Friday, April 10, 2009

First Person Narrative

I sometimes have trouble with past and present tense. Yeah, I know. It's one of the easiest things to master. If it happened already, it's in the past. If it's happening now, present tense.

Except it's not that simple. You have to consider what Point of View your story is written in. Are you telling a story that's already happened or happening now? And who's telling it?

First person narrative is when the story is told through a single person. The story is happening or had happened to the narrator. You can usually spot this POV by the use of "I" or "we" as the common pronouns. This is NOT the voice of the author. The story is being told in the character's voice and with his or her personality.

This is the POV I'm currently using for my young adult novel. First person narrative gives the writer a chance to delve into the character's head. Write their innermost reactions and feelings to the world around them. So if a story is being told in the past tense, it's strange to relay reactions that are also in the past tense.

Completely made-up example having nothing to do with my work:
Character 1: "Come on, let's go watch TV."
Narrator: So that's what people did here. They watch TV and eat chips all night. Well, I wasn't into that. "How about a movie?"

The first time you read it, it looks correct, right? It's not.
"That's" a contraction for "that is" which is present tense.
"Watch" is also in present tense. Should be "watched".
"Eat" is in present tense. Should be "ate".

That's the biggest thing messing me up. When I go back to an earlier point in the story to check a fact, I usually find at least one tense error. I've scrubbed the entire piece, make sure to check the work at the end of the day, and still these things slip by. I just don't have an ear for it. I like First Person Narrative and find it a lot easier than Third Person Narrative; if I could get a handle on these reactionary sentences, life would be perfect in the writing world.


Lisa Logan said...

Great post, Tabs! I get a lot of manuscript subs that mix tenses.

I'll admit, I'm really not a fan of present tense, whether first or third person. I find it distracting to the point of preventing me from getting immersed in the story. So I wind up rejecting quite a few of these.


Laura Herbertson said...

One example of a present tense story is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It may just change your mind!

Tabitha Shay said...

Lisa, I'd love to take credit for this post, but it's Laura's baby...I will say I'm not fond of first person, in fact I have a very strong dislike for it, no matter the me, writing in first person is the most difficult POV to write in and keep the tenses correct...when I'm judging contest entries, I usually give the contestant extra points for writing in first person POV when they get the tenses right, just because I believe it to be so difficult, but I can say, nine out ten entries written in first person almost always have the tenses wrong and it drives me up the wall...Tabs

Laura Herbertson said...

I'm enjoying first person narrative. The tenses are giving me trouble, but the POV fits with the story I'm telling. If it's done right, which hopefully mine will be, you shouldn't notice the POV that much.