Viewpoint or tense issues? Don’t sweat it.

I’m currently reading a “best-seller” that I’d heard a lot about last year.  I downloaded it at some point and have finally gotten around to reading it.  And the lesson I’m learning from this book is that you can engage in all sorts of randomness when it comes to viewpoint/tense and still have a critically acclaimed, best-selling novel.

The book started off with an omniscient narrator and in past tense.  Not exactly my style, but it was well done, so I shrugged and went with it.  At that point I thought the author had “control of his craft,” so to speak. 

Until I reached a chapter where it suddenly shifted to present tense for no apparent reason.  If it were the last chapter of the book, I could understand it.  Like the author was catching us up and now the last chapter was “present day.”  But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here.

(I just pulled up the e-file on my computer and found that I’m going to be bounced back and forth between past tense and present tense for the rest of the book.  Oh goodie.)

So, I went from thinking this was an author with strong control of their writing who chose to take a bit of a risk, to thinking that this is an author who is damned lucky that they know how to tell a good story.

I bought the book for its premise and I’m sure that’s what happened with others.  And the author’s insight into human nature is solid, so that I find myself smiling at some offhanded description or nodding along when I see certain situations.

I can see why most readers would enjoy the story.  I can even bet, not having finished the book yet, that it’s one of those books that gets redeemed by its ending chapters.  (All is forgiven if the ending is strong enough.)

And I really think the average reader wouldn’t notice the shifts since, thankfully, they seem to occur at the chapter level.  A reader might think something was slightly different, but they wouldn’t know what and would probably shrug and keep reading.

So, I’m not posting this to slam the author.  The author’s book was quite successful and good on them.  They’re probably a millionaire now because of this one book.

The reason I wanted to make this post is that I’ve seen new writers get stuck in this edit/revision loop.  You see it all the time on the writing forums — people talking about how they’ve been writing the same novel for ten years and have re-written their first chapter twenty times to get it perfect.

Well, stop.

If you crave perfection and can’t stand the thought of anyone else seeing your prose until it’s absolutely perfect, then fine, do it.  But if you want to get published and want your stories out there, then write it, review it a few times, and submit it somewhere.  And in the meantime, write something new, revise it a few times, submit it somewhere, while it’s out write something else, revise it a few times,…

You get the point.

Write it and get it out there.  Perfection is over-rated (and clearly not necessary…)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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