Monday, January 25, 2010

Tense and Point of View

By Nichole Giles

Obviously, no two people think exactly alike. So how do we expect that our readers will all think the way we do? Like the same things we do? Prefer to read your story from one point of view or another? I think I’ve had the third person versus first person point of view discussion at least two-hundred times. Every time with a different person. Predictably, no two authors, editors, or agents share one exact opinion. And that’s totally and completely okay.

But what about tense? I’ve done the past tense thing for a long time, because, is there any other way to tell a story? Just to be clear, though, I’m talking about active past tense. As few as possible “was, had, did” words. Still, books I’ve written up to now are told very much in a “this is what happened” type manner.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of bestselling YA books that have been written in present tense. Most I’ve seen are done in first person, but this week I read a couple that are done in third person present tense. It’s different. Makes the plot and actions feel so much more immediate, more urgent.

And I like it! A lot. In both first and third person, present tense is becoming the hot new thing in YA lit.

Not everyone can write in present tense and have it read smoothly. Not everyone has the ability to create that sense of urgency that this particular style demands. And that’s okay too. We all have our own style, and our own stories, which each demand a different point of view, a different tense.

But if you have an urge to try something new, here are a few tips I’ve given myself while I experiment with this new trend.

1. Keep it short and simple by using as few words as possible.
2. Internal dialogue is extremely important, so make sure to include lots.
3. Remember that it’s okay to skip over large passages of time as long as the reader knows you’ve done it.
4. Read as many books done in this tense as possible.

Give it a try. It may not be for you, but it’s certainly a great writing exercise everyone should try.

A short aside here. Not everyone likes reading present tense and it does take some getting used to. If you’re the type of person who absolutely abhors it, that’s great. Our differences are what make us unique, what make our work ours. But I do recommend that you try writing a simple paragraph in this manner, just to shake things up and give your brain something new to work on. Stretch your writing fingers.

To learn more about what I’m doing these days, check out my personal blog. Or for more writing tips, come visit the LDS Writer’s Blogck, where I post every Thursday.

That’s it for now, folks. Until next time, write on.



Rachelle said...

Great ideas! You're brave to try this. I like reading it, but it still seems so foreign to me to write it.