Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Insecure writer: changing point of view

Right now with my writing I'm debating which point of view to use in my next project, after I've heard rumbling from several different places (such as Authoress at the Miss Snark's First Victim blog) that the publishing industry is getting tired of first person present tense. A famous example from a book that probably influenced a lot of writers in recent years to choose this tense (including myself):

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas over the mattress.

Authoress says she might rewrite her entire work-in-progress from first person present into third person past tense. Wow! Re-writing an entire book to change tense?

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Ironically, at the same time I'm hearing this talk about how first present tense (made famous in Young Adult by The Hunger Games) is no longer in vogue, I started reading Dodie Smith's coming of age book, I Capture the Castle, written in 1948.

And written in first person present tense! (In the form of journal entries). And here I thought this point of view was a fairly recent innovation.  But it shows that no matter the time period or current trends in publishing, a really good story will trump anything.
I Capture the Castle
I think it's a good exercise to play with different points of view when you are getting started with a new story, finding which one is the perfect "fit" for your characters and the style of the book. I've never really given much thought to which tense I use: for my last story, I just jumped right into first person present tense instead of picking what was the most natural fit for my story, I was reading a lot of present tense in other books at that time. To be honest, all my most favorite books are written in third person past. (Though now that I've fallen in love with I Capture the Castle in present tense, I wonder....)


  1. There is actually a writer who has the same problem as myself! My children's books are always in the first person, children like this, speaks to them. Unfortunately, I am now about to write for grown-ups and can't get out of this habit!

  2. I have never written in present tense, although I love 1st person, especially for YA. I think it's good to examine what works for your story, but I'd be careful about rewriting a whole book based on what agents say. (I've made that mistake before...) But maybe try a few chapters and see what you think. By the way, I Capture the Castle is one of my all time favorites! I never noticed it was present tense.

  3. My current WIP is in the first person present tense. I actually had no idea it was once in vogue (even though I read The Hunger Games). I just gravitated toward it because that was what felt natural for my story.

    While writing my story, I played around with perspectives from different characters. But their voices too were in first person present tense. I guess this style of POV has grown on me!

  4. Margo, you've just mentioned one of my FAVORITE books of all time. Have you seen the movie version? Also good, but not as great as the book (of course). You know, I see all these rules for writing, like "don't have a prologue" or "don't have a girl MC do this or that" and I TRULY believe it really just comes down to the story. If you have a good story, it doesn't matter if you write in a prologue or if you write in third person present or first person omniscient or second person. If you think changing tenses will benefit your story, go for it. But I honestly don't think people really care as long as the story is good!

  5. Oh, isn't there just so much to worry over as a writer? Haha. I will say this: when first person present is done WELL, I don't even notice, not for pages. I think it can be irritating, but I've found it's very suitable for certain types of stories. I always do first person past tense, until I gutted a manuscript and started rewriting, it just didn't work until I changed the tense to present. The immediacy and drama of the scene seemed to call for it. Other works it didn't fit.

    Trying to predict what New York wants or what is over/done and what's next will drive you crazy. I do the same exact speculation, but every time I do, I realize it's fruitless. Choose the tense that works for you!

  6. I often do this when trying a new type of story. I write first person past, but do third person past for characters other than the main heroine. Its very freeing to see things from a literal other point of view. :) I wouldn't worry what is in vogue. I'd worry about telling the best story possible in the best way possible.

  7. HI, Margo,

    I think First/first will always be popular, especially in certain genres like Y/A... I actually had to rewrite my second novel from first/past to first/present because if was a better fit. UGG... It is not fun. I don't know the the Authoress feels she has to change the tense. Just for trend?

  8. Write what feels right for you & your story. Consider writing the first chapter in 1st person then again in the 3rd. Which sounds right? Follow your instincts. Best wishes.

  9. I really like writing in first person, but usually past tense. I have noticed a lot of third person books recently and wondered about the trend. But, it doesn't make sense to write for a trend. By the time we finish our books and get an editor to consider them, the trend might have changed. Good luck!

  10. POV is something I struggle with. I often have a hard time not switching half way through a story.

  11. Writing in present tense is actually really, really hard. It is not our usual mode for telling stories--past tense is. I'm wrapping up a second novel in 1st person present, because of the way it removes for the protagonist a sense of perspective--she has to deal with everything as it comes at her. I'm looking forward to doing something different in the future. For my money, first person past gives you intimacy and also the option of having the character reflect/learn as she tells the story. It also feels more natural, like the narrator is talking to you, rather than looking through her eyeballs (which is kind of weird when you really think about it).

  12. I prefer first person/past tense for most of what I write because I love really getting into my character's heads. But the new idea I have rolling around in my brain might call for a major switch in POV, so I'm kind of excited to see where it takes me!

  13. I change POV's on every MS depending on the story, but I do always keep a 1st person journal from the MC's perspective to inform my 3rd person inner thoughts. Good luck.

  14. I've written stories in both viewpoints. I think a lot of what you chose comes from how complicated the character is. If they are able to present the reader with a surprise/twist in the course of the narrative.

    At the moment, my short story turned into novel is 3rd.

  15. I love reading third person omniscient! Get me inside as many heads as possible.



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