Prompt: Write a story in the present tense from a limited third person perspective
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Wolf Hall: A Novel, by Hilary Mantel, is a strange, disorienting read. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but finally I realised what was keeping me off balance: the book is written in the present tense and from a limited perspective: that of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII. Everything we learn comes either from Thomas’s direct experience or from things he has heard from other people. Sometime he is reminiscing, sometimes observing in the moment, but the present tense keeps the whole experience very immediate.
Write a story in the present tense, from a limited third person perspective
In Wolf Hall it is sometimes hard to follow what is going on, because of course, the main character’s thoughts don’t pause to explain. He thinks of one person, who reminds him of another, and the reader has to trust that — at some point — it will be explained who these people are. or what that place was, and it will all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Don’t be afraid to confuse the reader, especially on your first draft. Leave out more than you put in.
Here is an excerpt from the novel to help you see how the author tells the story from Thomas Cromwell’s perspective:
Monday morning the dukes are back. Their instructions are to turn out the occupants this very day, because the king wants to send in his own builders and furnishers and get the palace ready to hand over to the Lady Anne, who needs a London house of her own.
He’s [Cromwell] prepared to stand and ague the point: have I missed something? This palace belongs to the archdiocese of York. When was Lady Ann made an archbishop?
But the tide of men flooding in by the water stairs is sweeping them away. The two dukes have made themselves scarce, and there’s nobody to argue with. What a terrible sight, someone says: Master Cromwell balked of a fight. And now the cardinal’s ready to go, but where? Over his customary scarlet, he is wearing a traveling cloak that belongs to someone else; they are confiscating his wardrobe piece by piece, so he has to grab what he can. It is autumn, and though he is a big man he feels the cold.
See? It’s a bit confusing, not always knowing who ‘he’ is, but once the reader settles into the style, it becomes enjoyable, puzzling out what Thomas Cromwell is thinking, what he is observing and what he is admitting (to himself and others). Don’t be afraid give your readers this pleasure.
- You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
- You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
- Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
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