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All Things Writing > What Tense/Voice Do You Write In?

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message 1: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) So there have been a few other threads about how and where you write, and I wanted to know a little bit more about this, because I think that's sort of interesting (and maybe I'm alone in that.)

I usually write in the past-tense and third-person, mostly because it feels right for me: I can bulk up descriptions and expand/contract time as I wish. I also use the third person because I like noticing quirks about events/characters that I don't think a character would.

That said, I've been rethinking things recently, and two books in particular have made me challenge my thoughts, both in present tense, one third-person and one in first. I'm not sold on present-tense+third-person, but it challenged me enough that I've since done some experimenting. In amongst all the past tense of my new book, I'm throwing in some present tense, but keeping "my voice", all to add a sort of otherworldly feel, and I really love that segment.

And now I want to know what the rest of you do...


message 2: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
Oooo such a good topic! (you arent alone, I'm a major snoop :3)

I used to only write third person, past tense, because some scenes just seem easier to describe when you can get all the little details that are out of the characters sight.

Since I write mostly Urban Fan at the moment, I find alot of the first person UF books are, in both presents, alittle cheesy. However I just started A Dance With Fury with first person and it just flowed. I really didn't think I would ever write in first person at all. (even though i read it alot)

So interested in what others think too :3


message 3: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) Second-person? Damn, that's hardcore.

I agree with the slickness, too: it really sucks you in as you're writing, and sort of...certainly for fantasy writing, I think it makes it very easy to write in a "frozen moment" sort of way. That's why I only use it for certain scenes, though, and I'm gradually adopting as a stylistic feature.


message 4: by Carry (new)

Carry | 38 comments I have a hard time connecting with characters in books that are written in first person so I wasn't a big fan of it until I read John Green.That guy is brilliant!
I might try to write something in first person, but right now I'm working on a story with different point of views and that makes almost impossible.

I always write in the past tense... I never tried the present and I don't think I ever read a novel in present tense.


message 5: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Castro (nicolecastro) | 116 comments First person, past tense is my favorite. :) I have discovered that I prefer to be a male too. I "can" swear a lot more freely.


message 6: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
I always choose to be male characters in videogames :x


message 7: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) I usually choose female. But I might use the character creator and create a hot guy, just for funsies. *cough, Dragon Age Origins, cough*


message 8: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
I met my bf on WoW.


He was a gnome.


message 9: by J (new)

J | 301 comments Mod
Second person really fascinates me. I first heard about it when we read an excerpt for a 2nd person story in my Into to Creative Writing class. :3

For a while I considered writing my current novel in first person, but my main character is female, so I doubt I could pull it off, so I'm sticking with third person, past tense. :3

The first book I read in present tense was the Hunger Games, and I found it intriguing. It's something I may experiment with in the future. :3


message 10: by Hogan (new)

Hogan (shebreathesinink) | 19 comments Hi, guys! I'm new, so I hope it's alright I'm butting in!

I find past tense/third or first person to be my favorites. Whenever I write in first person, it's always with a male MC. Not sure why, but I find it easier to convey my humor with a male voice.

I tried present tense with one of my books...but it was throwing off my groove, so I had to switch it to past tense. haha


message 11: by J (new)

J | 301 comments Mod
Not butting in at all. The more the merrier!! :D

Interesting, as you like to write a male 1st person narrator, I like to write a female 1st person narrator. My brother does, too, I think.

I've had to switch tenses, too. It's a tedious process. xD


message 12: by Hogan (new)

Hogan (shebreathesinink) | 19 comments Yay! Thanks. :)

That is interesting! I've tried writing in a female perspective and it just doesn't flow as well, oddly enough.

It really is. It's almost like trying to rewire your brain or something! haha!


message 13: by J (last edited Aug 28, 2013 07:34PM) (new)

J | 301 comments Mod
For me, just the thought of writing a male first person narrator seems boring. xD

Indeed. And using the find and replace function for every "I" and "we" doesn't work. :3


message 14: by Hogan (new)

Hogan (shebreathesinink) | 19 comments How funny! :D

Yeah, I learned that the hard way. XD


message 15: by James (new)

James Caterino (jimcaterino) | 37 comments Early on I always used first person past tense, partially because I was reading a boatload of hard-boiled pulp stuff and watching a lot of film noir at the time, and partially because it felt so good to express a story in that fashion after years of being shackled by the restrictions of the screenplay format. The first person narrative worked very well for what I was writing then but since I have switched to third person/past tense. I find it absolutely liberating to be able to switch character viewpoints and it has allowed me to open up my storytelling and write in a more "epic" style.

But in the end I guess it is the story that dictates what the best tense/voice approach is.


message 16: by J (new)

J | 301 comments Mod
Each narrative tense has it's pros and cons. When you say 'epic,' it makes me think of Paradise Lost by John Milton. That story covers the 'good' and 'evil' sides. With third person, you can keep tabs on the good and bad guys. :3

It's fun to have viewpoints from many characters. I did that in some earlier stories. :3

But the tense I'm utilizing now is limited third person. You have the benefit of seeing things around the character she doesn't see, but you don't know what's going on in other places. It's like the narrator follows the character around and has headphones plugged into her head. x3


message 17: by Kay (new)

Kay (aceraven) | 41 comments I have two stories that I am working on, one in first person and one in third person. For me, it depends on what kind of story I am trying to tell. I use first person when I want to focus on a single character and really get close to what he/she is feeling. In third person I feel like I can keep more things secret and focus on more than one character. I have not yet found a happy place between omnipotent and limited third person.


message 18: by James (new)

James Caterino (jimcaterino) | 37 comments Yes, Paradise Lost is a classic example of that. Cutting back and forth between characters, especially with villains, is a great tool when the scope of the story is large.

Third person limited is a great way to keep the focus on one character's viewpoint but without some of the limitations of first person.


message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael Pearce (michaeltinkerpearce) | 91 comments Mostly I write in third person/past but there's a 'hard-boiled' story on the back burner in first person/past. Strangely all my Military Sci-Fi is first person. I guess I can relate or something.


message 20: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) Josh wrote: "But the tense I'm utilizing now is limited third person. You have the benefit of seeing things around the character she doesn't see, but you don't know what's going on in other places. "

I think that's the closest to what I'm doing myself, that there's no omniscient narrator, but even though it's third person, you're sort of over the shoulder of one character for each scene.

Basically, I write it like a video game...


message 21: by Ethan (new)

Ethan (ecalof) | 16 comments I try and stick to third person limited in past tense. I find it offers the best scope for what I like to write, and allows me to take the time to set scenes and add other sorts of exposition. As well, if I write in first person, I tend to put too many elements of myself into my MC, which is definitely not a good thing.


message 22: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) This thread (and some experimenting) has completely messed me up on the current WIP...I keep writing present tense and actually can't get back to past tense at all now.

HALP!


message 23: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
Can you split it up into different sections/characters?


message 24: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) Getting back into it, but that scene where my big-bad-femme fatale has an emotional breakdown about everything she did to assure her recently resurrected husband's resurrection is a hot, unsexy mess right now...

I think that's the joys of a first draft: working through it and leaving it as a piece of crap, knowing you'll fix it next time around.


message 25: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
I love that stupid feeling you have when you finish. Then you come back a week later with : WTF IS THIS?

Then you get to change it :3 Each draft is like going up a level :3


message 26: by J (last edited Aug 29, 2013 10:31AM) (new)

J | 301 comments Mod
Ken wrote: "I think that's the joys of a first draft: working through it and leaving it as a piece of crap, knowing you'll fix it next time around. "
YES. YES. That's how I am all the time. I just keep throwing words on the page and keep going. I'm pretty much broken through my habit of trying to be perfect right away. :3

Bisky wrote: "I love that stupid feeling you have when you finish. Then you come back a week later with : WTF IS THIS?"
That's what I think when I look at my first draft. But yes, it's like going for level to level. After each draft, the story gets better. :3 I'm liking my current draft a lot better, but there's still a of level-upping to do. :3


message 27: by Ken (new)

Ken Mooney (kenmooney) Ah,Josh, so glad someone else does it too. I had months (MONTHS!) of writer's block on my first book. And they were always in the middle of some really impenetrable scene where I'd just written myself into a corner and not sure how to wrap it up. But I found that I just threw words at the page, maybe a character getting a phone call, just to get myself out of the scene.

And then, all of a sudden, the phonecall was important. And then the scene became important because it was about the phonecall. And then the aggression of the scene got deflated by the important phonecall.

It's amazing when it happens, but genuinely sounds like you're making it up when you say that to non-writers.


message 28: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
I have a character in my first novel who I only added in becuase I wanted to put a fightscene in the second chapter. But when it came to planning the second novel, I found that he was the missing link between about 30 other characters, and he became pivitol to the story. I did it all subconciously :O

My Little Story: Writing is Magic.


message 29: by Hogan (new)

Hogan (shebreathesinink) | 19 comments If each time you re-edit a draft is equivalent to leveling up, then I finally got my 1st book right at about level 50. haha ;D

@Bisky: I sort of did the same thing with a character of mine! I added him in a scene in the first book just to make it more interesting--and lo and behold, he became much more important in the last chapters.

I often tell people that even though I'm the one doing the writing, it's the characters that are telling the story. ;)


message 30: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
Its like having hundreds of imaginary friends :D


message 31: by Sarah (new)

Sarah LaFleur (lafleurdeplume) | 37 comments I wrote my novel in first person past tense and started to do the same with Evelyn Dae, but found myself switching to present tense so frequently I made the switch permanent.

That change helped me distinguish the two characters in my mind too since I'm also working in novel 2 (sequel) and didn't want my MC to sound the same. As of now I've only written as a girl (although 2 very different girls) but I have an idea for a future project that would be in third person switching between a MMC and FMC.


message 32: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
Its funny how changing something like that can make the story fit together easier while youre writing it :3


message 33: by Carl (new)

Carl Tense and voice always prove a struggle. I can spend months trying to get this right for a story. That's why I write more poetry; I suffer less. Once I get theright character talking in the right tense with right pov-3rd person limited omniscient-then we're off! But it's usually a house of horrors.


message 34: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 1053 comments Mod
I write in First person, past tense, and male.
Why? Probably because that is what I prefer reading also.

My biggest problem was to stick to the past tense when the protagonist became delirious. I realized I had switched to present tense for the whole chapter long after I was done. Don't ask me why, I don't know. It was a real struggle to fix it because I honestly thought it fit better in the present. (And now I just noticed that one verb (still in present tense) has slipped unnoticed. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR (I'm predicting I will have a hard time sleeping tonight!)

@Bisky I like having imaginary friends too for two reasons.
1- even if they argue with me, I always win, and no one gets mad.
2- I confess being a hermit. So real life friends? What's that? I haven't seen any in years. :/ (good thing we have internet!)


message 35: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
G.G I'm not going to say anything to the last part considering how often you all see me online :P

Also I had a weird period when I first started writing Fury of switching tenses every five minutes. It was the first time I had written in first person and my brain rebelled for a while :p


message 36: by J. David (new)

J. David Clarke (clarketacular) | 418 comments I've written in almost every tense / voice at one point or another. I always think about the particular story and I see it in the point of view it needs to be told. The only one I've rarely used is 2nd person, most are 3rd or 1st, and it's either an omniscient narrator or from a certain characters POV. Of my 1st person narrated stories, it's either past tense (as I use in KEEPER OF DAYS) or present, as in one of my upcoming books that's still classified.

But in any event, it's always how I feel the particular book needs to be told. Each time it's specific to what suits the narrative in my mind.


message 37: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
I did try present tense but I just ended up thinking it sounded cheesy when I did it.


message 38: by Dawn (new)

Dawn J Stevens (dawnjstevens) | 51 comments When I sat down to edit last year's NaNoWriMo project, I wrote the first paragraph in both first and third person. Then I gave it to my "target market" (my girls), and they voted. First person won. My teen told me first person helps her get into the story more because she can "step into" the main character. I *almost* rewrote the entire thing in 3rd person, but with her suggestion, I kept it 1st. SO glad I did.

Thinking this next novel is going to be past tense first person as well. Bisky is right though - it can sound extremely cheesy if not done correctly.


message 39: by Michael (new)

Michael Pearce (michaeltinkerpearce) | 91 comments The current novel is 1st-person/past... but it's told by three different people, giving three different perspectives on events. It's working out nicely, because three very different people can convey all the information that's needed better than one viewpoint can in this particular story. None of them are the 'bad guy' though; the bad guys in this one are enigmatic.


message 40: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
@Dawn thats great you were able to get such feedback earlier on!

I wrote A Dance With Fury in the hopes that people will feel like they can view from the characters point of view. But my first novel, third person past tense, is a much much larger world with lots of avenues of stories. I'm not skilled enough to write that kinda thing in first person yet :]


message 41: by Dawn (new)

Dawn J Stevens (dawnjstevens) | 51 comments I'm sure you are skilled enough, just not nearly confident enough. I don't believe first person can be forced, though. I do see where you are coming from with the complication of the world and the different POV options. For that very reason, I'm nervous about attempting first person for the second book in the series. I guess we'll find out on November 1st what POV we'll do.


message 42: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
Yeah :3 I know my limits, and thats ok because I know where I need to improve. I haven't actually read so many books from first person present tense. I think if was going to I would sit and book nom a load of them before I started.

I'm looking forward to encouraging you all in November ^_^


message 43: by Molly (new)

Molly Mortensen (mollymortensen) | 25 comments I write in first or third person and I'm trying to write more present tense, so right now I'm having a strange mishmash of past and present... so annoying.


message 44: by Ren (new)

Ren Alexander (ren_alexander) | 12 comments Present tense and first-person POV.


message 45: by Claire (new)

Claire (cycraw) | 278 comments Third person limited, past. I've tried first person and it sounds terrible. I just can't get it to work.


message 46: by Bisky (new)

Bisky Scribbles (bisky_scribbles) | 2536 comments Mod
@Claire I didnt think I'd be able to write in first person ever, but it just clicked with A Dance With Fury, strange.


message 47: by Michael (new)

Michael Ray (mcray) I come from a screenwriting background where everything is third-person present tense — you write only what can be seen on the screen.

My recently published novel was written in third-person past tense.

Now I'm converting one of my older screenplays into a novel using first-person past tense, which is turning out to be quite a challenge considering the fragmented mental state of the narrator. But I like a challenge.


message 48: by Brian (new)

Brian Basham (brianbasham) | 390 comments My favorite is writing first person present tense. When writing dialogue it's easy to slip into writing past tense which makes for lots of mistakes to fix when editing. I like the way it brings the reader into the moment with the main character. Also leaving out certain details can lead to some interesting reveals later.


message 49: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Barnes | 86 comments I write third person past-tense. I did start a free write in first person because that is the way the prompt was written. As it took on a mind of it's own and turned into a story I kept switching to third person as I wrote and finally gave up and stayed with it. I also write from everyone's perspective. A lot of the first person I read is only from one point of view and I feel I'm missing half of the story.


message 50: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Wolfenberger | 85 comments Back in high school and college, almost everything I wrote was in first person past-tense. Now it's all third person past-tense, not because it's the more natural way for me to write, but because it's what I prefer reading.


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