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I'm half way through a YA science fiction novel that is told in 1st person, past tense.

Currently there are two chapters in different tenses. One is 2nd person, present tense - the p.o.v. of an AI. The other is 1st person, present tense - a dream sequence.

My question is, are tense changes always too jarring to be justified?

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This sounds like a good and apt use of person and tense changes–they aren't arbitrary, and they indicate either a change in POV or a change of setting/state of mind. The typical rule against tense and person changes is because they introduce discontinuities into the narrative voice. But in this case, that's a good thing.

Of course, it still needs to be done well. Both changing POV and introducing a dream sequence need to be done with caution. I personally dislike a changing POV, and it needs to be really necessary for me to accept it. Similarly, while I happen to like dream sequences, many people are (justly) suspicious of them, so make sure you really need it.

The potential problems are from the techniques themselves, however, not from the way you are indicating them. Changing POV breaks into the suspension of disbelief that comes when you start to identify with the book's POV. It's not something that happens in real life, so it's an extra mental adjustment for the reader. Similarly, dream sequences are perceived by many readers as corny and overused. None of this, however, is to say "don't do it." Both techniques can be very effective if used well (and probably sparingly).

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  • can you explain why dream sequences make readers suspicious? same thing for the changing POV. – Totumus Maximus May 8 '18 at 8:38
  • Changing POV breaks into the suspension of disbelief that comes when you start to identify with the book's POV. It's not something that really happens in real life, so it's an extra mental adjustment for the reader. As I said, I like dream sequences myself, but I think people tend to find them corny and overused. How you react to them as a reader might have something to do with how much or little attention you pay to your own dreams usually. – Chris Sunami supports Monica May 8 '18 at 10:49
  • Mm in my own story, dream sequences are a way for me to delve into the subconscience of the mind of my MC. They are often short and abstract to keep some form of mystery and importance without actually solidifying. I do like changing POV's so I can give other characters like a villain or side characters some 'screentime' and tell a larger picture then the MC alone. mmm I don't know. – Totumus Maximus May 8 '18 at 10:55
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    None of this is to say "don't do it." Both techniques can be very effective if used well. – Chris Sunami supports Monica May 8 '18 at 13:39
  • I can hardly claim that I have the knowledge to use them well. But thank you for the response. It was quite useful. – Totumus Maximus May 8 '18 at 15:07
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So long as it's done in a way that doesn't confuse the reader to much, there is no reason that it can't be done. Chapter changes (especially if it's a different character POV) make perfect sense. And dreams makes sense that the tense/POV etc change because dreams are not reality and feel different as we experience them.

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With the tenses being through the P. O. V. of other characters it will be fine so long as you use a proper transition. A page break indicated by asterisk (**) let's the reader know that the flow is changing. Once they begin reading the new P. O. V they will understand the change.

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