People, Point of View, and Tenses, Oh My

Due to a side editing project that I was doing, before determining that the project was not ready for outside editing, I’ve been considering point of view, tense, and person.

 As I said last week, I’ve discovered that I really hate third person present.

 It’s jarring and painful.

 So, let’s break this down:

 1st Person — A useful narrative mode, it can feel like the narrator is sitting down speaking with the audience. I’ve found this perspective commonly used in paranormal romance (Allyson James), urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher), and a fair bit of YA novels (Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins).

 2nd Person — A strange narrative mode, but one people have tried with varying degrees of success or failure to employ. The few examples I’ve glanced at seem to be a mix of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person rather than being entirely 2nd person. It’s always seemed better, to me, when limited to directions or helping people remember things.

 3rd Person — Probably the most common written narrative form that’s been used for millennia. It’s a good, solid form, and easily my favorite to write fiction in. For non-fiction, it helps preserve a degree of objectivity and formality for the writer.

 Past — Probably the most common verb tense for narratives, and one that’s been used for millennia. All the events already happened, nice and easy. Past also allows for use of all other tenses as needed for thoughts, dialogue, and other purposes.

 Present — I’ve seen various takes on use of present tense. Some say that it is increasingly common, others that it is rare. Finding consensus is probably impossible and likely depends on what genre(s) the individual is most familiar with. It can certainly make the action more immediate and reduces the variety of tenses available. However, it restricts time manipulation, diminishes suspense, can make it more difficult to create complex characters, and encourages use of trivial events. Veronica Roth (Divergent), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games), and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) are good examples of first person present.

 Future — I’ve never actually seen or heard of any fiction written entirely in future tense. I imagine it would be extremely difficult, at least in English, to get something like that to sound decent and to justify it.

 Omniscient — An interesting perspective that can be pulled off, when done well. Basically allows the reader to get the thoughts, feelings, and perspective of every character (or, more commonly, all the protagonists). I think this works best with a limited cast, as too many characters and perspectives tends to lead to nothing more than a jumbled mess of confusion and frustration for the reader. Obviously, it also needs to be handled just right or it becomes a complete clusterf—-.

 Limited — All the thoughts, feelings, and point of view come from one character. Probably the most common method anymore, although it can be adapted. For instance, George R.R. Martin and Rick Riordan change the perspective for every chapter, but each chapter is limited—ex. Chapter One is from Character A limited (say, Cersei or Percy Jackson, Chapter Two is Character B limited (Ned Stark or Annabeth Chase), etc.


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