First Person, Present Tense Part 1: Background

As a reader, writer, and peddler of YA fiction, I’m the last person in the world to get judgy about tense and point-of-view. YA has some of everything, even the POVs and tenses that are rare or looked down upon in other age categories. That said, I’ve always preferred third person, past tense–the standard tense for fiction. When I was a kid I read mostly adult science fiction and developed a pretty serious bias against first person POV. The book that started to crack my bias was I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole, a Star Wars Extended Universe novel.

(P.S. The Star Wars EU is now known as Star Wars Legends, as they’ve all been retconned due to the upcoming movies–but that’s a whole other rant. I digress.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I, Jedi is a severely flawed book by an author I typically adore. However, I love (lovelovelove) Corran Horn, an original character introduced in Stackpole’s X-Wing series of novels, which are literally my favorite thing about the Star Wars EU. Seriously, go read them right now. But I digress again–the point is, teenage MK picked up this book solely because it starred Corran Horn, and teenage MK was disgusted and heartbroken to discover it was in first person.

I didn’t read that book for months. I picked it up, then put it straight back down. Then picked it up again. One day, I actually read it and–lo and behold–I actually got over the POV issue within a few pages once the character and plot had a chance to grab me. I believe The Hunger Games was my first book that combined both first person and present tense. I read it and liked the combination in that particular instance, but I never thought I’d find myself writing a book with that combination.

judgy eyes

It is admittedly weird to be having tense and POV issues with my own book. Each time I come back to my latest novel (Space Academy Rejects) after taking time away from the manuscript, the tense throws me off for a few pages. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because of my writing, or because it takes me a bit to settle in. I suspect its the latter, though, because if I go back to the beginning after a full read-through, it doesn’t bother me. I suppose my critique partners and beta readers will give me the definitive answer!

All that said, writing in this POV and tense combination definitely comes with its own unique set of pitfalls. I found lots of little bad habits during my first readthrough and markup–and trust me, there’s a whooooole post dedicated to those bad habits coming soon. Hopefully that post will help you avoid making my same mistakes!

In the meantime, practice being non-judgey about POV and tense, dear creatures. Great stories are told in many ways.

 

2 Comments

  1. Lisen Minetti
    March 19, 2015 at 12:10 pm — Reply

    As long as you remember that space goats always think in fourth person, upside down tense, you’ll be fine!

    • MK England
      March 19, 2015 at 12:58 pm — Reply

      That upside-down tense always gets me! It’s worth it for the goats, though.

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