"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's The Mood of Your Narrator?

The past couple weeks, we've been exploring the viewpoint and voice of your narrator. For my post on viewpoint click here and for voice click here.  The one remaining important decision to make when deciding how your narrator is going to best tell their story is what tense they are going to tell it in.

Tense can affect the mood in which the narrator tells the story.  For instance, present tense is really good for showing nervous energy or impending doom, especially when being told through first person viewpoint for the narrator doesn’t know what happens next.  The narrator’s perception becomes the reader’s reality.  Using past tense, however, works well with third party viewpoints or third party omniscient for it allows the narrator to be more descriptive in their telling of the story.  In other words, everything looks different in retrospect.
Sometimes both tenses can be used to bring a sense of closeness within a scene.  The scene may start out reflecting on something that happened in the past or in a dream and the narrator is telling it in past tense then, without the reader even noticing, the scene is suddenly being told in present tense.  How did the writer achieve this transition?  They’ve learned to artfully change tense through a hidden dialogue exchange within the scene.  Try it sometime it can help open up a whole new direction in your writing. 

No matter which tense you choose for the narrator to best tell your story, making that decision is vital in affecting the mood of every sentence.  So if you ever find the mood of your story, or scene, just somehow doesn’t feel right, try changing the tense, you might be amazed by the difference!  

How about you, have you ever tried changing the tense of your narrator?  Do you find in doing so that it often times leads to changing viewpoint as well?

Next week we’ll explore setting and how it too plays a huge part in the emotion of your story.

Until then,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author      


  1. Good advice. The narrator (and how they portray the story) are one of the best tools an author has to work with.

    Nice blog too.