Wednesday, April 13, 2016

First person view works best in Present Tense

Present tense. Real time. In the moment. Immersed in events. What do these topics all have in common?

They lend themselves to writing in a "first person" point of view. The big upside is the book is like a written movie. See hear taste feel - all those things work well in first person because they are all "in the moment" experiential events that you (the writer) can describe.

I guess I'm a little slow on the uptake. It's taken me a long time to concisely realize this. I stayed up late last night and read 'The Promise', one of Robert Crais' more recent (most recent?) books. A fine book I might add. I read the whole thing in one night. I couldn't put it down. Most importantly, in reading his book I had my 'ah ha' moment where the old synapses finally fired and I perceived the thought that is the title of this blog entry:

Let's say it together:

A story written in FIRST PERSON point of view, generally works best and/or easiest in the PRESENT TENSE.

Surprise surprise dialogue is a big part of conveying info. First person present tense is pretty much tailor made for your characters to talk and talk some more.makes sense, after all you don't talk to somebody from yesterday or over in Afghanistan right? Dialogue is a face to face present tense kind of thing.

Verb tense problems are largely solved in the present tense. 'was' and 'had' are two legit verbs/words, but I dislike them both a good bit. Lo and behold, both those nasty words show up when I read passages that are not firmly in the present tense. They pop up in back story or something outside of the 'here and now' where active vibrant verbs ending in 'ing' tend to roam free, along with herds of nouns sprinkled with the occasional adjective and rare adverb.

Some things fit and some do not, at least in my experience and again looking at this fresh example of Crais' new (and awesome) book 'The Promise'. Character backstory is almost not there. For Crais and this long running series that's not such a problem. But for me, as I go about getting my first book out the door, backstory is something I want/need to include as my characters splash down into chapters. Somehow. Dialogue works for bits. One character talking about another works for a bit more. Flashbacks add some backstory. The bad guy talking about the good guy's exploits adds a bit. But all of that together is a far cry from the pages of backstory that lurk in the margins tempting me for an info dump.

While I am anxious to explain my rich and thick, complex characters, I have come to recognize that is something I want to do. This is not the same as something my readers will necessarily value. So with ego bruised, I have cut out swaths of character backstory. The editor in me recognizing that, even though this is not true genre fiction, nonetheless I do need to keep things moving along.

If you can see your characters in real time and talking a fair amount, then go with present tense. If long monloguish introspection is your gig, avoid first person present tense, and make sure your introspective soliloquies are something your readers will enjoy.


Crais comes through again with more of his style that makes him one of my favorite writers. He continues to set his characters in eating and food prep. Yes kitchen scenes describing what the character is making and eating. Food description. In Crais' hands it's a great thing. At least to me.

Further, he continues describing local geography, whether it be the nasty spaghetti jungle of L.A.'s freeways or the eucalyptus covered canyon walls of L.A.'s upscale neighborhoods.

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