Wednesday 4 September 2013

The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense part II

Taken at Blickling Hall, Norfolk (National Trust)
One of the first blog posts I wrote, back in October 2011 was this one:

The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense

I can’t believe how popular this post has been compared to others. It's even overtaken Why do I write?, which was the front-runner for a while.

Every day someone out there searches the web for information about the first person present tense.

Recent searches which led to the aforementioned post:
Advantages of writing in present tense
Advantages of writing story in past tense
Benefit of writing in first person present
Books can be written first person present tense and past tense
Does first person use present tense

When I started writing Book 2, The Painting, I decided to use first person present tense for the current day part and third person past tense for the eighteenth century part. The idea was to contrast the slow pace of life in the late 1700s with the I want it now world of today.
With Book 1, The Grandson, I avoided first person present tense for the current day protagonist because I worried about her becoming me. With The Painting, that thought hasn’t crossed my mind, probably because the protagonist is completely different from myself and I’m creating her whole life from my imagination.

I received my partial manuscript for The Painting back from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme this week and the reader said the tenses I’ve used work. Thank goodness for that, I can carry on now as I was! Thank you to my anonymous reader for such encouraging and helpful feedback.

Hope you’ve all had a good summer. School holidays are over and hopefully I’ll get back to more regular blogging and tweeting now.

What are your thoughts on writing or reading first person present tense?


  1. I love writing short stories in first person present, and I enjoy reading it too. Carole Matthews is one fine example of how to use it correctly.
    I like the sound of The Painting, and can understand your reasons for using the different tenses, and it's great your report has bolstered your confidence, Anita.
    Happy writing.
    Laura x

    1. Thanks very much Laura! I must download some of Carole's books. Hope your writing/editing is going well.x

  2. I've done something similar in my contemporary novel that has chapters in the past - that too went through the NWS some years ago and I'm now redrafting to send out. I like showing the different times in this way.

    1. Hi Rosemary, hear so often of writers redrafting novels written years previously-shows nothing goes to waste! Hope you've had a good summer and that your writing is going well.x

  3. I must admit that I tend to always write in the first person (for some strange reason, it helps me feel closer to the character in a weird way, like a part of me is in the story as opposed to standing on the outside looking in). I also often use the present tense.

    I find it quite an effective and emotional way to write because it feels immediate and more intense.

    The problem is limited perspective, which is usually where I trip up!

    1. Hi Melissa, the limited perspective can be an issue, but I've read a few novels where chapters alternated between different characters using first person-eg. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. The only issue there was that the story continued from each character's point of view and sometimes I wanted to know what the character in the previous chapter thought.

  4. I had never written in first person present tense until I got the idea for a character who demanded to have her voice in the present tense. I think the reason why I always wrote in the past tense was because all (or most) of the books I've read were in the past tense. As writers learn from what we read, and I learned to write in past tense by reading these books. It's been challenging to make the switch though, especially since a lot of my other WIP are past tense.

    But I really like the idea of writing one chapter (from the past) in past tense and one chapter (from the present) in present tense. If I ever have the opportunity to do this for a story, I definitely will! Thank you!!

    1. Hi Chrys-sorry I've taken ages to reply to your comment-my Wi-Fi hasn't been working. Thanks very much for visiting my blog-it's interesting how characters demand how they should be represented! Best of luck with your writing.

  5. Well done for getting such a positive report from the RNA NWS!

    I've written in the first and third person present tense and I think it depends on the book as to which works best. I love the immediacy of writing in the first person, but also enjoy it when I'm writing from different characters' viewpoints in the third person.

    1. Thanks Debs!-it was a lovely boost. Yes, I think deciding on tense and person is going with what seems to work for the book and character.