1. Owen8
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    Owen8 Member

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    First Person Present Tense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Owen8, Nov 24, 2012.

    The general consensus seems to be that this style should be avoided, especially for a first time writer like myself. But for the story I'm working on now, this just seems to fit. So, what is your opinion on this? Do you like when writers use it? And if someone felt compelled to write in this POV, what would be some things to think about?
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Whoops, I missed the point of the question - 1st person but in present tense. Hmm this is hard.
    I tried to do a short story this way but it was hit and miss. I don't know if an entire book could
    carry it off. I'd read some fiction that uses the technique - Little Women, Rabbit, Run - John Updike,
    As I Lay Dying Faulkner.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    First person? Fine, sure, whatever. I mildly prefer third person, but I can read first person.

    First person present tense? I hate it. I've hated it since Babar. Unreasoning and exception-free hatred. I can't say why, but there it is. And I suspect that I'm far from alone, so I'd suggest thinking really, really hard about why you feel that it's needed.
     
  4. A.L.Mitchell
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    A.L.Mitchell Active Member

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    Anyone could write in first person, but it is a skill to do it well. I like first and third however, it does depends on the story for me. At the moment I'm writing a short story series called "The Lawmen", which is a story in first person past.
     
  5. HarryArthurAlston
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    HarryArthurAlston New Member

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    Writing is subjective: if you feel comfortable in writing in first-person, write in first person. The words and tense will come naturally. Practice makes perfect.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'd drop anything in first/present like a hot rock... there's never any good reason for using that awkward combo, imo... as a professional editor, i'd toss any submission written that way, or if it's a client's work, would strongly advise them to change over to third/past, if they hope to ever get the thing published/sold...
     
  7. Showpony
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    Showpony New Member

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    You said it right. The GENERAL consensus seems to be that this style SHOULD be avoided.

    This doesn't mean it's always wrong, or bad. There are times when it works. But it's a niche style, and should be used only if there's a compelling reason for it.

    You say it "just seems to fit". Why do you say that? What is the reason that you think this style works for your story?

    It's not so much a matter of liking it or not. It's a matter of whether or not it's right for the story. I like anchovies, and I like chocolate chip ice cream. That doesn't mean I put either one, or both, in a meal, just because I like them.
     
  8. Owen8
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    Owen8 Member

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    Thank you for your comments. It gives me a lot to think about. I think I may just write it in 1st present for now, and see how it turns out. The reason I think this fits is that the story is very much compelled by the character's perception of the world he is in and the characters he's interacting with, which isn't always reliable. So I suppose I feel that experiencing the events from the MC's perspective and as events are happening will allow me to manipulate things more than 3rd. Is this kind of writing a realistic goal? And as a side note, I have the first chapter posted in the novels section if you'd want to take a look.
     
  9. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Present tense style is fine in first person narration. It makes the reader follow along with the character as the story progress. If first person is in past tense, it will sound like a written story which the character has left behind for people to read about his or her life in the past; like a memoir or a diary. Whichever you feel works, stick to it. Some instructors think all fiction should be in past tense, but that isn't completely true.
     
  10. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I've always found present-tense to be distracting.
     
  11. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The issue, as I see it, is not primarily about first person, but about present tense.

    Most of the narrative in most novels is written as events are happening, even though it uses past tense. There may of course be flashbacks and flash forwards and foreshadowing, but those are far from mandatory. However, when writing in present tense, they are to some extent not available to you, so it seems to me that using present tense reduces, rather than increasing, your ability to manipulate things.

    Similarly, in first person you cannot use knowledge of events outside your character's perception, while in third person you can choose to limit yourself in the same way (third person limited, a point of view that lets you follow the character's experiences and perceptions just as tightly as you can in first person.) However, you can also choose not to limit yourself to one character's perceptions.

    So by choosing first person present, you seem to be choosing the most, rather than the least, restrictive option. You're picking up a box full of good, solid, easy-to-use tools, and throwing many of those tools away.

    Of course, technically you _could_ have flashbacks, flash forwards, foreshadowing, information from multiple characters, all in first person present. It's just far more difficult. To continue the analogy, you took a box full of good tools, threw most of them away, and replaced them with odd, finicky tools that are far, far harder to use.

    I did read some of your sample chapter, and I'm not seeing how it benefits from the first person present choice. I think that third person limited, past tense, would work just as well. (Edited to add: As far as I know, an unreliable narrator in third person limited is just fine.)

    I find myself wondering if perhaps your reading choices have been dominated by old-fashioned classic novels in third person omniscient style?
     
  13. Owen8
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    Actually, my reading is mostly dominated by contemporary science fiction and fantasy written in third person limited. I've written other things mostly in third person, but I suppose I just really felt this would fit the story. I do appreciate very much your perspective. Thanks for reading the sample chapter and giving your feedback, I'll be thinking about that.
     
  14. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Just out of interest could we have a small exert to see how it works, im interested to see how you have approached it. Or an example not from your story but using the perspectives you noted.
     
  15. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Main reason for you to start reading EVERYTHING that comes in your way. If you plan to write, you need to read. A friend of mine said it this way: "Writers are just a sub-category of readers who decided to do something more with what they read. It is better for a writer to have a greater urge for reading than for writing."
     
  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Agreed. I think it is very interesting and choose the style for some of my own work. It's not that there is no good reason, they just can't see a good reason. Often there is more than what we can see.

    Anyone who would toss aside a piece of writing because of the style it was written in, as opposed to the quality of the writing, may be missing out (to put it incredibly politely).
     
  17. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Now don't be rude! :)

    But really, how can you judge the quality of someone's narrative and style simply by looking at the first sentence??

    Are you suggesting that the only way one could hope to publish a work is to write it in third person - past tense?????
     
  18. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I did post a suggestion to check out something I have on the forum that demonstrates the use of 1st person present, but the post was entirely removed so I'm not willing to do it again.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...no, i didn't say or suggest that... but it's highly unlikely that an agent would want to rep a novel in first/present, or that a paying publisher would want to take it on, since it wouldn't be marketable enough to make them any money... and that's what they're in business to do, y'know...

    ...plus, it's highly unlikely that any new writer would be able to write well enough to make people want to read a first/present work...
     
  20. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Uhm, just finished Number9Dream by David Mitchel?
     
  21. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    etc, etc
     
  22. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    bah!

    I'd change this to:

     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sellbin, I'll venture to speak for Maia, with respect. A new writer is up against enough challenges without trying to use a writing approach that few veteran writers can pull off, and which will make most submission editors immediately cringe.
     
  24. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Fair enough. But do you think though they'll cringe because the style was executed poorly, as you both reasonably suggest would be the case, or that the style was used in the first place? Surely you can tell within the first paragraph if the writer is capable of handling it? Perhaps with the repetition of poor use they may become tired of examples, but they should tread lightly because a good example will be like a shining beacon.

    Not all 'first time writers' are new to writing. Some hone their craft over decades before seeking publication.
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    They will cringe because of all the novice writers who attempt such literary acrobatics in an attempt to be avant garde, or simply out of ignorance. Undoubtedly, every example they have seen has been atrocious.

    I know for my part that there are certain constructs I see in places like the Writing Workshop and on other sites that immediately signal a less than pleasant read. Accurately.
     

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