Author Topic: [Guide] First Person Narratives  (Read 2462 times)

bardsandsages

[Guide] First Person Narratives
« on: September 18, 2018, 06:27:14 AM »
For purposes of encouraging craft discussions:

First person narratives are popular in several genres but reviled in others. Folks often come down strongly on one side or the other. Like anything else in writing, knowing the limits of a style and recognizing potential pitfalls in advance can help a skilled writer avoid problems with their story. I've often said that first-person narratives are incredibly difficult to do well, as they are dependent on the personality of the narrator to carry them. But it can be a powerful storytelling technique if approached carefully and with thought.

https://bardsandsages.com/juliedawson/2013/10/24/first-person-narrative-pitfalls-reprint/
« Last Edit: September 20, 2018, 03:57:14 PM by TimothyEllis »
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Llano

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2018, 08:40:16 AM »
Keep them coming. It's critical to populate this forum with useful posts quickly.
 

Kate Elizabeth

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2018, 01:18:11 AM »
Maybe it's where I read so many 1st person narrative stories growing up, but I find that my preference in writing is using 1st person narrative.  I can write in 3rd, and have done so, but especially for chick lit, I do it best in 1st.  Thanks for the article, Julie.  That was very informative.
 

idontknowyet

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2018, 02:43:51 AM »
Before I started writing I knew that POV was an important part of writing a story, but as a reader I really didn't care. I've since went back to look at some of my favorite books and noticed that many authors switch from 1st person present to 3rd with in a story sometimes even within a chapter.

I now find personally I prefer to read and write in 1st person present, but I really don't think reader care much about POV.
 

elleoco

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2018, 07:57:36 AM »
A lot of my favorite mysteries are first person, but I wouldn't read a first person romance. My guess is a lot of readers feel that way as there aren't a lot of first person romances, at least in the subgenres I write.

As a writer, I learned a lot about POV when I wrote my dog mystery in first person. I'd recommend trying it just for that reason.

sstreet

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2018, 08:39:49 AM »
I write YA Romance and it seems most of the books in that genre are first person. Some are first person present and some are first person past tense. Ugh. I really have an issue with this topic as a writer.

I said vs. I say. Etc.

As a reader I can't say I prefer one over the other too much, but I've had some reviews that state a dislike of reading in the past tense. However, I also struggle with keeping tense when I write present tense. I have no idea why this is so difficult for me.

Also, I LOVE romances in first person, they feel a lot more intimate. I read a lot of Christian romance and they are usually not first person and I always wish they were, with alternating POV's.  Interesting how everyone has such different preferences.
 

elleoco

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2018, 09:48:11 AM »
Also, I LOVE romances in first person, they feel a lot more intimate. I read a lot of Christian romance and they are usually not first person and I always wish they were, with alternating POV's.  Interesting how everyone has such different preferences.

Maybe it has to do with intimacy level? You're mentioning a subgenre without sex scenes. I don't even read very spicy romance and sometimes it feels voyeuristic. First person? No thanks.

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Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2018, 10:43:53 AM »
I enjoy writing in first, but also third. Tense is usually where I run into trouble. I know present tense is popular in first person, but I find it tough to do well.
 

Tulonsae

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Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2018, 11:15:32 AM »
The only way I can read first person present is if I convert all the sentences to first person past in my brain as I read. That's the only way I could finish Hunger Games. And it's so tiring, I just don't read first person present anymore.

I know that it's very popular for a lot of people. So, I spent some time thinking about it and finally figured out why. It's too personal for me. Especially when a lot of the books I read are about younger people. I'm not that young. And I don't want to remember the days when I was that young (too much unpleasantness).

Anyway, it feels very odd to read things as if I'm doing them when it's something I'd never do and is a personality I could never be. But then, I also have trouble with the entire affirmations thing. I have to figure out how to phrase it so my brain doesn't immediately go "you're lying".

Now, first person past works for me, because it feels like someone else is narrating their story. And I am interested in other people's experiences and personalities. I just can't adopt them as mine. (Unless I'm role playing.)
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idontknowyet

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2018, 12:55:06 PM »
I write YA Romance and it seems most of the books in that genre are first person. Some are first person present and some are first person past tense. Ugh. I really have an issue with this topic as a writer.

I said vs. I say. Etc.

As a reader I can't say I prefer one over the other too much, but I've had some reviews that state a dislike of reading in the past tense. However, I also struggle with keeping tense when I write present tense. I have no idea why this is so difficult for me.

Also, I LOVE romances in first person, they feel a lot more intimate. I read a lot of Christian romance and they are usually not first person and I always wish they were, with alternating POV's.  Interesting how everyone has such different preferences.

Didn't really think about the said vs say issue in 1st person present.

Looking back at my writing if I tag before the quote I use say and after the quote I use said.

Example  I say, "I am going to the park."
"I am going to they park." I said.

Would this be correct. Grammar is soo not my thing. If so i might need to change like a million tags.
 

Joe Vasicek

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2018, 02:29:27 PM »
Personally, I can't stand anything in present tense. First and third person are both okay, though.

Robert Charles Wilson wrote a trilogy where the first book (Spin) was in first person but the other two books (Axis and Vortex) were in third. That's probably breaking the rules according to someone, but I thought it worked quite well. Probably helped that Spin was a really fantastic book.
 

Becca Mills

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2018, 03:18:59 PM »
Personally, I can't stand anything in present tense. First and third person are both okay, though.

Robert Charles Wilson wrote a trilogy where the first book (Spin) was in first person but the other two books (Axis and Vortex) were in third. That's probably breaking the rules according to someone, but I thought it worked quite well. Probably helped that Spin was a really fantastic book.

Spin has sequels?! How did I not know this??
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Mark Gardner

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2018, 03:24:31 PM »
Spin has sequels?! How did I not know this??
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Joe Vasicek

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2018, 03:55:31 PM »
Personally, I can't stand anything in present tense. First and third person are both okay, though.

Robert Charles Wilson wrote a trilogy where the first book (Spin) was in first person but the other two books (Axis and Vortex) were in third. That's probably breaking the rules according to someone, but I thought it worked quite well. Probably helped that Spin was a really fantastic book.

Spin has sequels?! How did I not know this??

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Kate Elizabeth

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2018, 02:12:57 AM »
I used to write in 1st person past, but the last few stories I've written have been in 1st person present.

I was reading a really great book a couple of years ago, and I was halfway through before I realized that it was 1st person present.  So, I guess it doesn't bother me as a reader.
 

guest215

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2018, 02:40:45 AM »
Close third person in past tense is my default, as it is the modern approach to narrative that allows a character's thoughts to feel natural, while allowing evidence of interpersonal byplay. It feels natural, and is intuitive to the reader. I would encourage new writers to use close third person in past tense while they develop their style and voice.

Sometimes close third person isn't right, though. When you have experience, you know when to break the rules to good effect. I have one series that simply didn't work in the third person, or in past tense. Putting it in first person present is what made it work, and keeps it on the lists.

I also have a plot bunny running around my head for my next book after my current WIP, and nothing will work for that story but first person.

Experience, I think, is what makes these choices effective in setting the right mood and telling they story they need to. Know your genre, and know your writing.



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Cathleen

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2018, 03:38:25 AM »
I love first person. I drafted my first five novels all in first past.

Okay, they all need to be re-written (and after sooo much editing, too). But I always thought first person was great for starting out, since it eliminated POV violations. However, reading Julie's post, I guess that's not the case for everyone.

I've tried to increase my skills at third-limited since that seems to be the current go-to POV, and I don't need any more problems trying to get some traction with readers. Most of what I write is in third-limited now.

But once in a while, I drop back into first, usually for a short story, just for the pleasure of it. And for some reason, when I'm a non-human character, it's always in first present. Go figure [insert shrug here].
 

Jeff Tanyard

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #17 on: September 21, 2018, 02:36:45 PM »
First person past is awesome as hell.  It was all the rage in the 19th century, and a lot of the classics are written in that style.

I won't read first person present at all.  It's got its fans, but I'll never be one of them.
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R H Auslander

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #18 on: September 22, 2018, 02:27:37 PM »
A lot of my favorite mysteries are first person, but I wouldn't read a first person romance. My guess is a lot of readers feel that way as there aren't a lot of first person romances, at least in the subgenres I write.
As a writer, I learned a lot about POV when I wrote my dog mystery in first person. I'd recommend trying it just for that reason.

I wrote all four of my books in first person, for me it was the easiest way to write. I 'looked inside' your Rottie book, interesting story and I'll probably buy it. I don't know how, yet, to post my books as part of my signature, but my one book on dogs, it's the dog who does the narrative and is the listed author. She's very young at the beginning, and her narrative gives a look at life from her point of view. For instance, 'glass' is 'hard stuff I can see through', auto is 'room that moves' and such. Her second book is about 50%, and in that tome some mystery will enter in the plot line. The third book will start her mystery series.

My other books, more than one character does the narrative. I try to put the personality of the character who does the narrative in to their verbiage, but not so much that it distracts from the story line.
 

Max

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #19 on: September 22, 2018, 02:49:48 PM »
I love when I read a book done so well that I don't even notice (or care) about tense or pov. It's such a joy and makes my blood sing when that happens. It's a skill I don't possess.
But as far as my own writing goes, close third has become my mainstay.
 

PJ Post

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #20 on: September 22, 2018, 03:07:48 PM »
I write exclusively in first present: 80's nostalgia love story, post-apoc and cyberpunk so far. I just like working with the limited perspective while still trying to tell a big story. Love it. And I think Julie's right, it is tough to do well. I'm not saying mine are necessarily done well, just that they were tough to write. For example, how do you let the reader in on the "secret", while keeping the MC in the dark, you know, the person narrating?

In keeping with the thread idea:

For those writing first person (past or present), what have been your toughest hurdles to overcome?
And for those that read it (or don't), what are your biggest complaints, apart from - "hate it"?
 

Tulonsae

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #21 on: September 22, 2018, 03:41:28 PM »
I write exclusively in first present: 80's nostalgia love story, post-apoc and cyberpunk so far. I just like working with the limited perspective while still trying to tell a big story. Love it. And I think Julie's right, it is tough to do well. I'm not saying mine are necessarily done well, just that they were tough to write. For example, how do you let the reader in on the "secret", while keeping the MC in the dark, you know, the person narrating?

In keeping with the thread idea:

For those writing first person (past or present), what have been your toughest hurdles to overcome?
And for those that read it (or don't), what are your biggest complaints, apart from - "hate it"?

I mentioned why I can't read first person present earlier in the thread.

I started my current WIP as 3rd person past (close 3rd), but after 2 chapters, I had to switch to first person past - cuz the story insisted. It doesn't seem that hard, but maybe that's because I've read a lot of first person past the last few years. Of course, I haven't gotten far enough long to see what an editor thinks...
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TinkSaid

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2018, 09:55:34 PM »
I love when I read a book done so well that I don't even notice (or care) about tense or pov. It's such a joy and makes my blood sing when that happens. It's a skill I don't possess.
But as far as my own writing goes, close third has become my mainstay.

Agree!

Although I find it useful sometimes to bash out an occasional chapter opening as a rough draft in first, just to get an inside track on the pov character's motivation.
 

formerly Sapphire

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2018, 10:18:13 PM »
It's a good craft experiment to write different stories using the different tenses. Nothing can make you more aware of both the obvious and the subtle differences in impact than creating an entire story. I'm currently working on a new novel where the main character goes away from the physical area where events continue to happen whether she's present or not. The chapters in which she's physically present are written in first person, present tense. When she is miles away, chapters are written in third person, past tense. I like the effect. So does my critique group. However, it's tricky. I catch myself slipping into the wrong tense if I don't stay on guard. I, also, have to work hard at remembering what is possible for any one character to know. The final result will be interesting.

ETA grammar error :eek:
« Last Edit: September 23, 2018, 12:39:21 AM by formerly Sapphire »
 

RCoots

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #24 on: September 22, 2018, 10:35:53 PM »
Oh. Interesting. Myself, I don't write in first person, because i want a little more flexibility to see outside my character. Do do write a relatively close third, but that's just me. And if I wrote romance, I'd probably make an effort to write in first, since that seems to be the...not trend these days. Prevailing? Prevailing way to write romances. I don't mind reading first, so long as it's done well. Same with third person, etc.
 

MelanieRay

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #25 on: September 23, 2018, 06:10:52 AM »
I have written in each, but I prefer close third person. I haven't ever gotten grief for my first persons, though those were ya and I think it handles first person better.

My next book though isn't ya and it will be in first person since both of my characters are mute. I need to get the audience as close as possible to them. Third person simply doesn't cut it for it. We'll see how it goes.
 
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Joseph Malik

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #26 on: September 23, 2018, 07:57:53 AM »
Great article, but understanding and recognizing the various narrative POVs resident within first person is just as important as understanding limited vs. omniscient when writing in third. Simply choosing "first person" is not remotely sufficient. In fact, it's often a recipe for disaster.

There are at least six first-person POVs that I can think of. (If you know of more, please add them.)

Subjective narration. This is the most common first-person POV in fiction. This is a narrator interjecting their own commentary while telling the reader about something that happened to them. There are angles and shades to this, including the Unreliable Narrator, which is exactly what it sounds like. Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights is an unreliable narrator.

Interior monologue. This is less common, and there’s a trick to it: the audience for the interior monologue is the narrator themselves. The narrator doesn’t speak to the reader; the reader is looking into the narrator’s mind. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. But it’s powerful when it’s done well.

Interior monologue with stream of consciousness. Less common still. This is interior monologue, but the writing flows as if it’s just words going through the narrator’s mind–there’s no way that this is possibly happening holy crap this thing totally happened and yet the words keep flowing OMG make it stop. There can be lots of run-on sentences, but there don't have to be. Again, this is spectacular when it’s done well. The Catcher in the Rye is interior monologue with stream of consciousness.

Memoir. This feels a lot like subjective narration, and reads similarly on its face. And more confusingly, “memoirs” are often written in first-person subjective. However, “memoir” as a voice tends to be more emotionally and temporally distant, and generally more factual, than first-person subjective. It’s more of a stylistic consideration than a point of view in and of itself. It’s a feel thing, and it’s hard to dial in except that you’ll know it when you see it after you’ve read enough of it. Memoir voice is typically done in past tense, but often jumps around in time, as well, interjecting current considerations and follow-on effects into the narrative. The scenes in Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain where the main character (the dog) is narrating about his family–the scenes where he is NOT the main character, but a peripheral character–are told in memoir. The scenes where the dog is central to the story are told in subjective narration. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of the best recent examples of different voices inside one POV. It should be on every author’s bookshelf. It’s practically a textbook on first-person voice.

Detached. Memoir voice from even further away, emotionally and temporally. A narrator telling a story about something that happened to them either long ago, or far away. Rarely enters present-day, and rarely refers to follow-on effects. Detached often has a clinical feel. I don’t know of any examples off the top of my head where detached first person is used for the entire book, but I can see it being used, say, in a murder mystery where the narrator is a medical examiner and is writing clinically about a case. Maybe a really gritty detective novel could pull this off, but it might get hokey and gimmicky pretty quick. It could work really well for a framed first-person narrative. (I'll discuss framed narratives if we do a thread on third person voice.)

Cinematic. This is a relatively new one on me, but I’ve certainly seen enough of it in genre fiction and especially among fledgling authors. As I understand it, cinematic first person describes a writing style that is almost entirely action and/or description oriented, with minimal emotional or intellectual focus. No real deep dives into why things are happening or what they’re doing to the narrator emotionally, just a bunch of stuff popping off for three hundred pages, typically in present tense. I don’t know if this kind of fiction is written as a conscious choice, or if the term “cinematic first person” developed as a way to politely describe the writing style of people who watch a lot of movies and don’t like to read.

The problem with all of this is that you can only choose one of these. If you wobble between them, your writing will feel clunky, even if the reader doesn't know why; switching between, say, Memoir and Detached in first person can be just as jarring as "head-hopping" in close third. It can be done, but it's very, very tricky. Some authors have a gift for this. Most don't.

Your reader will never realize, "Oh, this author moved between subjective and detached first-person, here; I hate this book." This is mostly because 99% of people don't know subjective first from detached, but also because 99.9% of people don't punctuate their thoughts with semicolons.

Anyway. The reader will just know that the writing felt clumsy, and they'll look side-eyed at some passages even if they don't know why.

This is why.

Further, choosing one--and only one--of the above is key to delivering your story, because each voice conveys unique information to the reader. Therefore, your choice of POV determines how the reader is going to reach, and interpret, the point of the story.

Each narrative POV tells the story differently. You need to understand them so that you know how your story will be read.

This is also important because, a lot of the time, when a book dies on the vine, it's because the author chose the wrong narrative POV, and the story has dead-ended. (Or, they chose no POV except for "first" or "third," which is much, much worse, because they know what they want to say but they're unsure of how to say it.) Knowing and choosing one narrative POV makes it simple to determine what your story is, and more importantly, how it's construed. Even if you're a pantser, choosing a narrative POV will determine the "feel" of the story and keep the book on the rails.

Know your resident POVs. Read and practice until you can select one and stay with it.

Lots of stuff about voice on my blog. It's all searchable.
 
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elleoco

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #27 on: September 23, 2018, 09:02:07 AM »
I 'looked inside' your Rottie book, interesting story and I'll probably buy it. I don't know how, yet, to post my books as part of my signature, but my one book on dogs, it's the dog who does the narrative and is the listed author.

Thanks, R H. One of the many things that surprised me (that was the first book I published) was how many people only read mysteries like that if they're about their own breed. I pretty much read them all - Susan Conant's Malamutes, Laurien Berenson's poodles, decent stories, dogs, what's not to like. I intended that book to be the start of a series but then the romances did so well I got distracted. I'd still like to write more mysteries, but I'm not speedy.

There's a thread on signatures in the Admin section here. If you post there, maybe someone can lead you through the process of creating a sig. I just copied mine from KBoards and then took out the tags for there, so I can't help with creating one from scratch.

Crystal

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #28 on: September 24, 2018, 09:46:59 AM »
A lot of my favorite mysteries are first person, but I wouldn't read a first person romance. My guess is a lot of readers feel that way as there aren't a lot of first person romances, at least in the subgenres I write.

As a writer, I learned a lot about POV when I wrote my dog mystery in first person. I'd recommend trying it just for that reason.

What??? First person is huge in romance now. Most new adult and erotic romance are in first and a huge amount of contemporary is as well.
 
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R H Auslander

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #29 on: October 02, 2018, 05:51:59 AM »
I 'looked inside' your Rottie book, interesting story and I'll probably buy it. I don't know how, yet, to post my books as part of my signature, but my one book on dogs, it's the dog who does the narrative and is the listed author.

Thanks, R H. One of the many things that surprised me (that was the first book I published) was how many people only read mysteries like that if they're about their own breed. I pretty much read them all - Susan Conant's Malamutes, Laurien Berenson's poodles, decent stories, dogs, what's not to like. I intended that book to be the start of a series but then the romances did so well I got distracted. I'd still like to write more mysteries, but I'm not speedy.

There's a thread on signatures in the Admin section here. If you post there, maybe someone can lead you through the process of creating a sig. I just copied mine from KBoards and then took out the tags for there, so I can't help with creating one from scratch.


Sorry for the delay in replying, with site down and/or moving servers, odds and ends in this AO, it took too long to reply to you. I did figure out how to put the books in my signature.


My first Annya Koli book is doing well, albeit far more sales via email than on amazon, and many more reviews the same way. I've made my decision on the direction of her books, the end of the second book will be a tease and open up the coming mysteries. In the second book, Dedya (grandfather) Sasha, a street dog who took care of the foundling Viktorya in the first book, is part of the action and is introduced as a main character. A pair of street dogs, who are real, will also figure in the action as will the entire Koli family. Rutherford and Mary's names will be changed to something similar in Russian, but their personalities will show through. With street dogs of 'questionable' pedigree mixed in with the herd of collies, perhaps the mystery series will appeal to more dog lovers than books simply about collies.


On the other hand, not all collies are the sweet little divan pillows so many people think they are. There is a reason collies are not chosen for military service, this being that once they go in to attack mode it's very difficult to get them to stop. They can be trained to do almost anything but they were bred to protect the flocks of sheep from wolves and as such, they will fight to the death if needs be. The attached photo shows Manya and Melik, the black demon being Melik. 2.5 meters tip of nose to tip of tail, trained at '29' Spetznaz lager on southwest side.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2018, 06:13:47 AM by R H Auslander »
 

Tom Wood

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #30 on: October 02, 2018, 06:53:40 AM »
... Cinematic. This is a relatively new one on me, but I’ve certainly seen enough of it in genre fiction and especially among fledgling authors. As I understand it, cinematic first person describes a writing style that is almost entirely action and/or description oriented, with minimal emotional or intellectual focus. No real deep dives into why things are happening or what they’re doing to the narrator emotionally, just a bunch of stuff popping off for three hundred pages, typically in present tense. I don’t know if this kind of fiction is written as a conscious choice, or if the term “cinematic first person” developed as a way to politely describe the writing style of people who watch a lot of movies and don’t like to read. ...

By definition, the Cinematic (aka Objective) POV can't be First Person. It stands apart from the characters and is all show and no tell. Getting the emotions of the characters expressed outwardly through action, reaction and dialogue is the craft part of the technique. A slow emotionally-charged scene can be acted out by the characters just as well as a high-action scene. Once you've written scenes exclusively in Cinematic, it feels like a cheat to go inside the characters' heads and tell the reader what they are thinking/feeling. Because it is a cheat, IMO.

Cinematic Present Tense is wonderfully efficient on the page. That efficiency does contribute to the 'there's always something happening' feel to it, but many readers ask for that experience. Many readers also ask for 'lots of visuals' when they are reading. Like myself, many writers who deploy this technique began writing in screenplay format. So it comes naturally to put into prose the scenes we see in our heads, for those readers who play a movie in their mind's eye when they read. The challenge is to never let the 'screen' go dark.

I watch a few movies AND I like to read.
 
 

Doglover

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #31 on: October 08, 2018, 07:31:17 PM »
Before I started writing I knew that POV was an important part of writing a story, but as a reader I really didn't care. I've since went back to look at some of my favorite books and noticed that many authors switch from 1st person present to 3rd with in a story sometimes even within a chapter.

I hate that; it puts me right off the book. Make up your mind, is my motto. I wrote my second book in first person because I thought it would be easier to get involved in the character and it was. But a few months later, I read it through again and realised I could make it so much better if I could include the points of view of other characters, so I rewrote it in third person and by so doing I added about 25,000 words.

Now I'm wary of trying anything in first person. An author of murder mysteries, who I used to be really keen on, suddenly started getting very pretentious. Instead of details about the murder and how the detectives sold it, it was all about the narrator and 'look at me; aren't I clever?' so I gave up on her.

One thing I won't read under any circumstances is present tense. I absolutely hate it.
 

Joseph Malik

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #32 on: October 09, 2018, 06:41:46 AM »
Before I started writing I knew that POV was an important part of writing a story, but as a reader I really didn't care. I've since went back to look at some of my favorite books and noticed that many authors switch from 1st person present to 3rd with in a story sometimes even within a chapter.

This is doable if it's a framed narrative. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind are both framed narratives; the narrator tells a preamble of sorts in first-person subjective and then the story switches to third omniscient via a scene break, keeping the narrator's voice the entire time. Without a scene break, though, it's jarring and clumsy. I've seen third-person narratives shift into first momentarily (like, once in an entire book), as if the author is trying to interject something on the narrator's behalf, and it always comes off as contrived and gimmicky.

I now find personally I prefer to read and write in 1st person present, but I really don't think reader care much about POV.

Most readers won't ever realize that you're doing a POV shift, especially if it's a narrative shift within first or third; they'll just know that something feels clunky and "off" about the writing unless you do it smoothly and purposefully. If you don't know close third from omniscient third, or, say, subjective from internal monologue in first, and you just kind of weave between them, then your writing is always going to feel clunky to the reader even if the reader can't put their finger on why. The hardest part about voice is that it's invisible. Your writing will feel smooth to you, because you wrote it, but your reader will keep stepping on rakes every time you shift voicing until you learn to do it smoothly and deliberately.

 
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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #33 on: October 09, 2018, 07:03:39 AM »
The refusal to consider Present Tense is akin to a refusal to consider the watercolors next to the oils when visiting an art gallery. It's a self-imposed blinder that obsesses over technique at the expense of appreciation of composition.
 

bardsandsages

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #34 on: October 09, 2018, 11:00:33 PM »
The refusal to consider Present Tense is akin to a refusal to consider the watercolors next to the oils when visiting an art gallery. It's a self-imposed blinder that obsesses over technique at the expense of appreciation of composition.

I don't know if anyone is arguing to "refuse" to consider present tense. My position is that often it is not the best choice for a work. It is easier to do present tense POORLY because present tense requires a certain level of skill to maintain narrative flow and not interrupt the timeline. The passage of time is often a problem with present tense works that take place over a long period. The shorter the timeframe of the story, the easier it is to employ present tense. But present tense can become clunky in a work that spans years or decades (or generations!)
Writer. Editor. Publisher. Game Designer. Resident Sith.
 
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Jake

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #35 on: October 14, 2018, 11:17:24 PM »
"We recently rejected a horror story in which a lovelorn ghost kills the object of her affections. It was a 1500 word story, and 1450 words of the story was the ghost rambling on about how much she loved this particular character and how beautiful he was and how she wanted them to be together. Then in the last paragraph she uses some unexplained power to get him killed in a car accident. No build up to the murder. No explanation. No warning. Just 1450 words of monologue and a 50-word execution."

That sounds like a very interesting story. You don't need a warning, an explanation, or any sort of build-up whatsoever. Those things would have ruined the story. It's a GHOST talking about how much she loved a LIVING PERSON and wants to be with him. How else could a ghost  be with a living person? By killing him and making him a ghost too! That's a great twist.

Of course, the rest of the writing was probably poor but the premise itself would make for a good short story.
 

Joseph Malik

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #36 on: October 15, 2018, 02:56:22 AM »
The refusal to consider Present Tense is akin to a refusal to consider the watercolors next to the oils when visiting an art gallery. It's a self-imposed blinder that obsesses over technique at the expense of appreciation of composition.

I don't know if anyone is arguing to "refuse" to consider present tense. My position is that often it is not the best choice for a work. It is easier to do present tense POORLY because present tense requires a certain level of skill to maintain narrative flow and not interrupt the timeline. The passage of time is often a problem with present tense works that take place over a long period. The shorter the timeframe of the story, the easier it is to employ present tense. But present tense can become clunky in a work that spans years or decades (or generations!)

Another piece of it is that tenses relay specific (and therefore limited) information to the reader, the same way that POVs do. By writing strictly in one tense or POV because "it's what you do," you stand an excellent chance of murdering your story or writing yourself into a corner. My experience has been that many times writer's block, especially when a story just dies on the vine and stays half-finished, is simply a voicing issue. To avoid this, you need to figure out the story (not the plot; the story) first, and then pick which POV and tense will tell it best.
 

Vijaya

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #37 on: October 15, 2018, 04:34:16 AM »
I love when I read a book done so well that I don't even notice (or care) about tense or pov. It's such a joy and makes my blood sing when that happens.

So true. Always my goal to have the pages, mechanics, etc. disappear so only the story remains.

My writing preference is for first person or close third past tense. But sometimes a story demands something else. I wrote Bound in first person present because that's how I could remain true to my narrator's voice.

Good articles Julie and Joe.

Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces, primarily for children
Vijaya Bodach | Personal Blog | Bodach Books
 

PJ Post

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #38 on: October 15, 2018, 06:04:13 AM »
This thread reminded me of a somewhat relevant aside:

Writing present tense does not mean eschewing all past tense constructs. The trick to present tense is creating an ever-present 'now'. If every single sentence, both prose and dialogue, is in present tense, your book will be next to unreadable. It will be totally weird, because people don't talk or think like that.

For dialogue: some people tell stories in the past tense, some tell them in the present, some jump around - it's character-centric. And, some ideas must be conveyed relative to a past event to make sense. For example, a character saying the pie they ate in the last scene "was" tasty, is not a tense error, because the act of eating the pie was in the past of their relative now.

Not sure if this was Captain Obvious territory or not, so...um...   :smilie_zauber:
 
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Cathleen

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #39 on: October 15, 2018, 10:31:27 AM »
Not sure how relevant this is, but when I'm writing as a non-human (I've been a unicorn, a troll, and Grendel's mother at various times), I tend to go first person present tense. If I'm human, it's past tense. I have no idea how it turned out that way. It's one of those things that just happened.
 

Jo

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #40 on: October 15, 2018, 03:10:31 PM »
I prefer writing in close third PoV, though I have on occasion written 1st person. I'm also one of those who'll mix PoVs from one character to the next or adds different 1st person narrations in the same book. I write past tense for anything longer than a short story, as I find present tense too agitated for my personal taste.
Jo
 

bardsandsages

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #41 on: October 17, 2018, 04:03:57 AM »
You don't need a warning, an explanation, or any sort of build-up whatsoever.

Actually, yeah, you do. In order for speculative fiction to work, the reader needs to be able to suspend belief. In order to suspend belief, the writer has to set up the story in a way that has an internal logic. In order to have an internal logic, you have to set the parameters of your world. Setting parameters requires managing reader expectations so that your conclusion results in a "WOW! that was a great conclusion!" and not a "What in the Nine Hells did I just read?" In the case of that story, because the writer fell into the soliloquy trap with the first person narrative, none of the groundwork was established to set the parameters necessary to understand the conclusion of the story. It was like watching a 90-minute movie where the first 75 minutes were a Hallmark family drama and the last 15 minutes turns into a slasher film.

Writer. Editor. Publisher. Game Designer. Resident Sith.
 
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Jake

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #42 on: October 18, 2018, 07:14:55 PM »
In order to suspend belief, the writer has to set up the story in a way that has an internal logic. In order to have an internal logic, you have to set the parameters of your world.

I know how speculative fiction works. My point is that it's a story about a ghost that's in love with a living person. Her killing him in-order for him to be with her is perfectly logical. If the story failed, it failed for reasons other than the one you cited. I like the premise, it sounds like something you'd see in a Twilight Zone episode.
 

Crystal

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #43 on: October 19, 2018, 10:29:03 AM »
The refusal to consider Present Tense is akin to a refusal to consider the watercolors next to the oils when visiting an art gallery. It's a self-imposed blinder that obsesses over technique at the expense of appreciation of composition.

I don't know if anyone is arguing to "refuse" to consider present tense. My position is that often it is not the best choice for a work. It is easier to do present tense POORLY because present tense requires a certain level of skill to maintain narrative flow and not interrupt the timeline. The passage of time is often a problem with present tense works that take place over a long period. The shorter the timeframe of the story, the easier it is to employ present tense. But present tense can become clunky in a work that spans years or decades (or generations!)

I don't see how. All the same narrative tricks for skipping time work in present and past. I wouldn't necessarily say present tense is the best choice for a story that spans decades, but it could work. Present tense really shines when it comes to immediacy and voice. You feel like you're experiencing the story with the narrator rather than being told it later. I find past tense typically has more narrative distance.

I like being up close and personal with the story and the characters. I'll read first person past tense, but it's never my preference.

Authors tense shift pretty equally in present and past, at least IME.

I tune out anyone who is snobby about tense or POV. I don't enjoy third person, but I would never say that it's "almost always dry" just because I find it too removed for my taste. As creators, we need to understand why things work, and not let our personal preferences blind us.
 
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dianapersaud

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #44 on: October 19, 2018, 11:01:55 AM »
Quote
As creators, we need to understand why things work, and not let our personal preferences blind us.

I had to read first person present in a New Adult Romance and the first few paragraphs drove me crazy. But after that, the story pulled me in and I forgot all about the tense. And I was proofing it for my writing buddy.

Grammar "Rules" don't matter.
Story trumps everything.
 
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