I just stumbled across this article, that puts light on something that bothers me about me current project. It discusses how, in time, some authors in printed literature began to drift away from using third person past tense, to use third person present tense, most likely because they were inspired by the style of writing screenplays. The article then goes on to touch on how those two different ways of writing have a different impact on the way your story is perceived, and that you should choose one depending on what you wish to achieve. This is all when discussing traditional novel writing.
How does this come out when writing for the visual novel format? They are usually a mix between choose-your-own-adventure stories and comics, making them very different when approached from a writer’s angle, sometimes more than you’d think.
The script of most visual novels are written with a first person POV, putting the reader in the shoes of the protagonist. He’s seeing things happen, he makes the choice as they come up. Present tense lends itself well to this type of story, as you’re supposed to be there, experiencing all this, in a story where no one knows the ending yet. It is part of what sets visual novels apart from reading book or a comic.
In comics themselves, this issue most often does not exist, as there is no descriptive text – only dialogue. The rest is something you see happen, it’s not told.
Now what if you want to write a third-person visual novel?
This is what I’m currently doing, and it’s proving surprisingly challenging. You’re no longer “in the shoes” of one person who sees all this unravel – you’re not making choices of what one person in particular would think or do. Adding to this, I’m trying to lean more heavily on the visual side of things, mimicking the original comic roots of the story I’m writing. But that’s for another day.
I soon realised, that when returning to third person, I naturally wanted to revert back to past tense as well, as I used to do. It’s what I’m used to reading, and writing. And it’s something people might be more used to reading as well, as the article puts it. This is something I’m struggling with quite a bit at the moment – as a reader you’re still put directly into the action, you’re still making choices for these people on the screen and impacting their lives as you go – should it still not be present tense?
I think the evidence still points towards the latter, though I still have to be careful with not falling into pitfalls of old writing habits. But the subject interests me.
What are your thoughts on the subject, as readers and writers?