Aug 31, 2012

Let's talk POV and Tense

At my writer's group last night, one member made an interesting point.  My WIP is currently being told from 1st person past tense and she wondered why I didn't do it in present. 

I didn't have a good answer.

I had my gut telling me that I wasn't sure it would work and my CP's mentioning how it could be cool.  One questioned if that was a kind of writing better suited for a younger audience, like YA or MG and I write Women's Lit, so can those ideas be combined and play nice?

Because of the nature of the story, it has to stay in 1st person, to try and do otherwise would triple my Diet Coke consumption and make future readers crazy. But when is it acceptable or even better to write in present tense?  

Curious minds want to know what you think - 1st past the only acceptable 1st or can 1st present come out to play sometimes?

27 comments :

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never written in first person so no idea!

Vero said...

I write in present tense, first and third person deep POV. It's the perfect fit for my story (sci-fi psychological thriller). I can't imagine writing in the past tense, so I'm probably not in a good position to carry an objective argument. :)

Ink in the Book said...

Many authors write in first person present. I personally have to work at that. And I am working, but I prefer past tense in reading. So I'm not for sure if I would ever write in that POV. I have written in first person to make sure my POV is correct, and latter went back and changed it:)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Me? I'm having a hard time with the present tense formula no matter what the POV. I find myself switching it in my brain to past tense as I read. (Can I blame it on my love of classic tales?)

Angela Cothran said...

I think you go with your gut. What you could do is take one chapter and change it. If it is right for you it will just click.

I saw an interview with an agent a while ago where she said how excited she

Angela Cothran said...

*sorry* How excited she was to get a MS that wasn't first person present tense. Just saying :)

Rosalyn said...

I still vote that you try it for a chapter and see what you think. It's hard to make a decision for this case without actually seeing what it would look like, I think. And in your WIP, it could easily go either way.

Joshua said...

Which is more intense?

Joe pointed his gun at me. I was scared out of my mind.

-or-

Joe's pointing his gun at me. I'm scared out of my mind.

I just don't think the second one could be sustained for a full novel. At least, I couldn't do it.

Andrew Leon said...

I've only read one book done in present that I thought was any good. I think it's an artificial way to heighten suspense.

The book I'm reading right now, Snow Crash, is supposed to be present tense, but it's like the author forgets and slipped, sometimes, into past, and the editors just let it stand that way, so it was really annoying with the way it goes back and forth.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I find present tense a little awkward and when I've critiqued some projects using it I find it's very difficult, too, because it's hard not to slip back into past tense.

Good luck if you decide to use it.

Hildred said...

Personally, I can't stand present tense. It sticks out like a huge sore thumb to me. I've always been a Past-3rd person, but once in a while I see a well crafted 1st person. (Past). I've noticed a huge trend of 1st person present though. It's starting to make me not read things from the past few years.

Of course, "go with your gut". You may try it and see it works perfectly. But as always, take your critiques with a grain of salt. Only you know in the end what works best.

Cassie Mae said...

All I write is first person present tense, and after reading the comments I'm totally scared! LOL.

Uh, does it sound awkward?

Here's just a paragraph of my wip. (Ignore the first draftiness, lol)

I pull off the headset and stretch out on the bed before hopping into the bathroom. I’ve had three Cokes already tonight. Way over my limit. This guy probably thinks I have the world’s smallest bladder. It’s like I drink a can, then empty it in another almost immediately.

See, to me, I can't even write in past tense anymore.

And surprise, surprise, I used a bathroom excerpt, lol.

Brigid Gorry-Hines said...

A lot of people seem to have something against 1st person, present tense. But, I've never really understood what the problem is. I think that it works well, in many cases. I don't think it's just an "artificial way to heighten suspense" as Andrew said. I mean, it some cases it is, but not always. For example, I have a story with two plotlines––one that takes place in the past and one that takes place in the present. And if it all took place in the past tense, it would be harder to discern what was happening "then" from what was happening "now." And personally, as a reader, I don't really consciously notice if the book I'm reading is in past or present––doesn't really make a difference to me. Anyway, point is, I think it works best for some stories, and you should write it the way you feel it works best. There's no rule that says you can't write something in first person, present tense. ;)

Christine Sarmel said...

Stopping by on the GUTGAA blog hop:)

My favorite women's fiction, 1st person, present tense is Anna Quindlen's EVERY LAST ONE. I read quite a ways before I stopped to realize it was present, not past tense.

Krista McLaughlin said...

Tough one. My reason is I've just not liked writing in present tense. I prefer to read past tense because since the book is written, it has to have already happened. Present tense is hard for me to get into.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think writing in first person is very difficult. Good luck with which ever way you decide.

Melissa Sugar said...

I write in third person but I appreciate the deeper level of intimacy when I read books written in first person. I don't think I would be able to pull off writing first person-present tense. I know that it can be done and done well. David Ellis, who has won two (or more, I am not sure) Edgar Awards, plus many other awards, has written some of his thrillers in first person, present tense. I normally prefer reading books written in past tense. Ellis is the exception. When it is done right, it adds immediate tension and has an almost hypnotizing effect on me. Best of luck.

Carrie-Anne said...

Some of my books are in third-person present tense, which I felt was most natural to the type of stories they are. But I'm beyond sick and tired of first-person present tense, particularly in YA. I'm currently taking a YA Lit class as a non-degree student in library science, and like at least 95% of the books on the reading list are FPPT. It makes me want to slam my head into a wall. I like it in certain kinds of memoirs and shorter pieces of fiction, but for a novel-length narrative, it feels so awkward, trendoid, and weird. It's reached the point where I honestly wonder if all these writers (both published and not) are choosing FPPT because that's really what works best with their story, or because they think it's expected of them. If a novel has to be in first-person, I much prefer past tense.

Helen Boswell said...

I first wrote my entire novel in first-person past tense and it just didn't work. There were too many elements of suspense, of unexpected turns of events, and writing it as my MC's recollection of those events simply didn't capture the story well enough for me or for my group of test readers. I rewrote the entire thing as FPPT and it transformed it to what it needed to be. (I recently re-read the original past tense draft of my manuscript and could not stand the voice.) I agree that FPPT can sometimes (often?) traps authors into including tedious details of the MC's day and an annoying play-by-play of events (e.g. "I get up and get dressed before breakfast" -- mundane, probably not important to the story, and who cares?) but I eventually pictured it perhaps as screenwriters do -- thinking about things that are essential to the story and letting the events and MC's reactions unfold in real time. I think that each story has to find its own voice and that there isn't a general all-encompassing rule for each genre. Some of you who posted on here will probably never read my novel because of the generalizations that you state, but I'm okay with that. I had to do the best that I could for my story, and first-person present tense is it.

Helen Boswell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen Boswell said...

Yikes! I don't know why that posted twice. Sorry, Tasha!

Debajo del Sol said...

My novel evolved to first person present tense. It started out third person, many moons ago. Then it morphed to first person past and then suddenly it was present. They all come with their own challenges. I think it's what fits your project at the time.

Debajo del Sol said...

My post submitted under contact info for my biz. My writing blog is at www.cristinatrapaniscott.com. Sorry for the confusion.

Kelley Lynn said...

THanks for having your GUTGAA post linked to this one. Very interesting.

Wow, I didn't realize there were so few people who either didn't write in 1st person, present tense, or didn't like it.

Out of five finished MS, two are in 3 person, past. Three are in 1st person, present. Personally I like reading 1st person in both tenses, as long as the writing is good.

Blair B. Burke said...

I, too, am joining from GUTGAA. I wrote a series of novellas, all in first person. It wasn't to create tension but mystery - it was more natural to leave information about the character out so that you wanted to learn more about him. One of the series gave more of his backstory and that was told in past tense - it just seemed more natural and it gave a more complete picture. The voice and tense should match the story and what you are trying to create.

Diana Gallagher said...

Stopping by from GUTGAA: I love first person present, and I'm not ashamed! It rarely feels awkward when I'm reading it. I also write third/first past when the story calls for it, but I don't get too caught up on which is the "right" voice -- I go with whichever seems to make my MC's story fly.

Lauren said...

Sure it's OK. Personally I have a difficult time reading it because I know I'm not there so my brain refuses to kick into that mode. First person has its own idiosyncracies, and if you don't do it right it can be really bad. Present tense likewise. Mixing the two can be a nightmare unless you're extremely careful (which in my experience most authors who try this style AREN'T).

Lauren
Lauren-ritz.blogspot.com