Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Past and Present

There is an interesting debate going on in the Novels section of the Absolute Write Water Cooler about the use of first person, present tense in a novel. Of course I had to weigh in on the "in favor of" side of the issue since WORKING STIFF and its sequel SCARED STIFF are written in just that form. Yet there are some there who say they won't give a book a second glance if it's written in first person present. Different strokes and all that, I suppose, but I can't imagine dismissing a book for something so basic.

For me, first person present wasn't my first choice for the work. I originally wrote it in first person past (and there is another whole camp of objectors who don't like first person in any form) but it always seemed a bit off to me. When I finally went through the manuscript and changed it all to first person present, it finally felt right. It lent a sense of immediacy to the work that made it feel more like a movie, where you are watching the action happen as it unfolds rather than in a long extended flashback. And for a mystery with a first person POV, it just seemed more right and honest.

My first three books were all written in third person (limited) past tense and it worked well, so I'm not wedded to first person present by any means. But I'm puzzled by the objections of some readers to this style. While it may not be the norm, many highly successful and popular books use it, such as THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, LOTTERY, and FIGHT CLUB.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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At 9:22 PM, Blogger Spencer L Casey said...

I was going to bring up The Time Traveler's Wife as a good example of a great example of 1st Person Present.

My opinion, some folks are so used to past-tense, they find present-tense unappetizing. They are thinking about it too much, tripped up by the structure.

With a mystery, 1st person present is great because you don't know if the 1st person is going to survive from one moment to the next. With any past tense killing off the main character is extremely difficult... because they are telling the story. They must have survived, right?



At 2:19 PM, Blogger Kathy Franklin said...

I usually don't like first person present, but I didn't mind it in your book. Meg Cabot's Heather Wells series is also first person present, and I like it, too, so I guess I'm getting used to it.

Kathy Franklin
Barnes & Noble #2565
Springfield, IL

At 3:36 PM, Blogger beth amos said...

Thanks, Kathy! Glad you're coming around. ;)


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