Monday, February 6, 2012

Another Controversy: Tense and Urgency, POV and Closeness

(Apologies for the long post.)

A while ago I read a post by Ava Jae about making the choice between present tense and past tense. She also briefly discussed point of view. I went to comment on her blog and found myself typing a dissertation on the subject :) So I decided to write my on blog post on the subject.


Many people feel that present tense gives more sense of urgency then past tense does. I can see how that would be since it feels more like the here and now. But guess what - like many other things in writing and reading - it is different for me. Sigh, I am such a black sheep.

A lot of books that I have read that are present tense have made me feel more further removed from the story action. I am not sure if this is because I am used to past tense so present tense is harder for me to read - or for some other reason. It just is.

For me urgency comes from a combination between what is happening to the characters and how much I am invested in them.


1. Present Tense: The Hunger Games is written in present tense. But I don't remember feeling much of a sense of urgency and danger. I mean not a really intense one either. I felt more like a spectator and less involved in the story.

2. Past Tense: Lord of the Rings is written in past tense. For me the danger, emotion and tension is these books is very intense. So much so that I actually found my self worrying about the characters when I was not reading :)

Point of View

I have heard it said by many that the first person point of view brings the reader closer to the narrator. This is because we are seeing the story through their eyes and hearing it in their voice. But guess what?

Yep - me the black sheep again.

Unless I directly identify with the narrator - I actually feel more distant when reading first person. Again I am used to the third person point of view. Also, often times I don't like the character that is the narrator which taints my perception of everything he or she reports.

For me closeness is born from a sense of connecting with the character or identifying with them.


1. First Person: The Hunger Games is also written in first person. First let me say that I did enjoy reading these books. They were very interesting and thought provoking. But I did not feel very close to Katniss. I just did not connect with her - even though the story was written in first person.

2. Third Person: The Prydain Chronicles and written in third person. Right now I cannot think of a set of characters in fiction that I have ever felt closer to or more connected with. The characters in these books have ingrained themselves into me.

In short - choosing the right POV and tense for your story is important. But for some of us black sheep readers out there - it does not make all the much difference.

So what do you think?


  1. I find it very difficult to read a story that's in present tense. I'm seeing it more and more, and I don't like the trend at all. I also prefer third person POV, but I'm not so picky about it if the first person POV is used well.

  2. I typically agree with you - past tense, third person please! :)

    For me, first person (especially present tense) borders on being too stream-of-consciousness. It might do a great job of conveying action (I did like sections of the Hunger Games for this reason), but I miss the deeper connection and introspection I've felt with most third-person books. Plus...all first person voices are starting to sound dangerously the same to me (urban fantasy, I'm looking at you!). That's not to say I won't read them and enjoy, I'm just a sucker for the classic past, third.