When I first started telling stories almost all third-person fiction (and first-person for that matter) was written in the past tense:
Carlos went into the dealership and looked around. He knew the salespeople would descend on him soon, and it was all he could do to stand his ground.
Past tense means the events happened some time ago, and you’re writing about them as such. The story already happened, and you’re telling it to someone at a later time.
For fifty years prior to my own apprenticeship, everyone who had any interest in telling stories also secretly aspired to writing the Great American Novel. You weren’t a real writer if you didn’t have an unfinished novel in your desk.
At about the same time that I was learning my craft, however, something was happening in Hollywood that would change all that. Directors like Coppola and Spielberg and Lucas were breaking out of the classic Hollywood production pipeline and bringing wildly entertaining and successful movies to the screen. The documents they worked from — the scripts — were also becoming literary properties in themselves. Writers were starting to sell scripts outright, and some of those scripts were selling for what anybody would call a chunk of money.
Almost overnight — by which I mean the five year span between the early and late 1980’s — writers went from having novels in their desks to having screenplays in their desks. When Syd Field published a book called Screenplay the gold rush was on. [ Read more ]