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Author Topic: first person, present tense dialogue?  (Read 10361 times)
morethanjustokay
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« on: January 05, 2008, 04:01:00 PM »

I am writing my novel in first person, present tense. So, basically the bulk of the first couple of chapters of my novel are the current thoughts my character has as she prepares for the events of the story. But, now, my character is beginning to meet more people. She is in a place where more than one person will be talking to her, and I'm not quite sure how to write the dialogue without confusing people. I want the person reading my story to find out things at the same time as my main character. So, it would sound weird if I had to keep saying, "Paul now says, 'xyz' and Christy says, 'abc'"

Anyone have ideas?


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Someday
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« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2008, 05:37:19 PM »

It wouldn't be weird. I have a few suggestions to make it less weird, though:

1) Read novels that are written in present tense. There are some pretty good kid novels out there that are written in present tense, like Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko and others. Go check them out, and see what the author does to make her present tense less awkward.

2) If you aren't sure about something, write it in past tense first, then convert to present tense.
For example:

"You stole my hot dog," Jenny said.
"I did not," I exclaimed, wiping my forehead of sweat.

It would convert to something like this:

"You stole my hot dog," Jenny says.
"I did not," I exclaim, wiping my forehead of sweat.

3) Last tip: It might sound less awkward if you say the "says" after the dialogue a bit or mix the "says" in a bit more:

She says, "You did it."
"I didn't," I retort.
"I bet you did," she says. Angrily, almost. "I can see it in your face."

Then the past tense conversion thing would work here too:

She said, "You did it."
"I didn't," I retorted.
"I bet you did," she said. Angrily, almost. "I can see it in your face."

Good luck! And if you have any questions about what I said, feel free to message me or email me or anything. :] I'd be glad to help.
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ThornesQuest
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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2008, 12:56:11 AM »

I write pretty well exclusively in the present tense, and the current novel that I'm working on is also in the first person.  My rule is to use the same conventions for reporting speech as one does with 3rd person, past tense.  Except, of course, it'll be "says" instead of "said" and so on.

One of the things I've noticed is that it can be difficult to report the narrator's own speech and her inner thoughts.  For example:
“I don’t know anything about a hnefa-mage,” I say into his chest.  “But, yes, I know what an eek-lips is.”  I think he has pronounced the word incorrectly, but I can’t trouble myself about that just now.  “I also know that the onma knows what it is, that it is only the moon coming between us and the sun.  So, why did she cry out?  Why did she faint away like that?”

I realized as I was re-reading this that it's a bit difficult to keep track of. "I think he has pronounced the word incorrectly, but I can’t trouble myself about that just now." is not spoken aloud; the narrator just thinks it.

My other observation is that sometimes first person and present tense can sound whiney.  Like the worst sort of journaling, or like a woman complaining to her hairdresser.

I'm committed to first person, present tense for this novel, but for the next one I'm planning to go back to third person: I like it better.  However, I'm sold on present tense: I believe that it give the story-telling immediacy.
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morethanjustokay
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2008, 06:00:21 AM »

Thanks, Someday and TQ for your suggestions. Here is the first point of my story where the dialogue gets a little tricky. If I leave it like this, is it confusing? The main character is Siyanda, so she is the one talking/thinking in first person.

=======

"I swear, there are never any good parking places left by the time I get to this shopping center. The employees have to park in the back, and there really are not that many spaces left by the time I arrive. I do not even work a late schedule – eight to five – these are normal hours if you ask me. Oh well, I can always use a little exercise anyway, so the extra steps I take will only do me good. Oh, good, here's Stacy and Ron.

   “Good Morning, Stacy.”
   “Good Morning, Siyanda!”
   “Good Morning, Ron, are we all set up in Invitations?”
   “Hey Siyanda, yes ma'am, the computers are all up and the printers are ready to roll. We just
    received a paper shipment last night.”
   “Wonderful. I've got Mrs. Simms' invitation order due tomorrow, I'm going to get right on that       
   as soon as I check my messages.”
   “Alright Si. That sounds great, I'll take care of the customers until Jayne gets in at ten.”
   “Thanks Ron, you are the best!”
   “And don't you forget it!”

=====

comments/suggestions are welcomed.
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Rinelle
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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2008, 09:19:36 AM »

Definately a little confusing.  Even in first person, you still need to tell the reader who is talking.  This doesn't have to be as obvious as 'Stacy says', but could be something like,

"Good morning, Stacey," I called out.
"Good morning, Siyanda."  Stacey waved at me from across the carpark.

Etc etc.
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ThornesQuest
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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2008, 01:55:36 PM »

Yes, I agree with Rinelle.  It's pretty hard to tell who is speaking if you don't have either speech tags (I say, he says) or else accompanying description (such as Rinelle's suggestion of Stacey waved at me.)  That's especially true if you've got more than two people in the conversation.

Another way to identify who is speaking is to give each person a distinctive "voice".  Does one person have an accent?  Does another consistently mumble or use poor grammar or Val-talk?  Does one hold forth at length with long speeches while another can barely string two words together?  Does another have some mannerism such as flicking his hair out of his eyes or constantly sipping her coffee?  These kind of things not only help the reader to identify the speaker but also help you to develop each character's personality.

Finally, I wanted to suggest that you don't have to detail everything said by everyone.  If three people are encountering each other, as you have, three "good mornings" in a row aren't really necessary.  Instead you might report that without using dialogue (Stacy, Ron and I exchange our usual cheery good mornings) or tweak it a bit to make it memorable/amusing, such as:
"Good morning!"
Ron laughs.  "Quadriphonic good mornings as usual!"
"Except that there are only three of us," I point out pedantically.  Sometimes Ron's incessant kidding around gets to me, especially this early.
"Say, that's right."  Ron, unsquelchable as ever, waggles his eye brows at Stacy.  "You know, boss, I've been meaning to talk to you about bringing an extra person on for opening."
Stacy chuckles with him.  "Yeah, yeah; put it in the Suggestion Box.  Are we set up in Invitations yet?"


« Last Edit: January 06, 2008, 01:59:04 PM by ThornesQuest » Logged

GeorgeEliot
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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2008, 12:14:29 AM »

I'm writing first person, present tense and there's something I'm not sure how to do. What do you all think about a first person, present tense novel coming from multiple characters' points of view? There is one main character, but to keep track of all the subplots I'm going to need to tell the story from other characters' POV, too. Having it all be in first person, even if the character speaking was specified at the start of the chapter, might get too confusing, so I think I might tell the secondary characters' parts in third person.

Might it work, or would that still be confusing?


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"When writing a novel, that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.'"
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ThornesQuest
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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2008, 12:25:02 AM »

I'm writing first person, present tense and there's something I'm not sure how to do. What do you all think about a first person, present tense novel coming from multiple characters' points of view? ... Might it work, or would that still be confusing?

Oooh, GE, that's really out there!  It might be confusing, but if you are always careful to identify whose pov you are in, maybe it wouldn't be TOO confusing.  The strength of first person narration is that the reader really feels they are IN the narrator's mind, with full access to the narrator's thoughts and feelings.  I wonder if that will still hold true with several narrators, or whether that effect will be diminished?  I'd like to hear more as the month goes by, about whether you think it is working.

If what you really want to do is to narrate from your MC's pov but for the reader to have access to others' povs as well, there are other strategies you can use.  Your MC could read letters or journals from other characters.  Other characters could tell the MC stories.  Or -- do you write fantasy? -- your MC could have dreams or visions which put him/her into the mind of others.

Good luck with this!  Smiley
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tiakall
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« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2008, 12:50:13 AM »

I'm writing first person, present tense and there's something I'm not sure how to do. What do you all think about a first person, present tense novel coming from multiple characters' points of view? ... Might it work, or would that still be confusing?

If you ever read the Animorph books from ages ago, the Megamorph special books were done in such a format.  Each chapter was from a different character's point of view (the character was named at the beginning of each chapter to kill the confusion.)
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2008, 02:18:48 AM »

I think it can work if the characters have very strong and very different voices.  I read a book once called The One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding which is narrarted by two different characters in alternating chapters, both in first person.  One is a white Ivy League college student from a blueblood family; the other is a 14-year-old African-American prostitute.  A few words into a chapter, you knew who was narrating it!
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morethanjustokay
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2008, 02:49:30 AM »

Thanks, everyone for your help, I feel a lot better about this issue! You all are the best! azn
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