Why I Switched from First Person Present to First Present Past

Hi All!!

If you’ve read some of my past posts, you may have seen me talking about my latest novel, working tile: “Moorhouse.” When I first started it as a project for one of my creative writing workshops at school (that I planned to expand later on), I wrote it in the first person, present tense. Although I tried a few sample scenes in first person, past tense, what I loved about it the first person, present  tense was the immediacy of it. I loved that I could experience events at the same time as my main character experienced them, as if watching them through her eyes. This was especially interesting to write, in that my character experiences a terrible loss and has to make difficult choices to heal from that loss throughout the novel. I felt that first person, present tense kept the reader in suspense of what choices she would make, more so than if she was looking backward to the past (even if the past is a few moments before). Aesthetically, I also loved how the first person, present tense conveyed a sense of loneliness. To be in your own headspace, experiencing new and frightening events, can be lonely and I wanted my readers to understand my character and the choices she makes through her loneliness.

So why did I change tenses, you may ask? When I came back to my novel this summer after a few months away, to be honest, I had a bit of a hard time with the present tense. One thing that anyone who has ever gone through the writing process will know, is that you change your mind from draft to draft. A lot. It doesn’t matter how much you plot. Unless you’re writing your entire book over a week, you’ve gained new experiences, read new books, traveled to different places, taken different courses, seen different movies and t.v. shows, and just gone through everyday life things. These things all change who we are from year-to-year. I changed from last year, and I felt that my main character did as well. In order to reconcile who my character now is and where I now see my story going, I had to make changes. I think it’s a better book for it, and has made the revision process a lot easier. One of the most significant changes that I’ve made, that I’ll share with you here, is that a series of diary entries that were a bit of a last minute add on in my first draft, are now major key players. Those journal entries became very important to my story when I was working on my second draft, both to my story and my character, and I felt that with my story’s significance leaning towards these entries , it was appropriate to reflect on the structure of a diary as a reflective text. First person, past tense is a very reflective tense, and it allows me to use reflection as a tool that allows my character to grow. I hope it’ll work out, and I hope you like it once I’ve published it!

Take home message: I encourage anyone writing to see the tense you use not just aesthetically or as a tribute to your genre, but as a way that enables you to drive your story’s message home. Also, I’d encourage anyone who feels that they need to make changes during a second (or third, or fourth) draft to take the plunge. Consider how these changes will affect the overall outcome of your novel, but make the changes you need, as they will allow your work to be much stronger.

Anyway, hope this explains why I haven’t been around over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been manually changing my tenses 😉

xx, Em


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