How many tenses have you written in? For most people, the answer would be few. Most writers find their favourite tense or POV and rarely stray from it. But when you experiment, you not only expand your knowledge, but unlock new tools on how to write an effective story. Different tenses pair better with certain protagonists, and different POVs pair better with certain stories.
I was, originally, going to make this one post, but while I was researching I’ve found that there is not nearly enough information readily available, and the stuff that is available is all technical, telling how to write in a POV ((I’m pretty sure by now we all know how to write in first person)). In this estimated four part series, I will explore the advantages and disadvantages of POVs and tenses, and suggest interesting ways to use them.
Before I start this little series, I’m going to give a rundown on each thing I’ll be going over. Please keep in mind that while every single one will have its own advantages and disadvantages, there’s always a way to spin something bad into something helpful.
While first person is probably the easiest to write for most people, it’s the default. How many times have you opened up a new WIP and thoughtlessly started in first person? Probably a lot. I know I’ve fallen to this many times as well ((Seriously, just read my one shots)).
Third person is my personal favourite. I don’t write it in that often, but I really love the way it sounds. I remember someone in the writeblr community on Tumblr saying it has a very distinct, quiet feel. Any time I start reading a one shot or short story in third person, I expect a very soft, serious, deep story. It’s important to note how versatile third person is, which I’ll be going more into in part two.
Now, second person is by far the most disregarded of the POVs, and I can understand why. Still, you should stop that. Like, now. Its uniqueness is what drives most people away, but it’s what gets me excited.
Now, present and past tense are a little different. I have a theory that every writer has a default regarding past and present, most times present but not always. Present tense is seen as the easiest to read and write and, in most cases, I agree. Past tense can get confused, what with past perfect and all that other shit.
When deciding your POV, it’s important to not only look at your characters and their pasts, traits, and habits, but the messages you plan on telling. A reserved, hesitant protagonist might pair well with third person, while a forthcoming protagonist would be better in first. Think hard and experiment with different POVs.
First person is when you are in the protagonist’s head. Their thoughts are immediately present to you in the narration. This can be a good thing, although I personally have trouble crafting a voice for my characters ((probably one of the reasons I favour third person)). This makes it a very personal experience.
In most cases, first person is very direct. While third person can come off as distant, here, all your protagonist’s feelings and emotions are laid out in front of the reader. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give everything away; In whatever, it’s written in first person but you don’t learn Jen’s backstory until one of the last few chapters. All you have to do is be careful.
Empathy. First person is the easiest way to establish empathy between your readers and your protagonist(s). The readers are experiencing everything with them. In some ways, your reader is your character.
Easy to read and understand. First person is probably the easiest to get right, the easiest to make sound natural.
Safe. First person, from what I’ve seen, is the most widely welcomed POV. Chances are, a person isn’t going to pick up your book and immediately put it down like they might if it were in third person.
One-person scope. Your readers only know what your protag(s) know. Unless you’re really sneaky and clever, you won’t be able to present any special information.
Bias. This is one of those things that might not always be a disadvantage. When your readers are in your character’s head and only hearing their opinions, it’ll be a bit harder to see what’s really going on.
That’s all I have for this week! If you found this helpful or are curious about the other tenses and POVs, be sure to subscribe to my website. All subscribers of my mailing list get to read every post one week early, and get extra content.