So…I’m reading a book presently that is written in Third Person, Present Tense. (I’m capitalizing on purpose.) It has me really thinking about how the two work together, and what sort of mood it conveys from the start.
To me, Third Person sets you at a bit of a distance from the main character. You’re not directly in their head, there’s more flexibility in what the narrator can share, etc because of this. Obviously a great way to tell a story.
Then you have First Person which dumps you right in the middle of the main character’s every thought and emotion. No holds barred on the character’s knowledge or thoughts of what is happening means you have a more intimate view of them. It feels more immediate.
For now, we’re not going into omniscient or second person.
Now, as for tense, we’ve got another two options: Past and Present.
Past Tense is, obviously, set in the past. So you have a bit more distance there, the story can be a little slower without feeling slow at all.
Present Tense is present, duh. It’s immediate. The audience is on the ride right there with the main character for every bump and hiccup.
Now let’s think about how these play together.
I personally write in First Person, Present Tense. Which kinda feels like a race to the finish line, one exhilarating drop after another over the edge of a cliff-like incline. It’s an intense way to write a story. At least, that’s how I see it. All of this is just how these things work together in my own head, so don’t forget that.
So another option may be Third Person, Past Tense — one that is used commonly and very, very effectively. It gives you a bit more leeway when playing with your characters — maybe the reader gets to see a few things the main character doesn’t. That’s always fun.
Then of course there’s First Person, Past Tense — all the intimacy of the first person point of view, and the really cool part about First, Past is that it gives you the sense that you’re sitting with the narrator who is telling you this thrilling story over a cup of hot tea. (Am I the only one who thinks of it like this? Because this is why I love First, Past…it feels even more intimate than First, Present to me.)
Third Person, Present Tense is the one that has thrown me for a loop. I do believe this is the first book I’ve ever read written this way. It’s interesting because the Present Tense has this intensity to it, but it’s pulled back a little by the fact that you’re separated (even if only a little bit) from the main character. I’ll be honest and say I never thought it would work — but it does. Even if it makes me feel a little off kilter.
Tell me, what combination do you write in, and what do you think that means for your story? When you start a new project do you think about the tone of the combination you’re using, or do you simply go with what’s comfortable?