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How To Write A Novel

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Tense? Point of View?

Sep 04, 2017
 

My writers often ask about first or third person, past or present tense and all the wonderful variations of those.

One of my favourite books of all time, and Mr Graham Greene's too, is Ford Madox Ford's 'The Good Soldier.'

The clue is most certainly in the title. 'The Good Soldier' is meant as in 'the good sort' or 'the good egg'. It's sly.

Ford Madox Ford writes as 'I' with what turns out to be knowing 'melancholy' about an event in the recent past, and the self-pity is pure cyanide.... it could not have been written in present tense, because he is an unreliable narrator.

He begins the book with formidable élan, unreliably, apparently with heartfelt poignancy. "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."

As Julian Barnes put it 'What could be more simple and declaratory, a statement of such high plangency and enormous claim that the reader assumes it must be not just an impression, or even a powerful opinion, but a "fact"? Yet it is one of the most misleading first...

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