Thursday, February 2, 2012

Point of View and Tense

Wow, that's a technical topic for me to be getting into on this blog.  I know I don't usually go into the gritty details like this here.  But it's something that has been on my mind lately.

For whatever reason, perhaps it's just a natural inclination and a small fear of trying something new, I always write in past tense.  I just do.  But then I write fantasy and I think that past is pretty traditional for the genre.  Not that I'm saying it can't be done, but just that it seems traditional.

I tend to write in third limited, or at least try.  (I'm sure third omniscient creeps in there sometimes.  That's what revisions are for.)  But I have experimented with first person.  Those are generally the short stories that go unfinished.  One of these days I will force myself to try my hand at first and finish what I start.

A couple of years ago I started reading a book that was written in present tense.  (I can't remember if it was third or first.)  The tense was so jarring to me.  Thinking about it now, I'm not sure it was done with enough finesse as to be invisible.  When I read I want to see the story, not the craft.  Especially when I read for pleasure.  I never did finish the book.

In late 2011 (as in the last few days of the year) I read a book that captured me and didn't let me go.  I had some issues with the book as I finished it but it was with the story, not the craft.  Well into it, perhaps almost two-thirds, I realized something.  The entire book had been written in first person (which I'd noticed) present tense (which I had not noticed).  I was paying attention to the story, not the craft.

Imagine my disappointment two weeks later when I'm reading another book and the first thing I notice is the tense, present, and the POV, first.  I'm not opposed to first, or to present tense.  But when they're not done well they overpower the story.  I also did not finish this book, but not because of the present tense narrative.

Done well, your readers (even writer readers) will not notice your craft, they'll only notice your story.  Unless they're critiquing your work, then they will.  But if they're reading for pleasure they might go back and look at how you've written what's on the page but the story is what should stick more.


  1. The Hunger Games trilogy is written in the present tense. I remember wondering "Is there a reason Ms. Collins is telling her story this way?" I wanted to know more about her creative process and the reasoning behind her POV decisions.

    1. I wonder if authors just feel it gives more immediacy to their writing. I'm not sure. Appreciate you stopping by the blog!

  2. I think first-person is one of the hardest ways to write a story. I've only managed to write first-person in short stories. Novels, I haven't dared yet. :)

    1. I totally agree. Perhaps it's why I've never finished any of the 1st person POV stories I've started writing. Thanks for coming by!

  3. All of these points of view and tenses are different tools in the writer's arsenal, to be used when the story calls for them, but some are of more everyday use than others. (Like the difference between a ninja's trusty dagger, or some sort of obscure blowgun?)

    I'm a firm supporter of past tense, but also tend to like first person - it can indeed be hard to work right, but also gives a great sense of connection to the narrator as a character.

    I finally joined the Dojo, and I'm going the rounds saying hi to other ninjas! Nice to meet you.

  4. Great point! I hate it when the writing doesn't let me get into the story.

    I like present tense...though it is different, LOL!


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