Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Writing in the Past

Dangerous Liaisons is unique because nothing happens in real time in the book.  The whole book is written in a series of letters (which Alex will talk more about on Thursday), and as the reader, you only see things as people tell other people about them.

So why does this make any sort of difference?  Well, for one, it gives you some crazy unreliable narrators.  When you are writing letters, it's usually at least a few hours after the event your writing about happened.  So you've had time to reflect on it and write it down in the best light.

You also get a unique point of view.  You hear about Valmont's conquests when he's writing to the Marquise de Merteuil.  He boasts about them, often claims "victory" before he has accomplished it. And when he does, he talks about it in a very detached way.  Whereas Mme Tourvel, his conquest, talks about love and doing nothing but making him happy.  You get two totally different points of view.

You also get a much clearer timeline in books that involve letters.  Each is dated, so it's not hard to see that the book takes places over quite a number of months (August to November, I think.)  There are a lot of books that don't have that distinct of a timeline.

So what's different about writing in the past, as opposed to writing in the past tense?  Past tense is what most people write in.  You can still get a lot of action, a lot of surprise and suspense, despite the tense.  Often you're sitting on the edge of your seat in scenes like the first Quidditch cup that Harry Potter won (written in past tense.)

However, writing in the past, you have to write like you're the person, as if you yourself were sitting down and writing a letter as that character.  It's a different voice for each letter, a different style and you have to think about how that person is going to write to the different people they write to.  For instance, Valmont writes very differently to Merteuil than he would to Tourvel.

The biggest difference is that the rising action is very different.  The climax rises over a steady period.  It's a long and low kind of action.  If you're writing just a sequence of events, it's quicker.  Your falling action is much faster when you write in tense.  Letters everything is evenly paced, all around, which I think is interesting.  It might be a good way to teach you pacing in your writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment