Thursday, January 5, 2006

First Person Present Tense Revisit...

At the AW Water Cooler, there have been a lot of discussion in the past few months on the "First person-Present tense" narrative. It's interesting to note how some people are passionate for it, and how some are passionately against it. I think the problem is that many new authors think it's natural and "easy" to write in first person/present tense, but in reality, it's so much harder to pull off.

Yes, although it feels "right" to write in 1st/present (we all do that when we tell stories: "So I walk to the door and I see this huge spider staring at me...") but in reality it's much harder to pull off.

There are a few things against the author: 1) First person heavily relies on the narrative voice -- if your voice is not engaging, you lose your readers immediately; 2) First person is intimate -- your readers are stuck with the narrator throughout the whole thing; it can get old fast; 3) First person limits your POV -- you can't observe things that the narrator doesn't know or can't experience; you have to tell the story entirely from his or her POV; 4) your narrator can't die at the end unless the story is told from beyond the grave (e.g. Sunset Blvd).

Then you add the problems associated with present tense: 1) It's told in "real time" so you can't jump forward in time or do anything like dramatic irony; 2) your narrator is semi-reliable because it's first person and it's real time; 3) it's absolutely impossible to tell things the narrator can't know unless it's in the past.

But when done well, 1st/present can be very exciting, because the readers are going for a ride alongside the narrator. Think of the narrator as a tour guide and we're going on an adventure together. The readers get to experience everything the narrator does, including the emotional roller-coaster. So there are some stories that is best told through 1st/present. If you find a good match, it could be a wonderful experience for the readers.

The Pacific Between was written in 1st/present. Is it good? You be the judge.

There are some really good 1st/present novels out there. Fight Club, House of Sand and Fog, Time Traveler's Wife, some Stephen King's novels, to name a few.

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2 comments:

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Abid Virani said...

Thanks so much! This was incredibly helpful for me!! Currently working on something and am giving present 1st person a shot.. It's tough.