Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Mutinous Crew: Chapter 6

I found writing this post really helped me contemplate and understand Chapter Six. Each chapter, I skip ahead to the exercise to get a sense of what the chapter will teach me and focus on those items. Chapter Six was the first chapter I've run into where that strategy was not helpful.  The opinion piece, more a cautionary tale about passive voice -- made me believe I was still going over familiar ground. After all, I knew what past and present tense meant and it was just a matter of using one or the other. So much for that.

I appreciate the fact that Le Guin pointed out that both present and past tense are fictive -- the moment we are reading the story is the only real 'present'. As much as I'd like to adopt the terms "inclusive narrative tense" and "focused narrative tense", it will confuse Scribophilians, and I'll wind up explaining myself repeatedly, even, as I write this article, the terms grow on me with just a few examples:

Inclusive Narrative Tense (Past Tense)
I went to Harbor's Grocery and bought a box of Captain Kabooms. Halfway home, I realized I had forgotten the milk. When I returned, the police had arrived and would not let me back in because there was a robbery.

Focused Narrative Tense (Present Tense)
I go to the Harbor's Grocery and buy a box of Captain Kabooms, then go back when I'm halfway home and realize I forgot the milk. I go back, but the police are there, surrounding the building. Someone was trying to rob the grocery.

Is one more immediate? I can't tell. Perhaps the example is so basic that the nuance is lost. But, when I wrote the examples, I wrote the focus narrative tense example first. It was choppy, and each sentence started with I. Finally, If I'm entirely faithful to the tense, explaining the robbery, which took place between the time our linear narration goes from the grocery store and back, feels tacked on. I could probably edit this to be a better example, and much of my difficulty may come from my inexperience using the focused narrative tense.

Lynne Sharon Schwartz wrote a paper called Remembrance of Tense Past, which Le Guin referenced in Steering the Craft. I looked it up and will give it a read. Maybe I'll put up a separate post. A quick look at the first page indicates I'll be in for eighteen pages of glorious prose, that somehow mixes miniskirts with verb tense. I'm about to be schooled again.

And maybe that's what both Le Guin and Schwartz are trying to say: That one cannot be so glorious in the focused tense. Yes, I can switch from present to past to perfect past to future, the exercise from Steering the Craft (which I will get to, I promise) shows me that, but perhaps I cannot do so with the same ease and grace as I can using the inclusive narrative tense.

The prompt was an old woman, engaged in a mundane task in the present, contemplates an earlier event in her life. You pick point of view, and tense, with alternatives being to switch tense between the 'now' of the narration and the 'then'. Naturally, I wanted to try using inclusive narrative tense for the 'now' and focused narrative tense for the 'then' because it sounded hard. It was, actually, and I'm not sure that I succeeded. Putting 'then' in focused narrative tense really did help with that immediacy, though, and it helped that the moment in the past was a moment that could be narrated linearly, especially using first person.

I actually did this exercise twice, as I wasn't happy with the first attempt. In retrospect, it wasn't that bad, but it was refreshing to break out of writing Star Trek material. I break the rules with Trek enough, but even when the rules are broken, there's an almost gravitational pull toward certain tropes and conventions. Fans would argue which ones, of course, but Trek never much went into what normal life was like -- it's just not a large part of the genre. So it was nice to go somewhere else for a while, even if that somewhere else was an underground bunker filled with hard choices.

No comments:

Post a Comment