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Sometimes I wish I was a writer
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Or a better writer. You know, one who actually takes time for these exercises instead of just idle thought.

Half-asleep last night, I was thinking about writing tenses, for some strange reason. I recently read David Brin's fascinating Kiln People, which includes a few chapters in first-person future, so maybe that's part of it. I think, too, I was reading Eric Van Lustbader's Dai-San, which is a fascinating story that is horribly written. He's a decent intellectual, I'm sure, and there are some fascinating uses of words in there, but the grammar and structure are gruelling to read.

But I digress. So, given a recent example of a strange tense and a recent example of horrid writing that inspired me to wonder how I would re-write sections of the text, I started to fall asleep. And I wondered, what would it be like to write in second person from the perspective of everyone around the main character? It would be something like second-person limited multiscient.

A tall man catches your eye as he passes close by in the crowd at the bazaar. He meets your eyes and the etched lines of his face soften at the sight of a pretty woman. Dropping your eyes demurely, you hurry past.

A soft tread, too close behind you, is all the warning given as a large human turns into the dim alley. Desperately, you dash behind the pile of refuse and hunker down, peering back through the gloom at the intruder, a growl clawing its way out of your throat. It glaces once in your direction, dismissively, and passes on. It approaches a door farther down the alley where you sometimes find scraps. The door swings open, suddenly, as it is peering through the layered grime of the glass.

Your visitor remains startled for a moment as you exhort him to step into the shop with profuse welcome. Stepping within, he ignores you for the moment as his gaze takes in the shelves and aisles overflowing with alchemical goods and obscure artifacts...

And so on. No dialogue in there simply because I don't have the knack for, or practice, writing it. Anyway. It would be the story of one person and the minute, million impacts they have upon the people they meet in their journey. As a short story, it would be a fascinating exercise. I kept thinking that this would have been an entertaining experiment to pull on one of my teachers back in high school, though I'm not sure whether they'd have been impressed or irritated at the diversion.

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It would be something like first-person limited multiscient.

How would you distinguish the transfer of the point of view from one person to the next? I've seen this done in film to great effect, but in writing...

in a rut and seriously considering re-writing her whole novel in first person. Or the present tense. Or something more interesting than third-person limited. Nrgh.

I imagine that context and inter-paragraph whitespace might do it, which is what I tried with the three paragraph above. Most books are published such that paragraphs have no blank lines between, unless they're conveying a temporal break. In this tense, the blank line between paragraphs would convey a change of perspective as well as a temporal break.

I think that rapid jumps, such as in the example I wrote, might be too many contextual breaks to make good reading in anything longer than a short story, though. As a novel, it might require that the perspective shifts be infrequent, or at least of varied frequency.

Wouldn't disorientation be the whole point?

Or, you could get the reader in a state where they weren't sure who was having what thought, which has interesting narrative possibilities.

That is very interesting, but I can also see how it can get utterly confusing if someone wasn't really paying attention to the story. Also, what happens if the main character is totally alone? Would the story just continue when he appears once again in civilization or amongst animals?

Very interesting, and it would be a very fun exercise. Though I can also see how it would get a little bit boring jumping from one character to another and never really hunkering down and getting into the main character's mind. Also the fact that nothing ever really starts to seem familiar, the person is constantly being seen as a stranger unless he picks up a couple friends that travel around with him everywhere. I dunno, hehe, I'm starting to ramble...

Those are all good points, and are issues that someone that might try to write like that would have to deal with in anything longer than a short short story.

I think the strangeness might leave the reader eventually, as the bits and pieces seen by strangers start to relate to each other and coalesce into a solid picture that further details can be added to.

You do realize, of course, that your examples are in second person?

D'OH! I suppose I meant to say second-person multiscient. Points for noticing the obvious when everyone else missed it!

...and I grow content in the usefulness of my English degree.

Interesting idea, though. Now, the question is, would you limit yourself to only those points of view of which the main character is aware, or those which are clandestine? A cat's perspective, for example, or a police traffic camera's?

The main character is aware of all the points of view in the above example only because it allowed me to say a little bit more through their interaction. I don't see any reason why it would be necessary for them to interact, though...

I have a script idea for a silent short film, from the perspective of a security camera in a 7-11. Now, I just have to WRITE the damned thing.

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