1. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    1st person present

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by 123456789, Sep 12, 2014.

    Last edited: Sep 12, 2014
  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I use it. Styles change. That's art.
     
  3. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I prefer 3rd, limited. But I have used 1st on a couple of occasions. I find it a lot more work, since you have to dance around the use of the Personal Pronoun the whole time.
    I woke up. I had a pee. I made coffee. I went to the office….I, I, I, I, I.
    You can be far more creative with how your present your protagonist in 3rd, I feel.
    First Person puts you in the head of your character, so it is more about thoughts, feelings. Not anything wrong with that, but for me, it is much harder not repeating the same formulaic I, I, I.
     
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  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Oh good, you've found a place to tell everyone about how much you hate 1st person present. Well this should be fun to watch.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, present tense feels unnatural, like it's deliberately undermining the way that human beings tell stories, and undermining it because...see, that's the problem, I don't see the because. I don't see the advantage. To me, it doesn't feel more immediate, and it feels far less realistic and far less convincing. It feels as if it's different for no reason other than being different. And first person present tense makes many of those problems just a little bit worse for me.
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak The link I put up discusses possible pros and cons of the work.

    It's funny, because I think the main pro (a feeling of urgency) is sort of a double edge sword. If the content does not match the urgent narrative, it can come off ridiculous.

    That being said, I'm sure there are pros. Considering that the past tense is a standard choice, I would say something more unconventional, like the tense in question, should be used after more careful consideration. Why am I using this tense? What am I getting out of it? What do I need to watch out for.


    In the past I may have said I hate this tense, but I've seen it work, too. It all comes down to how you use it, but I would say it's hard to use it well.

    To all: It's more than a preference thing. If you look at that link, you'll see there are technical advantages/disadvantages.
     
  7. elynne
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    elynne Active Member

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    this thread is just making me think of Halting State and Rule 34, and anyone that has read them will understand why...
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah; I was just unpersuaded by any of them. :) That is, not just unpersuaded by the value, but also by the assertions. For example, I don't get that sense of urgency with present tense.

    It occurs to me that hardly anybody ever talks in simple present tense. They don't say, "I get four packets of ketchup." (Simple present.) They say, "I'm getting four packets of ketchup." (Present progressive.) Maybe that's part of why I dislike it. People do speak in past tense ("I got four packets of ketchup") but rarely in simple present. So it feels stilted and artificial to me.
     
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  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great insight! Didn't even think about that but you're absolutely right.

    I had thought about the sense of urgency on my own, but was intrigued to see it on that link. Present tense is sort of the difference between watching something that is being aired live vrs a regular recording. It gives off the feeling that everything is happening right then, and as a result, the narrator forces the reader to be very much in the now. It's sort of like coloring only in neon. The problem is, you could be talking about making a sandwich in the kitchen.
     
  10. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a very clear because.

    "I take action. Something happened earlier that set me up to this. I should not have put myself in this position. If different things had happened, then I would be taking a different action right now. But as it is, I have made up my mind. If my action has one consequence, then I will react in a certain way. If my action has a different consequence, then I will react in a different way. How will things turn out? Only time will tell."

    vs.

    "I took action. Something had happened earlier that had set me up to this. I should not have had put myself in that position. If different things would have had happened, then I would have been taking a different action right then. But as it was, I had made up my mind. I figured that if my action would have one consequence, then I would react in a certain way, but if my action would have a different consequence, then I would react in a different way. I wondered how things were going to turn out, but then I realized that only time would tell."

    Writing present instead of past is about so much more than writing "do" instead of "did". We use many different tenses and moods to represent different relations to the frame of reference. When the frame of reference is the past tense, awkward syntactic contortions are often required to ask what happens before or after the frame of reference or to represent what happens before or after the frame of reference, what might happen before, within, or after the frame of reference, what should happen before, within, or after the frame of reference, what happens before something that happens before the frame of reference, etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm writing the main POV in my novel in 1st person present tense (others are in 3rd limited past). This makes me think the writer of the article doesn't know what they are talking about:
    I said it once, I'll say it again - people need to read Murakami. 'Kafka On the Shore' have a look at the first person present tense writing. Just because you are writing in it doesn't mean you can't have flashbacks, memories, recollections, contracting and expanding time, and some of the deepest characterisations available in contemporary literature. In fact I chose it for the characterisation, to bring the reader closer to a character who is detached from herself, to let them know and suspect more about her than she even does. It's a beautiful POV, like any other, perfect for some situations, If you are biased against it, it means you haven't read a good example of it. Certainly, it's in no way inferior to the usual 3rd person limited past tense.
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I ditto @jazzabel - whoever wrote that particularly bit about it being more difficult to create more complex characters doesn't know what they're talking about, or perhaps have never actually tried to write anything in 1st person present tense.

    Hunger Games was written in first person present, and it's a huge hit - and anyone who's actually read the books would probably agree Katniss is pretty darn complex and very human, and yes, Collins uses flashbacks and manages to convey information just fine, in all its complexity, without making it confusing.

    Have now read the entire article - seriously, the disadvantages are nonsense. "It encourages you to include trivial events simply because it would actually happen in real life"? Seriously, what? You'd have to be a seriously bad writer to do that for no reason. Or does the writer see present tense writers as generally bad writers with only a few good ones who are the exceptions?

    "Present tense can diminish suspense" is another piece of nonsense - fear and dread of the unknown is very much part of suspense. If he's criticising that present tense cannot achieve the same kind of suspense as past tense can, well... DUH? It's a different writing device, is it so surprising that they might have different effects and would be good at, and good for, different things? But since when has achieving a *different* kind of suspense been a frigging "disadvantage"?

    I think it's clear the guy's writing from a place of prejudice against the present tense - he's trying not to be one-sided, but his complete lack of insight into first person present tense discredits him, imo.

    Re the OP @123456789 - I don't see anything wrong with first person present. I don't see anything wrong with first person past. And I don't see anything wrong with third person past. I read all of these, and have written in all of these. I think in the end, really, past or present tense is down to personal preference, and first and third person is down to a combination of what the story needs and personal preference. All of them clearly work because there're good books out there written this way.

    All in all... I don't feel it's much of a discussion really. Just write whatever is natural to you. Who cares about the rest? If you can make it work, brilliant. If not, write in some other tense and/or POV.

    @ChickenFreak - I wonder if you don't sense the urgency because you've probably never written in it? (I assume you haven't based on your dislike of it) Because I never sensed any difference when I read present or past tense previously - UNTIL I started writing in the present tense. After doing the collab entirely in the present tense, I can't seem to go back. When I read things written in the past tense, it feels a little slower.

    @Mike Kobernus - You wouldn't need to dance around "I". Look at how I've written my post - look at how you've written your post. Did you have to dance around with using "I"? Do you feel there's an excessive numbers of "I" in my post? I don't think so, to either question. So writing in first person is kinda similar. Easiest, most simplified way of looking at it is: just write how you speak :D The rest of making it still look like narrative and how to dump in descriptions etc will come as you learn. But writing how you speak is basically the starting point, I think, to learning how to write in first person.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2014
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  13. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good point. To add to that:

    1. How does third person allow the writer to avoid "he"/"she" in a way that first person does not allow the writer to avoid "I"?

    2. Excessive "I" syndrome is often a symptom of excessive filtering. "I see someone enter the room"? No. "Someone enters the room." "I find him suspicious"? No. "He must be up to no good."
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I liked your idea that nobody actually talks in simple present tense. That's true. But then again, a first person past tells us what the character has already done—and it might have all happened a long time ago. This might not be the way the author wants to portray the story.

    I don't usually like reading first person present because it does seem stilted ...most of the time. But if an author is presenting the story as if it's happening right now, and the MC is experiencing story events first hand for the first time, then I think first person present can be the right mode to choose. It's challenging, but it conveys a sense of incompletion. Nobody, including the MC, knows where this is heading.

    It can be unsettling for the reader to be inside the head of somebody who doesn't have a clue yet, but if that's the effect the author is looking for, fair enough. I would never dismiss a story just because it's written that way. If the author convinces me that the Here and Now is where we need to be, then I'm happy.

    If it just feels like faddy writing, however–and I do think there is a fad for this kind of voice at the moment—I'll probably put it down. But I try not to assume. It's a voice that has been used in the past, so it's not newfangled. It's just very popular just now, because of books like Hunger Games.
     
  15. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    If that is true, then what tense are those sentences written in?
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No idea what you're driving at, here. I was quoting @ChickenFreak, particularly her idea that nobody would say "I get four packets of ketchup." I think she's right. Nobody would say that in normal speech—unless they're telling a story to somebody, and trying to convey what they did as if they are still doing it. "So I get four packets of ketchup, bring them back to the table, and he rips one open and squirts me in the eye with it! What a jerk!" To provide immediacy for the audience, and maybe increase tension.

    The point I was making in the statement you quoted from is that, if those are the effects you want to convey as a writer (or storyteller), you can certainly use first person present.

    My reservations come from the idea that some writers are starting to use this voice as a knee-jerk default, and this can become tiring to read. Not to mention, the author can never resort to any sort of analysis of events, other than the here and now. Even the first person narrators can't look back on anything themselves, or slant anything to enrich the story. That's the sacrifice a writer makes, if they choose this perspective.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2014
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's a valid writing issue, and unless people become really rabid and unpleasant about their preferences, I think it's as good as any other writing issue to discuss. It's become a very popular mode, and deserves to be looked at.

    Personally, I'm on the fence. I don't enjoy reading this voice much, but sometimes it's exactly the right choice. It either works or doesn't work in each individual piece. Might be an idea to discuss where and how it works best.
     
  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @jannert - daemon was pointing out the fact that you said, "nobody actually talks in the simple present", and yet you proceeded with the rest of the post in simple present. Eg. you just spoke in the simple present while claiming that nobody does it. :)
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, fair enough. I stand corrected. My bad!

    Oh wait. NO I DON'T! In what way is: "I liked your idea" present tense? I could have said: "I like your idea," but I didn't!

    YOUR bad! :)
     
  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Erm... erm... but most of your entire post - two posts - are in the present tense, my dear :D Even your exclamation of "I DON'T" above.

    I can only say this to you, my dearest...

    Mwahahahahahaha!!!
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Okay okay, you win.... it's a minefield out there....
     
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  22. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    :pop:
     
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  23. cynthia_1968
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    cynthia_1968 Active Member

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    I always write in past tense 3th person, although the inner thoughts of my characters are in present tense.

    For example:

    Her struggle began to weaken – it’s time to stop drinking; he realized.

    If I would write in 1st person than I properly end up with the same problem as Mike ;-)


     
  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's no need for "I" in your example. Simply write this:

    It's time to stop drinking.

    ^see, what's so difficult about that? And there's no "I" anywhere. In fact it's better because it's without the tag of "he realised", which slows down narrative.

    I'm seriously beginning to think people discourage first person writing or promote the idea that it's more difficult than third person simply because of heavy misconceptions...
     
  25. cynthia_1968
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    cynthia_1968 Active Member

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    First of all: what I showed was an example how I mix past tense with present tense. Also, I used a dash (-) character in my sentence to display the inner thoughts of the MC.

    Perhaps the sentence would be better without the semicolon.

    An example how I use the 'I factor' is:

    Sybil only knew all too well what Catherine meant. A few years ago, she witnessed a few victims of the Reaper. They were infected with the virus in a hospital near Boston. The victims were turned into mindless cannibals, more like zombies actually, and the only thing that Sybil could do for these poor people was to behead them.

    A cold shiver ran down her spine at the memory. She took a few steps away from Catherine and frowned her eyebrows – I better be careful, Catherine might be infected too.
     

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