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melody's muse

So I wrote this story, and while I'm very pleased with the way it turned out, I surprised myself when I realized I was writing it in first person, present tense.

I've written stories in first person before, but they've always been in the past tense.

However, for this particular story, the present tense just felt right. (In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I had another story idea brewing and decided to use the present tense for that one as well.) I wanted the story to have a sense of things happening at that very moment. It's told from the alternating POVs of two characters. It's also a very short story with only eleven chapters with some of the chapters being short as well.

Has anyone ever written in present tense before, or read a story written this way and it worked? (One example I can think of is The Time Traveler's Wife, which may possibly be the influence for this particular style of writing, lol)

Even though I'm quite happy with the way the story turned out, a part of me is nervous too, as I'm afraid it could be a turn off for some readers, especially those used to my regular writing style (third person, past tense). I've heard it can be distracting if not done properly. Since it's a difficult tense to write, I'm hoping to avoid any pitfalls and problems that come with this.

Thoughts?

7/31/2011 #1
Ventisquear

If it feels right, then it is right. Don't worry about it.

First person present tense is very powerful narrative technique. It requires a lot of skill, because an author is limited to one POV and one range of vocabulary. But when it's done well, especially for more emotional stories, third person past can't compare. And if it feels right for you as an author, then it probably is done well. ^^

I wrote several stories in the present tense, though in the third person. For example, I used it in a story where POV character's love dies in the battle; in the past tense it wasn't half as expressive.

7/31/2011 #2
Rhea Silverkeys

I've written only once in first person, and only once in present tense, and they were both the same story. Both were things completely out of my comfort zone when I wrote the story, but I've ended up quite happy with it. I wrote the first half in present tense first person and the second half in past tense third person. I think the first part wouldn't have worked as well in past tense, and in fact it's one of my favourite stories that I've written because it's so different to what I normally do!

I'm happy to read your story if you like (as long as it's a oneshot or not too long) and give you my thoughts on it, not as someone who is an expert on first person, present tense stories, but as a reader who can hopefully tell you if she thinks it's distracting or difficult to read. PM me if interested, I may take up to a week to read though!

7/31/2011 . Edited 7/31/2011 #3
melody's muse

If it feels right, then itisright. Don't worry about it.

Thanks. I'm going to keep that in mind. :)

First person present tense is very powerful narrative technique. It requires a lot of skill, because an author is limited to one POV and one range of vocabulary. But when it's done well, especially for more emotional stories, third person past can't compare. And if it feels right for you as an author, then it probably is done well. ^^

I think the reason why I chose FPPT is because I really want to get into the characters' heads, as well as have the readers go along for the ride at the same time. And both stories I'm working on that I'm using this with are both emotionally-driven. If I were to write it in third person past, I just don't think the story would have the same effect.

@Rhea: Thanks so much for the offer! I might just take you up on that sometime. It is a bit on the long side though. (or at least longer than a oneshot) Maybe I'll just send you a small excerpt or sample chapter instead. :)

7/31/2011 #4
Wildcard999

I've written in first person, present tense several times before, mostly because I felt the story would best be told in a way that immerses the reader in the character and what he/she is going through. I did tell one fic in first person past tense, but all the other first person fics have been present tense. I just like how it sucks you right into what's happening.

I haven't read any first person, present tense stories that were done well, yet. They were attached to a book series just under my maturity level, but the present tense ones were told from a little kid's point of view, so they were waaaaay below my maturity level. I couldn't read more than a few pages before I gave up.

All the other stories I've read have all been in past tense, as far as I can remember, whether first, second or third person, they were always past tense.

I see nothing wrong with a present tense fic, so long as you skip over the boring/unimportant parts like you would in any past tense fic. I like the effect when it's done for the right reasons and well.

I think the important thing to remember in a first person fic is that your character is narrating the story, but it is still a narrative. The words should sound like your character's voice, but still should abide by the rules of grammar.

7/31/2011 #5
AbCarter

Years ago I set up a C2 for stories that are both in first person and in present tense. This was after a discussion on another forum where it was argued that those two could not be used together.

There are 12 stories in there -- Rhea's is one, another short one was written by me -- because I don't actively seek out FPPT. But, as you probably have noted already, there are others who write in that way.

Whether people like reading FPPT is largely due to what they are used to. I usually don't even notice what tense the book is in 20 or 50 pages into the book. Others notice present tense right away. But if everyone kept writing third person and past tense, readers would never get used to first person or present tense (creating a nice catch 22 situation for themselves).

Link to C2: http://www.fanfiction.net/community/Im_telling/27502/

7/31/2011 #6
Wildcard999

Not to nitpick, but isn't posting a link against the anti-plug policy of this forum? I know you aren't trying to plug it or anything, but it was established so that those who are don't think they can plug away and clog up the forum.

8/1/2011 #7
The Lauderdale

Years ago I set up a C2 for stories that are both in first person and in present tense. This was after a discussion on another forum where it was argued that those two could not be used together.

This, at first flush, seems asinine. Not that you created a C2, but that people argued they couldn't be used together. I can understand someone saying that they don't *like* the combination - there are people who don't like stories in the first person, there are people who don't like stories in the present tense - but that they actually can't be used together? People need to read more, they really do.

Not to nitpick, but isn't posting a link against the anti-plug policy of this forum? I know you aren't trying to plug it or anything, but it was established so that those who are don't think they can plug away and clog up the forum.

Alas, there is no place where one can plug communities. There used to be a thread (Rec: C2 [http://www.fanfiction.net/fr/0/2872/640576/1/]), but it was one of the ones that FFN deleted. I asked if we could create a new one a while back, but Rhea wasn't around; no one responded and I didn't know if that was something a non-mod was permitted to do.

8/1/2011 #8
Ventisquear

There are many books in the first person, present tense that are not for young adults. Fight Club, for example. Anna In in the Tombs of the World by Olga Tokarczuk, written for Canongate Myths series. Or the controversial novel Wetlands by Charlotte Roche.... But now that I think about it, most of such novels that I know are written by European authors, and I'm not sure how many are translated into English.

8/1/2011 #9
markmark261

I've written in first person, present tense at least once, though I'm not sure if it worked. When it comes to books I've read, I'm fairly sure Michelle Redmond's "Year of the Fog" was written that way, and apart from an initial distraction when I realised it was present tense, I didn't have any problem with it. As long as the story's engaging and the tense usage is consistent everything should be groovy.

8/1/2011 #10
Rhea Silverkeys

Not to nitpick, but isn't posting a link against the anti-plug policy of this forum? I know you aren't trying to plug it or anything, but it was established so that those who are don't think they can plug away and clog up the forum.

AbCarter's posting a link to a C2 rather than her own story, so it's ok. It's more you shouldn't post a link to your own story that's against the anti-plug policy. It's a bit meh coz reading an example illustrates a point so much better than talking about it ever will, but a bit of a compromise is that you can post extracts of your own story to illustrate a point - gets away from the whole 'they're only posting to plug their story' argument.

8/1/2011 #11
The Lauderdale

But now that I think about it, most of such novels that I know are written by European authors, and I'm not sure how many are translated into English.

I'm currently reading Pilgermann by Russell Hoban, an English-language book that, despite the title, *was* originally written in English, and is told in first person present tense. So they're certainly here.

But I just finished reading a German-to-English novel (Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada), a third person narrative, which involves a lot of in-scene tense-jumping (Ie. she was so tired, the inspector had detained her for hours, now he is screaming at her, she wishes he would stop, etc.) This is generally considered to be a no-no in English fiction, so I was wondering if that was more acceptable in German, say, or other languages.

Although I will also say that this is a rule I have broken in my own fiction, by having a narrator in an otherwise past tense story shift to the present tense during a sexual encounter: So there I am on my back with her astride me... This was partly for dramatic effect, partly to highlight the oral qualities of the story. The character is actually telling his story aloud to others in an undefined present, and many people tend to shift from the past to the present tense when relating something that has happened to them personally or when describing an exciting event.

8/1/2011 #12
Wildcard999

There are many books in the first person, present tense that are not for young adults.

Alas, but young adult is usually my preffered reading level. I look for interesting books and they all just happen to fall under that catagory.

Rhea: Okay, I wasn't really sure. It's been a long time since I've seen a C2 link in this forum and I couldn't remember. That does sound familiar...I think I've made that mistake before.

This is generally considered to be a no-no in English fiction, so I was wondering if that was more acceptable in German, say, or other languages.

I think actually that someone said there was less distinction in German or something like that. That English is different somehow and it's hard to figure the tenses in English.

8/1/2011 #13
WinchesterPhantom

Although I will also say that this is a rule I have broken in my own fiction, by having a narrator in an otherwise past tense story shift to the present tense during a sexual encounter: So there I am on my back with her astride me... This was partly for dramatic effect, partly to highlight the oral qualities of the story.

I've seen that done before - it was a third person narrative, and it got to a sex scene and the tenses changed. However it turned out to be dream sequence, and so the reader was clued into that something was different from the get-go.

As for me I'm shocking with tenses. It's rather a amusing but I just write and that sometimes results in me swapping - at least in some fics. Which I really shouldn't do.

8/1/2011 . Edited 8/1/2011 #14
The Lauderdale

Actually, I just remembered another time I broke the "tenses" scheme for a story, on my current WIP. I wanted chapter 24 to be about a village raid but was stuck on how to go about it. I wrote reams of dead matter in the process. Then I got the idea of writing it in drabble form, from the (still third person) POV of the attackers. That, combined with the present tense, made it urgent and immediate, although the drabble format kept it from becoming too graphic or detailed. It was more like brief snapshots in a battle, or sounds of conflict through static on a radio intercom...

8/2/2011 #15
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