, actually.

I’ve read books that cover a weekend and I’ve read books that span a lifetime so maybe mine was too Ordinary.  Too photographic; a snapshot of Something Happening, but I thought that’s what stories are supposed to do?  Isn’t it?

Maybe I should have stuck with painting.  At least with a painting you don’t have to worry what happened before the picture took shape – or what’s going to happen to the central theme afterwards. 

Maybe I should write the world’s first one-word book.  I’d probably call it PRESENT (by ‘anonymous’) and let everybody make of it what they will.  They could read between lines (okay, letters) and embellish according to their beliefs and add their own back story and interpret it however they chose.

It wouldn’t be any less strange than Tracey Emin’s unmade bed, would it?

*No tissues were harmed in the production of this post.  All characters and scenes are fictitious and are the result of the writer’s ridiculously overactive imagination and desire to be published in whatever form it takes.

4 comments:

Phillipa said...

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day...
nuff said!

JO said...

Interesting - Ian McEwan got away with a book based on one day (Saturday), so it can be done (but maybe only by someone with a book deal to begin with?)

And War and Peace - I think the war bits went on and on, but the peace sections were wonderful!

Sandra Davies said...

This struck an ENORMOUS chord (are chords measured by size?) because I have been struggling for days to get through a week of small-but-important happenings, knowing that I 'have' to list day after day for impact but aware that I am probably boring my reader to tears ("yes, we KNOW Wednesday comes after Tuesday and before Thursday- grrr!") but it took me days to get all the events sorted out chronologically so I sure as hell am not going to just skip over as if I hadn't sweated it all out carefully.
Enjoyed this post a lot.

Derek said...

At the risk of saying something stupid (who, me...) is it worth finding out who those agents are with authors who write about a short time period. Maybe it's 'just' an issue of finding the right agent - an art in itself, apparently.

I too have juggled that hot potato with my WiP Scars and Stripes, but from the other angle. In a year that spans a book, some months not much happens. I find it tricky to fast forward the reader while still keeping the book immediate in tone.

You know you can write well, so it's a case of hide and seek!