Author’s Intent, Eternal Present

I frequently set my stories in what I call the Eternal Present, meaning the action is revealed as it happens using present tense. I first employed this technique in my sci-fi fantasy works The Longtimer Chronicles and found it to be a more natural way for me to write. Almost all my current work is written this way, except when I wish to convey the idea that a situation has passed and cannot be altered. In those cases, I employ past tense.

Some of this may come from also being a playwright. Stage direction in scripts is almost always done in present tense. I write with an eye toward converting a piece into different mediums that have different formats and methods of conveying information. Moving from the static page to the stage requires lots of pruning of exposition and description. In doing so, the challenge is to keep the message on track.

I’m fond of saying that we exist in the here and now, with just memories of the past and speculation about the future. In trying to reflect this in my writing, I find present tense gives an immediacy to the action of the narrative. I’ve more recently been experimenting with condensing the exposition into more sparse paragraphs and relying on dialogue, much like a script. Prose is a completely different medium, however, so I don’t want to entirely abandon the luxury of having paragraphs that spell out backstory that can only be hinted at in a script.

Another major challenge in my work is conveying a story across several works. Currently, elements of stories are contained in two story collections and one novel with a second novel in its later stages and a third story collection in the works. Consequently, I scatter bits and pieces of information throughout, making it helpful, though not required, to know the supporting works for the full story. In addition, some of the stories are told through different mediums. For instance, the story behind my current work in progress Worthy begins in my play Another Mother which premiered at The Essential Theatre in Atlanta in 2017. The story has taken many twists and turns since, necessitating many revisions to the script.

In addition to guiding the reader through the action as it happens, I also tend to write in a non-linear manner, mixing up events and bouncing around in the timeline. This can become confusing for those not accustomed to this style, so I try to make it clear when something is happening, though there will always be those who miss the cues. In reviews of my play, a major figure was consistently identified as an aunt when the script clearly identified her as a cousin. Having the same actor play two roles didn’t help matters, though she did an admirable job of distinguishing between the characters. The only thing writers can’t control is how audiences perceive their work.

Leave a Reply