Looking at another thread on tense, I realize that this one of mine may be misconstrued as me asking for help fixing a specific paragraph. Rather than that, I am asking for advice in general on dealing with situations where the narrator is talking to the audience in past-tense. I provide a concrete example not because I just need someone to fix it, but to illustrate what I'm talking about. It's unlikely that this will be the last time I encounter this particular dilemma so a quick fix is most certainly not what I am asking for.
I'm currently working on a book and decided to try something I had first attempted 15 years earlier -- including an omniscient narrator in the book as a character. Needless to say, this brings with it a number of challenges.
The first major challenge has been tense. Initially I had chosen to write every scene with the narrator in it as present tense. Eventually I decided this was a bad idea, and am looking to see how I could go back and fix this issue.
There is, however, one major snag -- when talking directly to the audience. So far I've only done it once, so the audience isn't going to be expecting it, but it is the first paragraph of a new chapter, which should make it less jarring to the reader.
Furthermore, this is most certainly not a comic scene. The situation is that I've been putting the MC through hell for the last two chapters. This is especially problematic for the MC since unlike most heroes, mine doesn't have some kind of preternatural ability to deal with stress and at the end of the previous chapter had sunk into a sort anxiety induced catatonic state.
A secondary part of this drama is that the narrator, a character in the story, is powerless to do anything. The previous chapter ends with the narrator expressing this feeling in a very terse manner. The chapter in question starts with the narrator telling the audience, essentially, ``I want to reach through the screen and give the MC a big hug and a cup cocoa, but I'm just another actor bound by the rules of this world".
In total, due to the placement of the four wall breaking, I don't feel this is too jarring, and the overall effect is worth it.
However, this presents a problem when it comes to tense. I've thought of a few solutions, but none of them are ideal. I could simply have a tense shift, but I have a strong dislike for those both as a reader and author. I could add in some extra verbs which would be past tense, but that completely kills the mood. I could also simply change the tense of the verbs already there, but the result of that was. . . odd. It just sounds weird talking to the audience in past-tense.
The paragraph in question is below. I didn't want to include it, but as I'm writing this I realize I can't expect any decent feed back without the actual prose, even if it can be used to figure out who I am later. I did, however, remove the MC's name.
I want to reach through my screen and just give the bereft MC a hug, to hold her and wrap her in warm blanket. But I can do none of these things. I'm just a sword in a story of my own creation. Another actor bound by the rules of another world.
Actually, now that I think about it, this isn't breaking the fourth wall, but rather is meta. I'm engaging the audience, but I'm not actually talking to the audience. The idea is to draw the reader into the scene by referencing a real and immediate commonality with the character -- reading a dramatic scene on some medium. As a reader I've frequently found myself wanting to comfort a character in a book, but this takes it a step further.
Needless to say it's a fantasy setting.
P.S. In case it matters, while I haven't broken the fourth wall before this, the sword is a very meta character. This was made explicit
MC: "How do you know this?"
N: I could explain that I'm the voice of the author but settled on, "I'm a magical sword. I know things"
And the narrator talks to the MC and makes no effort of avoid saying things "we can't just assassinate the Big Bad because she has plot armor." That hasn't actually come up, but it would be something like that.
Normally this is at least partially comical, always delivered dead pan. For example
MC: You can read minds?
N: No, but I can read my screen, which has a similar effect.
P.P.S Overall the tone of the book is dark and the meta tends to be sardonic, often disparaging the MC, and other characters in general, or expressing frustration.