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First-Person: Past vs Present Tense?

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Old 07-29-2009, 12:20 PM
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Default First-Person: Past vs Present Tense?


Which do you guys prefer to read/write?

I’ve hit a bit of a wall with my writing; anything FP I write just HAS to be in present tense. If I try to change it around to past everything falls out of place. Now, normally, I’d just continue writing without asking any questions, but I did a little research online and noticed something:

Most first-person books are written in past tense, and it’s generally preferred by most readers. Some claim they dislike the ‘real time’ feeling, while others say they don’t see the logic in it. Personally, I’ve grown to love it recently after avoiding it for several years. I thought the tense was awkward and strange at first, before learning to appreciate the urgency it can add to a narrative voice.

I’ve also noticed there’s plenty of successful first-person/present tense books out there, like The Time Traveller’s Wife, Fight Club, Hunger Games…

It made me wonder about my work in progress at the moment, which is dual-narrative, and refuses to be written in anything else but FP/Present. I keep getting the urge to switch to past-tense, but feel it’ll mess up the flash-back sequences…

Oh well.

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Old 07-29-2009, 03:56 PM
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It's all your choice. You're the writer, and it's your story. Some readers will like it, some won't.

Most of the time, present tense in novels bugs me, but that's for third person narrative as well as for first person narrative.. that doesn't make a difference to me.
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Old 07-29-2009, 04:23 PM
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I almost always write in the past tense. There are times when I will for effect write something out of past in say a prologue or just some kind of interlude. But its rare.
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Old 07-30-2009, 06:25 PM
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Almost always, I write in past tense. It feels natural to me, but it doesn't mean I won't write in present tense. Do what feels write -- get it? Poor joke. Anyway, which tense can be a way to show something important or a stronger feeling, too.
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Old 07-30-2009, 06:53 PM
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My friend started a fan fic and I read over it, almost drove me insane that it was in present tense. I asked him why and he didn't understand what I meant. So I showed him. He agreed it sounded more natural and "literary" in past.
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Old 07-30-2009, 07:46 PM
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Personally, I can hardly tell the difference, given enough time to acclimatise. Put one half of a book in past and the other half in present and I'll think it's weird at first, but in a chapter or two I'll just read on and not even notice the tense, same as I did with the past. They're both equally easy to read for me, though past is a lot easier to convey some things in--retrospect, etc. Write however you like! Be your own bear! Make waves! If it feels good for you to write it one way and not another, always write it the way it feels good, assuming you're not making some sort of blatant error in the doing. Don't go forcing yourself on one tense or another just to give in to popular demand.
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Old 07-31-2009, 05:29 PM
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I usually only write first person for my short stories, but when I do it is in past tense. Past tense is my favorite.
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Old 07-31-2009, 07:18 PM
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This is so interesting! One of my current projects is FP/past tense, save when the protagonist is thinking/talking to herself. I didn't really know why, but I guess the sarcasm or urgency makes it necessary. *grins* Mystery solved.
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Old 07-31-2009, 08:35 PM
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I wrote what I intended to be a novel in the first person and some people who read it seemed to like it but I don't think it fit the story very well and when I had to rewrite it the plot was formed in such a way that I would have needed first person perspectives so I went for third all the way.

That's what usually keeps me from doing first, the need for multiple locations where one character just can't be all the time.
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Old 08-01-2009, 10:49 AM
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What about if a character's placed in a life and death situation? Wouldn't past tense signify the narrator lived to tell the tale? Though I guess it could work with diary entries up to a certain point... or maybe if you had the whole spooky ghost thing going on.

Think I'll be sticking in the present for now, and being very, VERY careful with my wording.
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Old 08-01-2009, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Mystic_biscuit View Post
What about if a character's placed in a life and death situation? Wouldn't past tense signify the narrator lived to tell the tale? Though I guess it could work with diary entries up to a certain point... or maybe if you had the whole spooky ghost thing going on.

Think I'll be sticking in the present for now, and being very, VERY careful with my wording.
It's just not thought of that way. Plus most of the time stories have one perspective the whole way (in third person it might switch people but its always third). So if the first person narrator is to die, they just do and either someone else takes over or whatnot.

Some stories are narrated by the spirit of someone or something and otherwise have nothing supernatural about them.
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Old 08-01-2009, 03:30 PM
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There is nothing "less literate" about first person or about present tense. *As can easily be determined by reading some literature.

These are a matter of the writer's taste, and how the narrative voice of the piece speaks.
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Old 08-01-2009, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Mystic_biscuit View Post
I’ve also noticed there’s plenty of successful first-person/present tense books out there, like The Time Traveller’s Wife, Fight Club, Hunger Games…
I don't remember fight club being present tense really. But Chuck's writing style is such that I just like it anyhow.

Plus most of fight club is told in flash back.
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Old 08-02-2009, 05:30 AM
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Very interesting.
Could someone help me out with this. Grammar was never my strong point:

present tense:
I am walking past a small round table on which there is a round vase. My bag slams into the table and the vase wobbles slightly.

Past Tense:
I walked past a a round table on which there is a round vase. My bag slammed into the table and the vase wobbled slightly.
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Old 08-02-2009, 05:36 AM
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Not sure what help you want there.

One trivial note... *I am walking is "progressive present tense". *The simple present would be "I walk past a table" * * If sounds awkward because of a peculiarity in English usage of first person present...or lack of usage. * If you'd chosen third person * "He walks past a table" it would sound less odd.

Progressive past is "He was walking past a table". * *(This is NOT, like so many online idiots seem to think, "passive voice")

So, yeah, * "He walks past the table" * *"He walked past the table"


(In screenplays, only the third person simple present is used, by the way)
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Old 08-02-2009, 06:00 AM
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Thanks Lin,

I see there is still a lot I have to learn. Grammar was always a real problem for me. I could never get my head round it, some old psychologist in the early 1970's said to my mom that I was dislexic or very stupid. Well...... I guess he got it partially right, cause stupid I am not..... But probably dislexic when it comes to grammar. Its even worse for me in German.

I tend to just go as to what feels natural and what sounds right. With the examples you have given me I do agree.
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Old 08-02-2009, 06:01 AM
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Is there a spellcheck? Most forums have a spell checker included. Otherwise I will have to copy and paste from word.
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Old 08-02-2009, 06:10 AM
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My browser has spell check built in, not sure about the forum.
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Old 08-02-2009, 06:27 AM
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Hmmmm, I am using mozilla as a browser as IE Micro$oft will not work well with my Gmail accounts. I will see if there is some sort of App I need to download.
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Old 08-02-2009, 07:18 AM
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Friefox should have the spell check built in. Mine always did.
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Old 08-02-2009, 07:42 AM
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Just downloaded an add-on for Mozilla. And it works.
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Old 08-02-2009, 07:56 AM
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Did you get the tense-checker, POV highlighter plug-in?






Just kidding. *Sorry.
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Old 08-02-2009, 08:15 AM
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Hahahahaha.....

The spell checker is not fool proof.
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Old 08-02-2009, 09:53 AM
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That's why I use the fool-checker app.
*
*
*
*
It doesn't always work either.
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:35 AM
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I wish they had those annoying blue and green lines in here too, that's all I need to see a bunch of on Firefox.
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