Today, I made a comment to Christine Fonseca's blog post. The comment turned into more of a blog post itself and in my own frenetic way, going from the topic of P.O.V. and writing tense, to Jonathan Franzen's writing style, I thought it a great example of a Manic Meandering:
When I am reading a novel I prefer past tense. Present tense to me, is for story pitches like for a screenplay or a TV script, etc. –just the pitch, mind you, not the actual material. I remember us talking about this when Temecula Valley Writer Group was more active –a lot of YA books are present tense and it has to do with building suspense because you can’t know whether the character is going to die or not since it is all happening as you read it. If the story is told in first person, I can see this, though I feel like there can still be plenty of suspense even when told in first person past tense –the reader may know that the narrator isn’t going to die (unless they are speaking from the great beyond…) but there are plenty of other characters who could die. (yay!)
However, if a story is being told third person, past tense, ANYONE can die! The main character, ANYONE! So I am still unsure why it is so popular for YA novels to be in first person present tense.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible,” the story is told in first person by several different characters. ***SPOILER ALERT*** one of these characters dies, so this character is simply not a narrator anymore, and the others go on with the rest of the story.
I have no preference between first person or third person when I am reading a novel. It depends on which fits better with the story and I really have no rules about that. I don’t recall reading something and thinking, “This would have been better in third person…this would have been better in first person.” I have heard there is some “literary rule” that says that it is better to write a story in third person unless you are a very experienced writer. I’m not sure why that is (maybe if I was a more experienced writer, I would know…), but I try to follow it anyway: Perhaps because of my lack of college education, and my lack of ever getting paid for writing anything, I tend to cast aspersions on my own writing experience. Oddly enough, some of my favorite novels have either been in first person: Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and the above mentioned “Poisonwood Bible,” Or they have been in letter format: Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Everything is Illuminated” and Stephan Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has the feel of first person because the people in the letters ARE speaking in first person.
How do I decide whether to tell a story in first or third person? If it is my OWN story about something that happened to ME, first person (I guess that’s kind of obvious) –unless I want to fictionalize it, then third person. If I started to write a novel or short story in third person and it seemed like telling it from one or more character’s first person P.O.V. then I will go back and re-write/write it that way.
I like to tell a story in third person from the P.O.V. of many different characters. I either dedicate an entire chapter to a new P.O.V. or I will make a page break if the P.O.V. changes in the middle of a chapter. Either way, I want it to be clear –unlike Jonathan Franzen’s “The Twenty-Seventh City,” where he has character P.O.V. and location changes right in the middle of a paragraph with little to no segues! I swear, if I had been reading the paperback version and not from my Nook, I would have thrown that book across the room several times! Fortunately, (for him and for us) Franzen’s style has improved over the years.