A Tense Situation

As I mentioned earlier, having now finished the first draft of my short story Call of the Lion (watch out on the BL site for news of when this will be published), I am turning my attention to the forthcoming rewrites of Malekith. Yesterday was a relaxed one after a late night/ early morning watching Wrestlemania (of which a more in my next entry!), spent listening to some soothing classical and reading through the current Malekith draft. What I found a little different to my usual editing sessions was that I placed a greater rigour on the narrative styles and devices I was using. This was down to my earlier post and Matt Keefe’s comments (as well as some emails exchanged between us on the subject). If nothing else, by airing my thoughts and concerns it has helped me to take a fresh look at what I had written with some particular points to keep in mind. Although none of our discussion revolved around the specific text, the thoughts and theories still prove useful and so have proven more worthwhile than simple intellectual* discussion. As in all things, a writer should think about what one writes and never stop learning. This confirms one of those other writing commandments: get good feedback. 

Anyway, within the comments in response to Matt’s latest outpouring the subject of narrative tense has arrived. I don’t plan on giving exhaustive pointers on using tense, and how to do it. If you want to know more about the technical side, get your English teachers to earn their wages and explain it to you, or get a book on grammar, or use one of the many fine websites on the interweb. Since I missed the opportunity on the first one, I now regularly resort to the second and third options.

[As a lengthy but hopefully excusable aside, in response to these comments, I should point out that I re-sat my English Literature GCSE once and my English Language GCSE twice – my first English Lang resit was worst than the first! I learnt more about writing in my first three months at GW than I did in my years at school. Cynical critics may claim that it still shows… To that I would say I ended up with an A in English Lang and a B in English Lit, so na-na-na.]

Back to Malekith and tense. Though a fantasy story it is one that occurs in Warhammer history and thus in the context of the universe it has already happened a long time ago. For this reason, I have taken the approach of a narrator relating the events of Malekith’s life and setting the context for his actions from some unknown time in the future, beyond the end of the events described and thus knowing their outcome.                                                    

For me this seems the only reasonable approach. To follow one of Matt’s examples, it seems odd that a writer would choose to write the story of Julius Caesar in a manner that would suggest that the final outcome of the story is not yet known. That many readers will already be aware of the broad events covered is plain and so the excitement comes not from immense history-changing twists but in seeing the story behind the history.

The other necessity of tense brought about by the ‘historical’ approach is that of the passage of time. By acknowledging the existence of the narrator one can pass on the knowledge to the reader that this story only deals with the relevant bits, and can do so in a way that works with the overall flow of the narrative. In Grudge Bearer, which I did not treat in this historical sense, I deliberately avoided this by having time pass by between chapters, a device that some like and some don’t. In my defence it was not done out of laziness but as a means of conveying to the reader that the passage of ten or fifteen years is irrelevant to a dwarf and seemingly devoid of interest to report.

Malekith cannot use such trickery, as not only does the central character have a profound effect upon the world around him, the march of centuries has an equally profound effect upon him; both of which deserve to be noted for the reader’s benefit. One cannot understand the character without understanding these effects, and to do otherwise than to relate these in the manner of the story would be artificial and possibly horrendous exposition. So it is that my current read-through of the manuscript is geared towards the way the narrative style progresses from grand events to the more personal, and in the maintenance of a good narrative voice that links the two together in a flowing whole.

Okay, so that wasn’t really about tense, I suppose.


*In the ironic nature of typos, I originally misspelt intellectual… J

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Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 9:31 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “…my first English Lang resit was worst than the first!”

    I hope that typo is intentional, Thorpey…


  2. ‘Call of the Lion’ – sounds delicious!
    It is for ‘Space Marine Heroes’ book, I presume?


  3. In all all honesty I’m not 100% sure what it is for. My next short story is for ‘Heroes of the Space Marines’, so this one definitely isn’t.



  4. The more the better! =)


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