1. LittleFire
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    LittleFire New Member

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    First Person, Present Tense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by LittleFire, Feb 19, 2010.

    I was wondering if anyone here has ever written in these forms. By present tense I mean that the events that go through the main character's mind, *who is the narrator* are happening right there now, in front of the character's eyes. My first story is written like this, and I was wondering if anyone follows certain standards to first person present tense writing.
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't know what you mean by "follow certain standards"...but there have already been many, many very in-depth discussions about first person present. See the search button in the top right corner? It's your friend. :)
     
  3. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I've never done it because I can't read it. I can't shake the mental picture of a character going through the story (chasing a bad guy, fighting a battle, having sex, whatever) narrating into a tiny tape recorder. Totally pops me right out of the story. More accurately, it makes me completely aware I'm reading a story, rather than getting into the story.
     
  4. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    As long as you don't use forshadowing in your story it is first person precent tense. Though you are still reading it. Think of it like a journal. You open someone's journal and they are writing in present tense about past events. And since it's a journal it's first person.

    Simple and logical!
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I don't know exactly what you mean by *who is the narrator*. I can't tell if that's a question or if you mean the main character is the narrator. So, I'm not sure what your question is. But I used first person, present tense, myself once just to see what effect it had on my storytelling, and the outcome was positively fascinating (to me as a writer, I mean). My story actually ended up being a future memoir-in-the-making. So ... there is no solid answer to what kind of "standard" applies to your story. It's what you make of it and what significance it raises (if you're speaking of fiction, anyway). Just do it, learn from it, and discover for yourself what it does to your own writing. Then listen to your readers to find out what they make of it and whether that coincides with your own assessment of the story that you wish to tell.

    Of course, there are plenty of fine examples out there in the published world, so look for them and see what effect the first person, present tense has upon the stories as you read them. Might also read some that don't work for you in some way, so that you begin to understand how present tense complicates your storytelling, too. But it certainly can enhance a story in particular (and sometimes peculiar) ways if you understand it from the reader's vantagepoint.
     
  6. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Interesting. I've never read a journal written in present tense, though.
     
  7. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    Well when you are thinking. You are thinking about things in the past. But since you are in the present. You are presently thinking about the past. and since it is you, it is first person.
     
  8. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As an editor/reading slush for a small magazine/ezine, sometimes we get first person presnet tense pieces. Quite often the story comes out almost like a play-by-play rendition. What might have been a great story ended up falling flat.

    There have been other discussions of first person and present tense, if you search for them.

    Just my two cents.

    Terry
     
  9. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I sort of write this way. I talk about events and actions in the past tense, but the narrator's commentary is in present. I like to think of it as if the narrator wrote everything down after it happened, then went back and added in his own thoughts, usually exactly as he had them. But sometimes these thoughts are an "in retrospect" kind of thing.

    It sounds weird when I try to explain it, but when I'm writing, that's just what feels most natural. And going back and reading what I've written, I can say that I enjoy reading it like that, too. Here's an example. I wrote this a year or two ago, so I'm not too impressed with its quality anymore, but it demonstrates what I'm talking about.


    "Okay," I said. "Now that we're outside, can you tell me what you're plotting?"

    "Plotting nothing," Taylor said as she pulled a flashlight from nowhere. "I searched for hours after school, and I think I've found a good place to set up headquarters."

    Oh. Of course. The office from which we will be hunting our own imaginary bounties.

    "And where does the chain you mentioned fit into this?"

    "The entrance is chained shut. We need to break it to get inside."

    Whoa, what? Breaking into a locked building, in the middle of the night? Using the ever-so-subtle sledgehammer? Doesn't that sound a little... I don't know... illegal?

    "Don't worry. It's public property, so we won't get in trouble. Actually, I don't know why it's chained up in the first place. Someone probably did it by mistake."

    How stupid are you? People don't just lock up a building with a chain unless they have a good reason to do so. There might be something valuable inside. The place might even have an alarm! What if the cops come down on us like a couple of actual criminals?


    Ever since I started writing this way, I haven't been able to go back to third person. I've found my perfect style, and nothing else feels right anymore.
     
  10. Andronicus
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    Andronicus New Member

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    I love writing in first-person present tense. I hated reading it before, and thought that I would hate writing it, but when I first tried, it was like the clouds peeled back and I realized that I'd spent all these years missing out on an awesome thing.

    I know this will sound weird, but writing in FPPT made me actually 'feel' the story again, which was the first time that had happened since I was ten or so.

    Unfortunately, I don't think it works in many stories--it is much, much easier to get it wrong than get it right.
     
  11. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    What? If I write,

    I said to Bobby, "I really wish you wouldn't put that penguin on the table."

    the dialogue is in present, but the "said" makes it overall past tense.

    Just my tuppence.
     
  12. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    you could use.

    I say to bobbie

    but then that makes it a thought of the past.

    So what you would need to do is make it all diolog.
     
  13. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Not an issue for me, I write in third limited.
     
  14. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    I right in first person without forshadowing. Much.
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You know that's not what defines present and past tense right? It's simply the way you conjugate the verbs...If you write in a past tense, its past tense, if you write in the present tense, its present tense. It has nothing to do with foreshadowing or what/when you are thinking.
     
  16. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    I don't know. Depends on what you define as what. But as the standard american english language deffenition. Yes, you are correct. But in lala land, you are hearby sentenced to 2 years in pillow fight.
     
  17. cboatsman
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    cboatsman Senior Member

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    First person present tense is bad in my experiences. If you're new to writing I would stick with first person past tense and not complicate things.

    arron89 is correct in how past and present is defined. He is also correct that there is a search feature and this same topic has been discussed thoroughly in other threads if the OP wants further analysis.

    Caleb
     
  18. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    But i want my imput in a new thread... Allright though.
     
  19. LittleFire
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    LittleFire New Member

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    ahem, sorry for not responding in some time. Surprised at all the answers.

    Anyhow, I apologize for not using the search function earlier, I am merely a new member to this forum.

    Notice how one of you, or a few of you, provided an example and used, 'i said,' followed by the actual dialogue? I completely understand that, but in present tense form I feel like that kind of makes the character sound weird, namely in first person, third person would probably be different. I would just think the character wouldn't need to tell him or herself that he/she was telling someone something. This is just my opinion anyway. I know everyone has a different way of doing things.

    However, the approach I take is different. Here is an example of my own.

    "Hey, Leon, why are you acting like a fool?"

    "I am no fool Aidan, i am simply free-spirited!"

    I wouldn't continuously address everyone in every single dialogue, but I make sure that the main character mentions which character was talking after someone else talked, example

    "What's wrong with Leon? We should try to figure out the issue." Your barking up an impossible tree there, Irma.

    I didn't use the dialogue there because the narrator, aka, the main character, *which is what I meant whomever asked here* because he keeps it to himself, for while he does want to say it out loud, he feels the need to restrain himself.

    Well, that's how I do things. Some of you may like it, some may not. Everyone, including myself, needs improvements somewhere.
     
  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I would never write in both first person and present tense. To me that just seems awkward because the narrator is narrating the events as they are happening to him/her. I would feel a lot more comfortable reading third person present.

    If you want a good example of present tense, then I suggest you read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's in third person, but definitely take a look at it since she handles present tense extremely well. It may be useful if you decide to write in present tense.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    third person past tense is most commonly used in fiction because it works best for the reader and for the story on several levels...

    most importantly, third allows the writer more latitude in pov, not restricting the readers to learn only what that one person can see, hear and know, when things are obviously going on elsewhere with other characters, but we can't be allowed to know about it...

    it also allows the readers to put themselves in the story, while first person is so clearly the writer telling them what happened, which distances the reader from what's going on and keeps them from imagining it's happening to them... that may sound backwards, since first is all 'I' this and that, but the fact is, it's easier to picture yourself in fictional scenes while you read, when third past is used...

    and, most annoying of all, it's wall-to-wall I, I, I, my, my, my and me, me, me, while third gives one a much wider range of pronouns and their alternatives...

    present tense is nonsensical, since the person who's doing everything and to whom everything is happening to couldn't possibly be telling you about it while it's all taking place...

    finally, when seasoned agents and editors get a fiction ms that's written in first/present, eyes roll, heads shake, and amateur writer jokes fly!

    now, before you start mentioning this or that successful author who's used first/present, check out what percentage that choice represents among the total number of bestsellers and you'll see they're the extremely rare exception... so, do you want to aim for the odds being so heavily against you, or go for what gives you the best chance of getting published?
     
  22. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    Write in whichever style suits the work best and produces the best possible work. First and foremost, you are an artist, not a money-printing machine. Act as such, unless selling literature is your only chance of salvation from debtor's prison. I thoroughly disagree with mammamaia on this. Are you treating this as a way to make money or an artistic venture? The two are quite antithetic in their styles and aims. If you don't know, think hard about it. The best works are rarely produced by authors on a tight schedule who are thinking about money constantly.

    Take Hunter S. Thompson, for example. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a massive, revolutionary success. According to friends of Hunter's, he just locked himself away in his room for weeks in order to finish it. It was an obscenely long journalistic piece, with many a personal opinion mixed in. Luckily, he was already fairly well-known to Rolling Stone as a contributor, so he managed to get it published in two parts. It was a blockbuster success, and the entire genre of gonzo journalism came from it. Hunter could have written ten or so articles in the word count of Fear and Loathing. Why didn't he? Because he didn't care about money, he couldn't predict the results, and he just wrote because he wanted to - perhaps because he needed to.

    If you want to write a good piece, write it with passion and creativity, in the style best for the piece. Not only will this make it more authentically yours and improve its quality, the fact that it's written in the way you wanted to write it will keep the creativity flowing better. In the end, isn't that what we want? Selling out just to make a little cash and publish a book you might regret later is spectacularly admonishable. If you get rejections, look at the piece and improve it. Edit it. Recut it to better suit your vision and send it to another publisher. If it's as good as it can be, you'll get accepted.

    Artistic authenticity is far more important than any material sum.
     
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  23. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    First person is not as rare as that these days. It's a fairly recent development, but first-person is becoming more and more common, though mostly in youth books. More than half of the youth books I read are in first person, and I do see several that are reprinted regularly (I don't care what makes it to the bestseller lists because those trends are always changing and I don't want to waste time keeping up). Present-tense is also showing up more and more, though it is still rare and not something worth trying unless you have a strong grasp of correct grammatical structor when it comes to verb tenses. And there is the issue Rose has with it, which I completely understand. In the book I'm writing, I do use first person-present tense, but I regularly consult help regarding verb tense to make sure I have it correct. As well, my character is one who spends a lot of time in her head, thinking about what is happening, figuring things out. So what I write isn't all that different from what really would be going on in the mind of a real person like that, other than putting actions and what she sees into words.

    I believe we have to be aware of the challenges of hoping to publish something that isn't common, but there is a place for it if it is good enough. If you can't get it published in first-person present-tense, there is a chance you either lack certain skills, it was the wrong tense for the story, or they wouldn't be interested in that story no matter how it was written. Of course some editors will say no just for that reason. But all editors will reject stories/books for those kinds of reasons, even when a story is well done. It's just not what they are looking for.
     
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  24. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I've said it before but maybe I'll remind people...no one is pretending first person present tense is as immersive as third person. It isn't supposed to be. In fact, the opposite is true: FP-PT deliberately draws the reader out of the story and forces them to focus on the mechanics of the writing. This is something that is common to virtually all media in the Modern and Postmodern period (painting drawing attention to the act of painting, music experimenting with atonal, arrhythmic forms, etc). As such, the one genre where it is most common (except maybe YA fiction, but I don't know enough to explain that) is literary fiction, the kind of fiction the average reader eyes suspiciously and avoids at the risk of being labeled pretentious.

    Saying you absolutely should not write FPPT is obviously misguided, even if it was (I hope) suggested with good intentions. What you should do is think long and hard about the differences between the two, the strengths and weaknesses, the aesthetic/stylistic effect it will have on your work and THEN decide what is best for you, not to ask such a subjective question to a forum of writers with conflicting opinions.

    Again, a quick search will throw up a bunch of iterations of this same discussion, so browse through those if you need some ideas as to how to decide which is best for you.
     
  25. thinking
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    I have to respectfully disagree with Mammamaia here, when she says:

    "Third person past tense is most commonly used in fiction because it works best for the reader and for the story on several levels... third allows the writer more latitude in pov, not restricting the readers to learn only what that one person can see, hear and know, when things are obviously going on elsewhere with other characters."

    I think this discussion is skirting a major issue: we're not talking about first person vs. third person, but rather first person vs. omniscient third person. In other words, we're talking about third person as if the voice is removed from the story. Omniscient third person always involves a narrator who can see everything happen at once, and who never injects his or her own point of view into the story.

    I think people often treat first person and third person as if they are diametrically opposed; they aren't. Here's an example: The narrator of the Great Gatsby was a character in his own right; he personally interacted with the major characters over the course of the novel. However, the the plot was really about Gatsby, and in that sense, the narration was third person. Is this book third person with commentary from a narrator, or is it first person with the focus on another character?

    Even in "first person" novels, we step into third person whenever we describe another character's actions. Obviously, there are clear differences between omniscient narrators and those of the more average variety, but we're splitting hairs in debating first vs. third person itself. I think the use of either first or third person is fluid in most stories, unless you choose to use an omniscient third person for a narrator.

    "and, most annoying of all, it's wall-to-wall I, I, I, my, my, my and me, me, me, while third gives one a much wider range of pronouns and their alternatives... "

    I agree this can be annoying, but I don't see how it's any more annoying than wall-to wall he, he, he, they, they, they, and Jon, Jon, Jon.... I think the problem may not be who the narrator is but rather the overall quality of writing.

    I totally agree with you that "present tense is nonsensical" and very amateur. It's also annoying as all-get-out. I would not recommend it.

    As for how I write, my first "novel" (I was twelve, don't laugh at me) was omniscient third person past tense, but my current project is first person past tense. With hat said, my narrator sends an awful lot of time using the third person, but once again, it's splitting hairs.

    On a side note, Mommamaia, every time I see your pen-name this floats through my head: "Mamma mia, here I go again...". Just thought you should know.
     

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