I do not like present tense.
There. I said it.
I’d also admit to disliking second person, but since hardly anyone tries to write in second person, it’s like saying you dislike drowning. It kind of goes without saying.
Back to present tense.
My bias is that I generally prefer close third person past tense point of view.
When I come across first person present tense, the writing REALLY has to wow me to keep me reading. Something about it keeps jarring me out of the story … and to my dismay, the number of recent books I’m finding which utilize present tense (almost always first person present tense) is growing.
I’ve even hit a book that has first person present tense … and multiple points of view.
/face, apply palm
Apologies in advance for the examples that I haven’t taken time to hone into GREAT examples.
Third person distant, past tense:
Tami threw the book against the wall, where it crowned a stack of similarly abused books in a growing monument to her delicate reader’s palate.
Third person close, past tense:
Tami threw the book against the wall, frustration blossoming into dark satisfaction when its spine thocked into the wall before crowning her untidy pile of hardcover betrayers.
Third person close, present tense:
Tami throws the book against the wall, eyes glinting with satisfaction as the spine snaps and it falls to crown the untidy pile of hardcover betrayers.
First person close (not going to bother with second person or first person distant), present tense:
I throw the book against the wall, frustration blossoming into dark satisfaction when its spine thocks into the wall before falling to crown my untidy pile of hardcover betrayers.
So What’s Wrong With That?
Nothing, unless you’re like me and aren’t overly fond of first person to begin with.
To read “I” did this and “I” thought that can be very jarring when those emotions are not in line with the REAL “I”. That is to say, myself.
Diary-style books rarely work for me (and yet I love Terrier) and the first person point of view typically jars me out of reading multiple times no matter how well it’s done. I’m not imagining a character acting out what I’m reading, I’m imagining that I am doing these things.
I’m getting better about first person, but the present tense almost never works for me.
It’s supposed to lend a sense of immediacy and remove the sense of “these things already happened, and thus things will turn out okay” from the reader.
All it does for ME is force me to constantly stumble over sentences, like stones hidden in tall grass.
An example : I’m currently reading The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (she’s most commonly known for the Shiver trilogy).
I love the premise for The Scorpio Races (man-eating ocean horses raced every year on a tiny island). I am enjoying the author’s voice, and I am REVELING in an author who seems to genuinely love horses.
But I am finding it less engrossing because of the multiple points of view, each in first person, and each in present tense. Each chapter is crowned by the PoV character’s name … but I didn’t know that at first, and shifted from a boy to a girl without any real understanding of what had just happened.
I’m going to keep going because man-eating ocean horses – HELLO – but there’s a giant part of me that wishes this book was written in third person past.
Other Points of View
That being said, Steve Hall made several comments that he wished I’d written Love’s Champion (the Dragon short story for the next Saucy Chronicle short story collection) in first person.
So I know it’s all very subjective.
Anyone else have a reader bias? Even if you know it’s not popular … some preference (or dislike) when it comes to storytelling that can make or break a book for you?