Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wanting to Attempt First Person POV/Present Tense?

I see this recurring question on the several writing forums I visit:

"I want to write my novel in first person present tense. How can I do that?"

Usually this question is posted after the young (when I say young, I mean an author early in their writing career) has tried the technique and is struggling.

My first bit of advice is to consider if 1st Person POV/Present Tense is really the best choice for relaying the story to the reader. If it absolutely is (what exactly would make it qualify, I'm not sure. Each author has their own criteria) and the author definitely wants to write the story, then attempt it, knowing it's toing to be a real uphill struggle. Another option is to writing skills while working on other projects that don't employ 1st Person POV/Present Tense, and come back to it later.

The writer wanting to attempt the difficult technique often says they think it will make the story more intense and immediate and personal to the reader. Maybe, but unless it's done by a skilled hand, the novel's content often sounds play-by-play, repetitive and forced.

I'll say again: It is a very difficult technique to master.

 My strongest recommendation before attempting 1st Person/Present Tense is for the writer to locate several novels that they have read and enjoyed written in the POV and tense in question.

Read and re-read the novels, paying close attention to how those authors accomplished what is going to be attempted and/or currently struggling with, be it dialogue, describing actions, events, etc. Take notes and compare from author to author.

Then, from what has been studied and learned, the writer should apply it to their own writing style and the story they're attempting to write.

My suggestions for 1st Person POV/Present Tense novels:

Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring

The Zombie-Driven Life by David Wood

Confessions of a D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer

The technique can be very effective and powerful when it's done well. It's a distracting disaster that detracts from the characters and story when implemented poorly. In that case no agent/editor will consider it. Even if sees the light of day through self-publishing, readers will pass it turn away and pass it over.

As a final note, I think the main reason present tense initially feels awkward to readers and also to writers, is because, we're used to hearing stories relayed to us in past tense. When a spouse tells what happened at work, or a teen tells what happened at the ballgame the night before, or a 'Once upon a time' story is read to a child just before bed, they're told using the past tense structure.


  1. Good points! I'm not a huge fan of 1st person/present tense myself, but I have tried it before. One of my most well-received stories was written that way. I was a bit surprised, because as you said, it's hard to pull off. I think the same goes for second person. It's really hard to do, but if it's done well, it can be pretty engaging.

    1. I think 2nd Person POV would be even more difficult to pull off.