Question: opinions on tenses/POV?

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Help! what to focus on in a first draft?

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Brooke

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Mar 3, 2023
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so i was noticing how a lot of writers tend to have specific points of view and tenses they write in, sometimes changing depending on what sort of thing they're writing. opinions on what form is "best" seem to change every time i ask-- some say first person/present tense is "childish," some say third person/past tense is "old-fashioned," some even swear by second person/future tense.
it's also a sort of general rule to pick one pair and stick with it, but i've seen tenses and points of view change liberally throughout some stories. (ex. in a book in my favorite series, most of it is written in third person/past tense, but flashbacks are third person/present tense.) when most story POVs switch characters, the whole thing is written in the third person, and the switch is done by merely focusing on a different character, but i remember reading a story where character switches were signified by the POV itself-- one character's chapters were written in third person, another in second person, and the final character in first person.
it seems everyone has their own "style" of POV-tense combination that they write in. i used to write in third person/past tense, then first person/present tense, and now first person/past tense. what are your opinions and choices with these?
*sorry this may be confusing to read. it's hard to put into exact words, and i'm tired lol.
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the most important thing is to not create confusion for the reader - writing a story isn't about an author showing off how smart and clever they are, it's about getting the reader into the world of the story within the first few paragraphs and keeping them there. fancy stuff often alienates a reader if they feel they can't understand why it's done that way.

The easiest to learn is first person, either past or present tense, but it has the danger of using too many sentences structured the same way, and the telling aspects of 'I did this' 'I did that' (I do this, I do that).
The safest to use and the most common is third person, past tense - it's not old-fashioned or out of date, simply used a lot more often because it's easier for readers to grasp.

Some stories don't sound right in one perspective, but another is a perfect fit. It takes practice and a good ear to hear how the story wants to be told. What's best for one story may not suit another, and finding the right fit for that story may take some effort (intended audience, marketability, etc.) but getting it right for the story and the characters within the story matters, not what's best or fashionable - the best stories outlast fashion.
 
Think about where you want the camera lens to be. In close third person (also called third person limited), the camera is on the shoulder of the protagonist. It sees mainly what the MC sees and hears what the MC thinks, but it can also see things/events the MC doesn't see/know. This makes the reader aware of e.g. dangers the MC might well step into.
In first person POV, the camera lens is inside the protagonist's head. It sees what the MC sees and hears the MCs thoughts but cannot see or hear anything that the MC doesn't. If danger looms that the MC is unaware of, the reader is also unaware until reader and MC step into trouble together.
Which of these you use depends on what emotional journey you want to take your reader on. That choice is completely up to you. There's no wrong or right way about it.
First person past tense is retrospective and means the protagonist survived the ordeal (or maybe not and is dead which could be a nice twist). First person present tense does not give away whether the MC survives or not which can increase the stakes. Again, no right or wrong answer. The choice is up to you.
Third person present or past tense is a style choice.
Second person POV is the book talking directly to the reader and is the hardest to do well. It's the least common style choice. I'd say avoid it until you're much more experienced.
 
A lot depends on the kind of book one is writing. However, First person gives greater and more immediate impact than the other two but it's restrictive because you can't describe what other characters are up to if you are not with them. I've never tried Second person, nor have any intentions of doing so- it just doesn't appeal to me. Third person is my favourite, you can see and do all things- you are God. Tense? Well, if it is happening now you use the present, if it has already happened you use the past. Don't make life difficult for yourself, keep it simple.
 
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