Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! October 10, 2013 - 8:11am

I decided to write my novel in the first person present tense, I think for me, when I'm reading it allows me to submerse myself into the character more... to actually "become" the character.  I am however finding it a huge pain in the butt because I keep slipping into past tense and it is a very limited point of view. Also there seems to be less dialogue and more inner monologue when I write. Is that normal? I know it's all relative... just looking for suggestions or great articles to read in this area of writing! 

Thanks for any help you can give!

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk October 10, 2013 - 9:51am

Hi Kristi,

I had this sort of trouble with the last story I workshopped and the one I'm stuck on at the mo.  With the less dialogue problem if you know were the converstation is going to happen what I would try to write the converstation on a different word document. Like a screenplay. Then you can figure out once it's all mapped out how to fit it in.

As for the tense issue - I'm having is a lot as well. The only thing I've found to combat it is to just reread it and redit it as you go. If you know that your doing it picking up on a reread will make these issues pop instantly.

Sorry I'm not alot more of a help but I'm kinda learning as I go too :))

Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! October 10, 2013 - 10:17am

That's what I have been doing! Reread, rewrite, repeat!!!  Sometimes it's easy and sometimes I feel like DUH! I have to rewrite the whole thing! I like the screenplay idea! I tend to get stuck in my characters head a lot... I don't want what I am writing to seem one dimensional or overly "thought-y." Thanks for the ideas! 

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies October 10, 2013 - 10:19am

I really think it depends on  the story. My stories go both ways. For a while, all i was writing was present tense but that didn't work in some cases. It's great for pieces with more action in them or fast-paced pieces. Also, dialogue can be tricky to pull off successfully so you're better off with inner monologues, i think. That's just my preference though. I don't like reading a bunch of dialogue, i prefer the inner stuff. This probably has nothing to do with your tense though, the dialogue. It's a separate component.

I think there's a Craig Clevenger essay on the site where he breaks down successful dialogue and its formatting, it's pretty interesting.

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies October 10, 2013 - 10:21am
Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! October 10, 2013 - 10:38am

@SConley, Thanks so much! I really tend to lead toward the innermost thoughts of my character...I will check out the essay! Thanks so much!

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 10, 2013 - 11:49am

I think it definitely takes some getting used to. First person present seemed impossible to me, but I had a few short stories that seemed to need it-- and as I used it more and more it felt more natural and flowed as easily as past tense.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb October 10, 2013 - 12:23pm

I wrote in the present tense for so many years that I find first person past is the real bastard to get right (and that's what I chose for my current novel draft just to spite myself.) I'm not really sure why I've always found present easier, or why I prefer it. Iain Banks was the first writer to make me aware of it when I was a teenager; I guess I fell in love with the way he used it. I'm only using past at the moment to imply that my narrator knows how things work out because he's telling it like it's happened rather than happening, but he doesn't hint at the future (the more journalistic first person past that comes back to present sometimes to acknowledge the distance didn't work for me when I tried it.)

Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! October 10, 2013 - 12:45pm

@Chacron: Wow that's a mouth full! I slip in to the past so quickly sometimes you would swear I own a time machine!  I love reading the  FPP POV but writing it is really challanging for me! I have reread the first 100 pages and I am still finding "bits of the past" lingering in my work?! I also find my mind wandering into conversations between other characters my main character has no business knowing... and have to let them go by the way side! It's hard to balance!

@Renee: I'm glad that it has gotten easier for you and I am keeping the faith that it will get easier for me as well!

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer October 10, 2013 - 1:02pm

I started out in present tense (for screenwriting) and I had a hard time switching to past. I still get tense issues as a result of it.

Julie_Smits's picture
Julie_Smits from Antwerp is reading Stuff October 10, 2013 - 2:08pm

One of the stories I'm working on has the same thing. I've rewritten several parts, but here and there it still doesn't flow. To the point where I'm thinking about switching the POV from first, to second or third. Problem with third, though, where does all the inner monologue stuff go.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers October 10, 2013 - 3:17pm

I LOVE 3rd person. I can write 1st, but man, seeing all those fucking 'I's' on the page kills me. Very few writers can pull off 1st person in a good way. David Morrell made an interesting point in one his essays about NOT writing in 1st person: Do we always assume it's from a letter or a journal, or the character is writing a book. Without any mention of this, the only other way is to imagine the character sitting at a bar telling his story. (this is not what he wrote in the essay, just the gist of it) 

But 3rd person, you can get as close as you want, plus you can jump into another character's head in another scene and control the pacing of the story. 3rd lets you assume the voice of different characters. Think of Ellroy's American Tabloid and it's sequels. Three main characters, all close 3rd POV, all different voices, yet he still maintains a distinctive feel. 

I've been working on tying the inner monologue stuff into the story without alerting the reader that my character is 'thinking' about something.

This: Joe stood next to the rope hanging from the rafters, staring at it intently. He wrapped his hand around it, wondering what would happen if he pulled it. becomes this: There was a rope hanging from the rafters. Joe wrapped his hand around the worn cords. This is probably going to be loud as fuck. He pulled down hard and backed away. 

Inner monologue in the mix. There's no need to say 'he wondered' or 'he thought'. It's assumed, and it's written in this hybrid 1st and 3rd POV that gets you in, up close and personal. It's tough to do on the fly, because 'wondered' and 'thought/thinking' is so ingrained in my vernacular, I always have to go back and rewrite it. 

There are some stories that can only be best written in 1st person, but not all. Seriously consider if there's no other way to tell the story, if 1st will benefit it or hurt it. 

Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! October 10, 2013 - 4:59pm

@Bob: I love the first third hybrid! What a great example! I like the ides of he/she thought/wondered is implied... I feel it takes up valuable and unnecessary space... like the reader is smart enough to know that the character thought or wondered something and it seems to immerse you into the story even more! What a fascinating and great piece of advice!

Julie_Smits's picture
Julie_Smits from Antwerp is reading Stuff October 11, 2013 - 2:43am

That's what does me in as well, the I's, I get annoyed when I see too many of them on a page and that's not a good thing when it's your own story. So thanx Bob for the advice, I was already experimenting a bit with a closer 3rd person, but now I'm going to see how it affects my story when I switch out the I's.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers October 11, 2013 - 4:25am

Thanks. The 1st/3rd hybrid is definitely not a new thing, though there are a few writers out there saying it is. The best example of it from books I love is Peter Straub's Koko. 3rd person past tense, multiple POV's, with characters taking up large and small chunks of the story, and he knows these characters, gets their voice down and maintains it through-out their sections. Funny thing is that every once in a while, he will break it up with a 'Joe wondered...', or he will use italics for emphasis, but mostly it's just internal, implied, and assumed. Give your reader some credit and don't tell him the obvious. The general rule, the standard rule, is once you've said 'he/she thought' one time, you do not need to say it again for that viewpoint within that scene, it is implied by the actual statements. 

Another trick to get to into a close 3rd person POV is to give your 3rd person narrator a distinctive voice. In other words, think that you're writing the story in 1st person, but the focal character is someone else, and you cannot mention yourself at all in the narrative. Once you've got that one down, chances are you will never write in 1st POV again unless there is no other way to tell the story. 

Fritz's picture
Fritz October 12, 2013 - 1:33am

haven't read the above:


yes - everything gets easier with practice.


and third person is only as limited as want it to be.

Angel Colón's picture
Angel Colón from The Bronx now living in New Jersey is reading A Big Ol' Pile of Books October 16, 2013 - 2:46pm

I just finished the first draft of my novel a few weeks ago and it's in 1st person present tense. The best advice I can give you?

Just keep writing.

Sure, catch the obvious mistakes but remember that this is your first go. You'll find that once you get deeper into your manuscript it all starts to become part of your muscle memory.

Seriously, I'm working ona  few short stories and I am having the WORST time writing any word that ends in "-ed".

Once I got past the whole need to reread and rewrite every single paragraph and trusted that I was writing the worst version of my vision, it all got a lot easier.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 16, 2013 - 4:35pm

That slipping in thoughts jazz is free indirect speech, it's a British thing.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore October 18, 2013 - 4:25pm

Present is the most comfortable for me, having also come from a screenwriting background. It makes the other tenses easier to track, I think, so I can use regular past tense for nearly everything that's in the past, instead of past being the norm and then having to be careful to use past perfect for stuff that's more distant.

My first novel was in first person, and I still write lots of shorts that way. I love that POV. And yes, every bit of prose is their implied thoughts, so you'll almost never need to italicize or "she thought" anything. The gotchas, especially with young writers in that tense, are often too much monologuing or ranting or platitudes about what the writer themselves thinks. There's always gonna be some of that, regardless of tense, but first person is way more tempting because of the ease of projecting it onto the narrator. Don't let her spend too much alone time; get her mixing it up with other conlficting characters as often as possible, to help avoid the journaling above.

But the hardest thing by far for me was not outwriting the character. If he's kind of a dumbass, well, the voice should reflect that. Easier said than done. I was concerned, being my first book and eager to impress, that my own writing abilites would be judged by his, intentionally dumbed-down as he was. My cheat for that was to not use big words, but to have the sentence structures and rhythms be clever, which is less noticeable to the average reader but stil satisfying for me.

The disadvantage of not being able to have that push-pull (of third person) where sometimes the reader's ahead of the storyteller and vice-versa, can be offset by the fact that first person is a fantastic manipulating device when it comes to writing twists. We never know more than them, and our impressions of other characters and situations are tainted by the narrator's observations and prejudices, correct or not. You can use that as well, where the narrator says one thing, but the reader believes the opposite based on the facts presented.