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First Person Present Tense?
Karrie Zai
Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2011 4:37 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 13

I know it's become popular lately and seems trendy because of books like The Hunger Games, but I've been writing first person present tense for six years now and it's what I find most enjoyable to write in most cases.

But I'm wondering what the general community consensus is here about writing in 1st-present POV. Is it an instant turn off for you, or can you read it if it's done well? Does it depend on genre? (I write fantasy, which is still unusual for that tense/POV combination as far as I can tell.) Do you write it yourself? What would you consider to be the pros and cons, both as a reader and in the writing industry?

Karrie Zai
Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 6:44 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 13

It's curious to me that it's considered to be the mark of a new writer. I've been writing (albeit unsuccessfully) for over ten years, and for the first few years I wrote exclusively third-person past. It's what I was used to reading, so it came naturally. First person present came as an experiment before I ever read a book in that particular tense/POV combination, and I liked it. :/

Long story short... I still feel that third-person past dominates the market, and as such I would assume that most new writers would find it more natural.
Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 8:22 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 222

1st person in general is usually a turn-off for me, unless it is done really, really well. Sure, you can get a lot of information about one specific character in this venue, but I view it as extremely limiting in terms of enjoyment value. Some genres, and some stories, it works perfectly for -- and works best for, but 9 out of 10 times, I will say no thanks to first person.

I think first person is easier to cope with writing in general... there is less to keep track of. But, I do feel that 3rd person is usually the stronger, more versatile POV. You can do things with third you just can't with first.
Tara Kollas
Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 12:05 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 18

I find writing in first person easier for some reason. Maybe because there is less risk of head hopping, and I can focus exclusively on the voice of the narrator. I've never written in present tense. Having just whipped through the Hunger Games trilogy and Across the Universe, I find myself slipping into present tense in my current WIP.
L R Waterbury
Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2011 4:37 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

I don't have a problem with 1st person, though its suitability depends a lot on the story you're writing. For example, I often prefer first in mystery novels because I want to solve the mystery through the eyes of the investigator and not have details given to me that the investigator shouldn't and doesn't know.

And while first person, present is the most realistic in terms of how we actually interact with the world, as a literary device I find it incredibly distracting. The truth is, if we tried to write a book to mimic "reality", it would be a terrible book. No one really talks or thinks coherently enough for someone else to read and understand.

First person, present is also enormously difficult to do successfully. Most instances of it are failures partly because this choice of POV calls too much attention to itself. As a reader, all I can think about is the fact that it's in the present tense and I feel like I'm reading "Dick and Jane" for adults.
Karrie Zai
Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2011 5:41 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 13

I do agree that first person, present tense can call an enormous amount of attention to itself. :/ Like anything else, it can be done well. Realistically, third person, past tense would be so much easier in the sense of being less risky.

I have days when I wonder why I insist on writing in first person present, but mostly I just feel I shouldn't sacrifice the way I want to write my stories for the more commonly accepted format. In a way, I guess I enjoy the challenge.

We'll see how wise the choice is when I attempt publication :/
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 4:36 AM
She walked toward Robert, anger in her eye and mayhem in her heart.

She walks toward Robert, anger in her eye and mayhem in her heart.

I walked toward Robert, anger in my eye and mayhem in my heart.

I walk toward Robert, anger in my eye and mayhem in my heart.

You walked toward Robert, anger in your eye and mayhem in your heart.

You walk toward Robert, anger in your eye and mayhem in your heart.

You will walk toward Robert, anger in your eye and mayhem in your heart.

You will have walked toward... Okay. Now I'm just jetting silly

- - - - - - - - - -
Is there really any difference? Either way Poor Robert is in exactly the same kind of trouble.

The reason why first person is so often the favorite of new writers is that when they read back something that’s written as all telling—a description by the author of what s/he visualizes going on in the scene—they realize that it’s not dynamic and try to disguise the fact that it’s in their POV by using the personal pronoun “I” and declaring themselves the same person as the protagonist—as if that made telling okay. They forget that because the narrator and the character live at two different times they can’t appear on stage together. But that’s another subject for another day.

Basically, my feeling is that first person, and present tense are too often an attempt to make the work feel more immediate, or at least unique. Lots of people can pull it off, but only because they go into it with the tools of the professional, and could make it work were they to use first or third.

I’ve often though that first person books should come with the disclamer: “This work was performed by a trained professional, and you should not try it at home.” But then that might well apply to all books.

Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 10:55 AM
Joined: 5/4/2011
Posts: 19

Too easy to ramble in first person. Plus, there better be a damn interesting voice to keep me interested. Not to say it shouldn't be done, some of my favorite novels are in first person. I'd just avoid it, especially if you're doing it because it's the trendy thing. Concentrate on the story, not the popular way of telling it.
Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 5:47 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 156

I have no problem with first person, but I have seen it cause massive problems for a writer when paired with present tense, especially for the length of a novel.

For the length of a short story, present tense can work because a short story lets you focus in on a moment in time and you can write that moment in time with all the excitement you want. If you want to experiment with present tense, I'd recommend flash fiction or short stories.

The biggest problem with first person present tense in a novel-length work is that it doesn't easily allow for "time compression" or a sort of awareness shift that an author uses when writing in past tense. Unless they are very skilled at handling pacing and structure, writers tend to become trapped in relaying mundane information just to move the character around a room. I've seen entire chapters that were filled with "I walk" and "I see" sentences describing a room because the writer just couldn't get past the point where she'd manage to get the character in a room and then had to describe her way around. It was rather like playing one of the old text computer games:

I enter the room. There is a door to my left and a troll to my right. I have a sword...

(Notelease, please don't write erotica in present tense. That tends to start looking like computer porn.)

L R Waterbury
Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 12:10 AM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

Oh God, MarieDees, now you have me imagining what erotica in first person/present would be like and I can't get it out of my head. Make it stop, please!
Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 12:40 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 156

The erotica was probably one of my most uncomfortable run ins with present tense. It caused a big explosion on a writing group because I suggested that the writer shift to past tense and she wanted to prove me wrong, so she posted asking everyone in the group if they thought present tense was bad. Of course the writers who came to the defense of present tense were mostly YA writers. They hadn't read the erotica work.

I don't think that present tense is the best or easiest decision even for YA. But when it goes wrong in YA, the character tends to get stuck walking and thinking. When in goes wrong in erotica or erotic romance, it hits the "porn" level real fast.
Posted: Friday, August 5, 2011 3:49 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 24

My stories have always started off as first person. And then they somehow change to third person. It's a thing that seems to happen with me. It wastes my time, but...meh. I can't seem to break the habit.

Though, there are some stories I'm working on right now that would only work with first person. And present tense. It's just the way the stories need to read.
Posted: Saturday, August 6, 2011 12:01 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 244

I've always been turned off by present tense. Everything I've read in present tense just feels off in pacing. I think it's because there's a tendency for very short sentences in present tense and it gets really choppy to read.

That and the stories themselves just didn't grab me.
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 3:43 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 156

Hmm, I don't think I'm generalizing. I work as an editor. I've dealt with first person present tense in actual author submissions. So far I've had one where present tense worked and in that case it was used only as the epilogue to a novel where the bulk of the book was written in past tense. Another first person present tense novel was sent back for major revision including rewriting it in past tense before it can be considered. The present tense writing had so many problems it could not be published. The third was the erotica story which I did not edit. It may find a publisher. But the problem for me was that the present tense change the feel of the genre and made it harsher. It did have an effect. I don't know if the author wanted that effect or didn't see what it was doing. I didn't make it past 2 chapters, and I do edit and write erotica.

Yes, present tense can be done successfully. But it is a much more difficult tense to deal with than past tense and it really can crash a story and a whole plot line. The longer the work, the harder it is to maintain. Perhaps why you see it most in shorts or YA stories.

First person, past tense is a different matter. I've known people who hate it. But if the first person character is the focal point of the novel, it can work very well, and I've edited first person YA where the POV really allowed the character voice to come through. First person does create that immediate connection with a character.
Karrie Zai
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 10:03 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 13

Personally, I like the challenge of getting in the character's head in first person, but first person past never felt right to me as a writer because I couldn't reconcile the things the author should know now that they're telling the story with the things they didn't know when the events of the story took place. I never much liked the "I didn't know it then, but..." approach. I suppose for me, present tense feels more genuine for two reasons. For one thing, I can imagine it as being with the narrator as the story happens rather than being told the story. For another, even if it is the author telling the story, I've noticed a distinct tendency in oral story telling to revert to present tense. "So I'm about to turn the corner, right, when..."

As with anything, it's a matter of personal preference. The things that make present tense work for me might well seem completely opposite to some readers.
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 10:50 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 156

When you're learning to write, you want to try everything. I wrote a short story that alternated past and present when I was studying writing. It was an interesting experience and nearly drove me nuts by the time I was done and that was just keeping the tense straight for the appropriate scene. Experimentation is part of learning.

But I also worry that people are defaulting to first for that sense of immediacy in present without understanding the drawbacks and what they give up. With present tense that sense of immediacy and being right with the character means the reader is right with that character even when nothing interesting is happening. This is why present generally works best in short stories, where the writer can focus on events in a short time period or in YA which tends naturally to have a bit more immediacy to the writing.

What writers can struggle with in present tense is time and information compression. The problem is that present does involve narrating the events as they happen and writers can end up trapped in those sections where the character walks from point A to B, looks at things, thinks and waits for something to happen. Past seems to allow more easily for the speeding up of time and transitions from one scene to the other with summaries. Or perhaps writers skilled in past tense do that better than writers who haven't learned the techniques yet. Present tense can make any weakness stand out glaringly in the story.
Karrie Zai
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:10 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 13

Ever zoned out and realized you have no idea what you've been doing for the last fifteen minutes? I know I have. And it's one way time compression can work in present tense.

I agree present tense has more limitations, can be more challenging, and certainly showcases errors in neon lettering. But I think that part of the reason it's given such a bad wrap is because it's become popular in YA and every Tom, Dick, and Jane with a faltering grip on the the rules of grammar and a story idea who reads a present tense YA story will probably try writing that way as well. In a way present tense is new to the fiction scene, and I don't think it quite gets the fair shake it deserves because it didn't crop up in adult literature first. Just because lots of writers do it badly doesn't mean it can't be done well.

Just my two cents, of course. Every reader has different preferences. I guess what boggles my mind here is not that present tense is disliked. It's just that it's so widely disliked, which is hard for me as a fan to understand.
David M
Posted: Saturday, August 13, 2011 12:54 AM
Joined: 8/12/2011
Posts: 1

Forgive the newbie dropping by to comment but this is a subject I have had different opinions on. I have always despised First Person writing, or I had that is until recently. It was always harder to get into the flow of the book for me. If its a third person narrative then I can easily sit back and 'listen' to this person let me know whats happened.

Lately though I have found that when its done really well it can actually accentuate a book quite well. I would never assume that I would like a lot of FP-PT writing. But I do think it has a place. I even shocked myself recently with a FP - past tense attempt that turned out fairly well.
Posted: Saturday, August 13, 2011 2:48 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 156

I don't think having a character zone out is exactly the type of time compression I'm thinking of. In the space of a novel there are many transitions used to move from one critical scene to another. If you're going to write present tense, you better be able to handle them.

"I zone out" Okay, so zoning out would essentially mean you're not conscious of your surroundings or what others are doing. But to tell us you're zoning out, you have to know you're zoning out. And since you're in first person, if you zone out of what's going on around you because you're thinking of something else - you have to tell us what you're thinking.

And present tense isn't looked down on because it's new. It was used by John Updike back in 1960. Chuck Palahniuk uses it and I wouldn't consider his work YA. But there are reasons why a technique that's been around for half a century and used in popular adult books like Fight Club and Time Traveler's Wife isn't used more. It's limiting. It does work well for certain books, but it also strips away a lot of the techniques that work in past tense. It is very difficult to do well and maintain for the length of a novel. It isn't always well received by readers.

To a certain extent, it's fallen into the same category that second person has. To children of the 60s, second person was a break through literary novel "Bright Lights, Big City." To children of the 80s, second person wasn't a revolutionary technique but a ton of choose your own adventure novels. Techniques migrate to where they work best - present tense falls to YA naturally.

You may get a couple of blips on the adult radar, like Fight Club, but every student in every creative writing class I was in tried present tense. Every group I'm in has people writing present tense. It's rather pervasive, but editors and agents don't like it for the same reason they don't like seeing manuscripts written in the omniscient POV. Most writers using the technique simply don't use it well.

Personally, I want characters and story to be what people see in my work and not verb tense. Since past flows more naturally, that's what I use.

Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2011 5:17 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 88

I don't know that 1st/present is required to create intimacy or immediacy, but I'd say it creates complicity better than any other pov/tense. You're stuck right there, somehow next to the MC following his or her every step, participating in whatever they do and yet powerless to change a thing.

It lends itself, therefore, to stories about someone doing terrible or at least particularly questionable things (Updike, Palauniuk, Brett Easton Ellis), or someone to whom a lot of terrible things happen (Hunger Games, and other YA). If the MC isn't troubling enough, or the plot is not exceptionally well paced or suspenseful, 1st/present probably won't work. Another tense would probably work better. But the iconic books that employ it would definitely be marred by the more comfortable distance created by other pov/tenses.

A major stumbling block to inexperienced writers employing this strategy is that it necessarily focuses on the psychology of the protagonist, and usually in great detail. How the MC thinks is as important as what the MC does. Too often, inexperienced writers are either uninterested in the level of introspection required, or are simply too inexperienced as humans on the planet to have suitably engaging insights into human psychology. Put another way, you're stuck in the MC's mind and if that mind isn't full of conflict and interesting and believable drama, the book as a whole will suffer and it will be hard to maintain the reader's interest over the long haul.

If the pov/tense itself is to blame for any reader turning away, I'd say it has to do with the intrinsic claustrophobia and forced intimacy with the MC it creates. A lot of readers would rather choose how close they are to the characters they read about. They would rather feel drawn in to the lives of more distant characters, than to be repelled by characters that are "too close for comfort." And as I said, the pov/tense highlights the subjective powerlessness of the reader to affect this character or the events surrounding the character and that can be enjoyably uncomfortable, or simply a turn off.

Some inexperienced writers seem to have a lot of trouble with making readers uncomfortable, or allowing their MC's to risk losing the reader's full endorsement at every turn. A good 1st/present MC needs to be questionable in some way to create internal drama to make up for the necessarily myopic pov. Katniss in Hunger Games, for instance, would be much less interesting if she didn't misjudge Peeta's feelings for her. The powerlessness of the reader to clue Katniss in is part of the book's appeal, its poignancy.

Too often, in the MS I read online that employ 1st/present, the MC's are far too passive and too uncomplicated to support it. They are too much observers and not actors. Or other characters have more to say or do than the MC and it makes me wonder, why is this person the MC and not that far more active and interesting character over there? With 1st/present the reader is simply trapped in the mind of the MC and if it isn't a good fit, or if the MC's mind is simply not engaging enough, the book will fail to capture the reader's imagination.

M Tucker
Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2011 8:19 PM
Joined: 8/9/2011
Posts: 12

For readers, I think tense goes back to familiarity in the way people have told stories for generations. Old folks relating their adventures and folklore are past-tense... so naturally our works of fiction feel most comfortable being read in past tense. Detective novels and thrillers are like those campfire stories told to get the hair on the back of your neck tingling; putting it in present tense makes you feel like you are there.

POV, I don't know honestly. I've read good ones in first-person and bad ones in
third. Personally, I like first-person only in Detective type works and even then it's refreshing to have the scene-setting portions in 3rd person. Too much FP descriptive gets a bit dragging and it actually takes away from the story more than an occasional shift in POV.
Karrie Zai
Posted: Monday, August 15, 2011 4:43 AM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 13

Great responses! Kevin, I really liked your input. It's something to think about in my work. Thanks!
Posted: Friday, August 26, 2011 12:20 AM
Joined: 8/25/2011
Posts: 1

This is an interesting one, isn't it? Personally, I enjoy books written in 1st person pov far more than 3rd person SO LONG as it's done well. Most of my favourite books have been written in 1st person pov - but then I'm a sucker for complicated, conflicted protagonists on a serious emotional journey, in amongst all the adventuring, etc.
I certainly think you need to be very clear why you're choosing your pov - and your tense. Anyone read Katherine Webb's 'The Legacy'? She has 2 protagonists - the one in the past is in 3rd person, past tense, while her granddaughter is in 1st person, present tense. And she makes it work, imo.
I remember the first time I read a book with multiple 1st person pov - called Jassy by Norah Lofts - and it absolutely blew me away. I was in my early teens and I recall crying at the emotional intensity that she produced.
Unsurprisingly, these days, it is the pov I tend to use most often as a writer.
Tee L Tyson
Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 3:23 PM
Joined: 8/30/2011
Posts: 1

Oddly enough, as a reader, I really enjoy third person past tense, to read and enjoy. In regards to my writings, I often toss it up to however the story tells me to write it. Currently, I have a novel posted on Authonomy that is first person present tense (I also have another YA novel in thos pov/tense) I find it really is hit and miss with writers. Some people balk straight away at the tense and POV while others don't even seem to notice.

To be honest, I find true readers don't notice. Writers tend to though. I think if the story is good enough, the MC is captivating, then it shouldn't matter the pov or the tense.

I wanted to make a note that I often stray away from first person POV, mostly in YA and chick lit, because I get annoyed with the internal monologue, which you often don't have when reading third person.

Here we go:

First Person Pros:
- You feel closer to the MC and have the option of identifying with them quicker
- tend to me more emotion conveyed
- easier to write.

- if your MC annoys the reader then it will turn them off of the book and most likely force them to put it down
- you don't get an honest sense of the other external characters
- limits what you can show the reader

As for the tense, I think this is just personal preferance. I don't know if there are really any pros and cons.

I do think that it takes skill to write a really good present tense novel. I've read a few where the writer is reliant heavily on 'I' sentences, I walk here, I run there, I taste the apple juice. This is certaily something I'd keep in mind while writing from first person and present tense.

But then, personal pronoun starts are something we should all be aware of.
Kat Day
Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 11:32 AM
Joined: 12/29/2011
Posts: 10

I think it's distracting because we don't see it that often. I read a book once for school third person, present tense--it took forever to read because of that. It was otherwise very good. I think it works for a short story. If you read what editors are looking for, ist person present-tense is alwyas a no-no, at least for unpublished writers. My first book, I wrote in second person, present tense (it was a choose-your-own-romance thing) and was told to change it by an agent. If you're trying to get published, why make it harder with odd "attention-getters"?
Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2012 9:25 PM
Joined: 8/26/2012
Posts: 1

I think I understand why you want to do the first person and present tense. Its a headache but it tests you. I am actually writing a series in first person and present tense. But I am doing it a little different. My main character has present and first person but I have chapters where it is in a different character's point of view making it third person. I am still deciding on whether or not if it should be in present or past tense. But i love a challenge, so I think I'm jsut going to have to write a chapter in present tense and another in past to see which one i like best.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2012 11:55 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 194

I've written only one book (but several short stories) in first person present tense...but the protagonist of that book, The Speed of Dark, was an autistic man.  Though I usually write in deep interior third person,  that just did not work for this character--to understand Lou, the reader has to understand in detail how he experiences reality, which is (unless the reader is autistic)  sensory paths that don't work quite the same as mine.   And yes, at novel length it's hard to keep the focus, deal with the transitions, and so on.  On the other hand, using first person helped the focus on Lou, for me-the-writer, and helped me not let an autistic family member "bleed in" and become too easy a substitute.

Other characters in the book, when they were the POV, were in third person past, allowing the reader a break from the concentration of following Lou's experience, and also making it easy for the reader to accept them as neurotypical.  

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012 6:24 PM
A lot of YA seems to be done in first person present lately. Personally, I find it difficult to follow. Maybe because it's just so different!

Michael R Hagan
Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 7:40 PM
Joined: 10/14/2012
Posts: 229

I've read a couple of enjoyable books written in the first person, though, if I'm honest, I'd bought them before realising this was how they were done. I fear that the possible endings are made limited. (We know the MC survives to tell the tale.)
An interesting quirk could be to write in the first person, have the MC die between two of the later chapters, and then have the story completed in the third person or by a loved one of the MC (or indeed their nemisis),  from their POV. That would teach us to presume, eh?

If anyone uses this to ultimate success, I want a mention on your back cover! (That's Michael R. Hagan.... THE DESOLATE)

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 4:24 PM
It's not the first person I mind - when it's done well, and it's often not. It's the present tense that bugs me.

"I walk to the refrigerator for a can of beer. The phone rings. A volcano erupts."


Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 11:04 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 88

So you're saying...

"I walked to the refrigerator for a can of beer. The phone rang. A volcano erupted."

...would be better? Not exactly following you here.
Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012 10:23 AM
"I watch as the world falls apart around me." I've seen it written that way and I don't like it. Actually showing me the world falling apart around you works so much better. Like I said, first person point of view isn't horrific when it's handled right. And I've seen first person present work very well. But it's my very firm opinion that there are gifted few who can pull it off with proper aplomb.

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012 10:24 AM

What I'm saying is, tell me about that walk to the refrigerator. Tell me about that can of beer. Tell me about that volcano erupting. Just don't tell me it happened and move on to something else. Especially if those things are important to the overall story arc.

Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012 12:22 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 88

Hey Mari,

Wull, that's the thing, enit? Bad writing is bad. Lazy writing is bad. I always kinda cringe when a writer explains that he writes in a particular form "because it comes naturally to me." Wha-uh-oh. Red flag. That's a dead giveaway that he's not putting a whole lotta thought or craftsmanship into his writing. Nothing about writing comes naturally to anybody. It's an art--as in "artificial." Takes skill and a lot of practice and there's always room for improvement.

There are a lot of bad examples of first/present 'cause there are a lot of examples of it, period. It's popular. AND first/present is closest to ordinary speech and so a lot of it is lazy, reading more or less like a transcript of someone just talking at you which is generally pretty lacking in imagery and description. As a rule, the more naturalistic the form, the more craftsmanship is necessary to make it work.

When I write in first/present it's 'cause I'm crazy like that and want a challenge. It's so much harder to write good first person than it is to write good 3rd. But I often find myself reading a 3rd person novel and thinking, "Whoa, this would be so amazing if it were written actually from the point of view of the main character." Does anybody else think that? First person is just so much more intimate and revealing. In that context, 3rd person just feels so damn safe, y'know what I mean? But on the other hand, safe is...well, safe.


Michael R Hagan
Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012 9:09 PM
Joined: 10/14/2012
Posts: 229

Hey Kevin,
Well made point!
You have me curious now. What's the best first person POV book you've read, or indeed written?
I'll have a looksy and see if I'm converted!

Cassandra Farrin
Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013 9:40 AM
I agree with others respondents that 1st person POV must be done very well for me to stick with it. I think the best way to handle it is to write as though you are telling the story in front of an audience (you can even pick the audience--Patrick Rothfuss picked a quiet tavern for Name of the Wind, for example, and The Heart of Darkness is told entirely on the deck of a ship waiting to come into harbor). I love N. K. Jemisin's first-person narration in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Roger Howell
Posted: Saturday, August 29, 2015 11:15 AM
Joined: 8/13/2015
Posts: 5

This string has gotten old. Is anyone still interested? I think a lot of people forget that first-person present is not a straitjacket. It can (and must) flow very naturally into and out of first-person past, third-person past, etc., as the POV character’s thoughts wander. Example: 


      In the valley below, an afternoon breeze is trying to kick up. Today started warm, with no clouds at all. But as we sit, the aspens begin to shimmer and the tops of the taller fir trees sway. Earl shouldn’t even be in Cinnabar today; Sissy drove him over to watch the goings on at the New Main portal. She set him up with her blue cooler and a camp chair in the shade of a poplar, and that's where I found him about mid morning.

     Earl saw me looking away, and he shakes his head again and says, "I don't think you appreciate how beautiful your mother was. Or how strong."

     "Not strong enough," I answer.

     "That's not for me to say."


The example is paraphrased from my novel The River of No Return (currently posted for review). This is a brief example, but I employ up to whole pages of past tense, imbedded in my first-person present because the POV must consider things that are not happening at the moment. The thing is, first-person present has to be happening inside your POV's head, right? And nobody's thoughts are locked into present tense. Our thoughts constantly wander to past, conditional, future, back to present. We have 12 verb tenses, and they all should be banging around inside your POV's head.

Peter Carlyle
Posted: Monday, August 31, 2015 10:34 AM
Joined: 8/20/2015
Posts: 19

First person is fine with me. I hate the present tense, because it lasts a second. Even when I began to write it it is in the PAST. The past is infinite. The future is infinite. The present is neither.
Roger Howell
Posted: Monday, August 31, 2015 12:18 PM
Joined: 8/13/2015
Posts: 5

I know what you mean, Peter. Except the past is a plodding memory, and the future a giddy dream. Only the present is real. But my actual point is that the present moves, and glances back and forward as it needs to.  (Note also that our correspondence is written in first-person present.)
Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 12:33 PM
Joined: 8/29/2015
Posts: 16

I have no problem with first person, but hate first person present. It is never done well. I'm currently reading a memoir that is first person present. Why she did that I can't imagine. It becomes a string of things she is doing when, actually, she did them years ago. It is a bad habit that people fall into when they are speaking and describing something they did. "So I walk over and say to the guy...". Ugh!