Archive for March, 2012

Present Tense

March 25th, 2012 No comments

Today’s the shortest day of the year.
That’s supposed to be the Winter Solstice’s slogan, I know, but that only counts the daylight hours. The clocks went forwards; today’s the shortest day; someone got short-changed on their birthday again (but not as much as the February 29th kids).
All in all, calendars are very complicated. Since the year isn’t an exact number of days, it seems just that bit wrong to me that we celebrate our birthdays on the same calendar day. Depending on the time of day you were born, the calendar day which includes that time’s anniversary ought to change from year to year, depending on whether or not it’s a leap year. (And being me, I worked out when my hour of birth fell and therefore what days I should actually be celebrating as my birthday. Turns out I’m one of the ~25% for whom it’s always the same day).
The clocks always go forwards on a Sunday, very early, presumably because – for most people, anyway – it’s the weekend. I wonder how the Sunday-based religion feels about that… of all the hours to remove from the week, it has to fall on the holy day. Supposed holy day.
At least the clocks going forward is vaguely predictable: last Sunday of March, I think, is the rule. I don’t know how they calculate Easter or Mother’s Day.
It all feels rather orderly and yet rather chaotic at the same time.

I’ve been reading.
I made a new year’s resolution. I made two, actually, but this is the one which I’m fulfilling. I set myself a target of 50 pages a day, in the hopes of cutting through my to-read pile at a rate of about a novel a week.
Since Black Library Live!, three weeks ago, when I bought Void Stalker, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Bloodsworn, and Gotrek & Felix: The Anthology, I’ve read all of the above – plus Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song For Arbonne and Andrew J Robinson’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch In Time. And five of the seven eShorts produced for Black Library’s 15 for 15 celebration (celebrating it’s 15th birthday. Happy Birthday, BL!).
I also played through Christian Dunn’s gamebook Hive of the Dead and listened to two new audio adventures, Eye of Vengeance and The Butcher’s Nails.
That’s at least 2400 pages in 23 days. I’m over quota. I like this a lot.

I wonder if I should review those books in more detail. It’s not something I’ve seriously turned my attention to. Do you (yes, you, my sole reader) think I should? Don’t answer out of desire for company, say what you think.

As a collection, though, I wonder about time, and storytelling.
The above list includes: three Horus Heresy tales. Six Warhammer 40,000 tales, set ten thousand years later. A series of fantasy stories set across twenty years. Two books from other universes.
Most of them are written in past tense. Know No Fear is written entirely in present tense. A Song for Arbonne includes some present tense but is mostly past tense. A Stitch in Time is set in five different periods of the narrator’s life, and bounces between these from chapter to chapter – or even mid-chapter, feeling no compulsion to stay linear. Void Stalker involves prophecy. Hive of the Dead features multiple choice.
We see past tense used most often in storytelling because that’s how storytelling works: there’s a spoiler built in to all novels that it’s going to last until the last page, give or take the acknowledgements. Even my eBooks, lacking that tactical comfort of thickness, tell me how many pages are left in the current chapter. The narrator lives until the end of the story.
Present tense gives the story immediacy, but cannot afford to slow the pace. Abnett uses the ‘mark of Calth’ system very well, in that regard. I think the analytical nature of Roboute Guilliman, and whoever his historian is, also work well in present tense. A researcher tends to express their studies and conclusions in present tense – ‘Our results show’ rather than ‘Our results showed’. The latter implies the knowledge has been superceded already.
I’m reminded of the quotation from Alice in Wonderland, regarding narration: ‘Start at the beginning, and continue until you get to the end, and then stop.’ It’s simple, but hardly the only way. We are, after all, born into our lives in the middle of the story; the universe already exists around us, and will exist after we’re gone. Hindsight isn’t linear; journeys are parallel. Which isn’t to say the simple way can’t be the most interesting. It depends on the story.

It was my birthday last week. Not a lot happened. I didn’t celebrate it, especially. I’m trying to pick something to spend gift moneys on, if for no other reason than I like getting parcels in the post.
I’ve got a desire to start writing a novel, last chapter first. Not necessarily all in reverse-chronological order, but my intentions for the story seem to make the last chapter most memorable. I hope I do the ideas justice.

If you were wondering what the other resolution was, it was to write 500 words a day. I’ve done almost twice that just writing this, but that’s incidental. It wasn’t even really a plan to try and blog more often.
That would imply some kind of discipline, or regular order, which not even time respects.
And Chaos, after all, is more interesting than Order. The villains get the best songs.

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