What POV and tense do you write in?

I wrote Sector12 in third person, past tense.

I wrote Isla + Morax in third person, past tense.

I’m writing Wrapped in Darkness in first person, past tense.

Why? Because prior to writing Sector12, I’d always written in first person and I’m not really too sure why I changed. I suppose third person just worked better for that story. I was considering writing Wrapped in Darkness in first person, present tense, but the idea of tagging dialogue with “I say” instead of “I said” was just too annoying to even consider 🙂

But I like writing in first person. It has taken me a while to get used to it after writing in third person for so long. But some of my favourite books are written in first person, so I wanted to delve back into it again.

What tense and POV do you write in? Do you chop and change or remain pretty consistent from project to project?

Edit: Ironically enough, two days after writing this post I started re-writing Wrapped in Darkness in third person, past tense 🙂

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
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50 Responses to What POV and tense do you write in?

  1. I am usually consistent with projects and utilize either first person or third person. Great blog Jodie.

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  2. I’ve written 6 novel length pieces in 3rd past. I’m trying first person, past tense right now. It works for this story, and I want to challenge myself. I can’t wrap my mind around writing in present tense, but it would also be cool for this story.

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    • jodiellewellyn says:

      I’ve read a lot of great books in first person, present tense – The Hunger Games and Divergent come to mind… but I don’t think I could do it. I’d be forever slipping back into past tense, I think.

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  3. Vy Chazen says:

    I used to write in first person but have moved to third person and I like it much better. All in in past tense.

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  4. ebthompson93 says:

    Usually I write in third person, past tense. But for one of my stories, I wrote in first person because it was supposed to resemble a journal/diary. I prefer third person, because you get more points of views and information, but I’ll use whatever fits the story.

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    • Precious Coardes says:

      I like third person because it gives the reader a more broader and richer way of looking at things and the details are more crisp when it comes to describing how a place looks. But I’ll have to say that writing in first person past tense is my writing style. I have written a few short stories in third, but I always got annoyed with having to describe everything, so I switched back to first. I found that in first, I can become the person and get a more personal in depth feeling about my protagonists. I’m writing Dwell Courts Academy in first person past tense and it fits perfectly. And I have actually finished five to twelve chapters of an old novel in third person, found out I didn’t like it, and had to redo it in first (a very tiresome process you want to avoid, trust me).

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  5. Rowling’s quote is perfect. There’s no better way to improve your craft than by reading.

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  6. It’s funny how the story seems to suggest the tense and person in which to write. I like first person because i tend to write from the psychological perspective of the characters but more and more I find I am mixing between past and present, first and third, within the same novel or story, although sticking to the same one for each character. In the novel I’ve recently finished I use third person past for most of the characters but the pivotal character is written in third person present. I find I’m increasingly experimenting with third person present as it allows a psychological insight while maintaining a certain detachment. I like the way Hilary Mantel uses it and also Jill Dawson in ‘Wild Boy’ for the feral child. The novel I am now writing uses third person past for most of the narrative but first person present for the character whose inner world I most need to portray.

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    • That sounds very interesting (read: Faulknerian- and that’s one of the biggest complements I think a writer can receive)

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    • Michelle Mueller says:

      I also like to play with tense in my novels. One WIP is a mix between first and third person past tense, depending on the time and character. I’m glad you mentioned 3rd person present, as I am also experimenting with it in a different WIP. I think I most certainly prefer it to first person present. There is a detachment but also a sense of immediacy, which I enjoy. 🙂

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  7. I used to write first person- past tense, but have now changed to first person- present tense as I tend to like books more that are written like this. I don’t know why but I think it’s just because I feel more like I’m in their shoes and in the scene rather than in third or past tense.

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  8. mandyboo93 says:

    I am writing a novel but, its still in outline form and I am struggling to stay consistent in the same person and its going to be past tense I think.

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  9. suebee51 says:

    In the past, I have written in past tense, third person quite a bit. I have some non-fiction that is first person, present tense. What I am trying now is changing point of view. Instead of using the omnipotent narrator or the voice of one character, I changing character chapter to chapter. I think it is working fairly well, but I have some problem with repetition especially when writing a scene in which both characters present their own point of view.

    One of the first writers’ groups I attended many years ago critiqued one of my stories that I had written in first person present tense. The leader ripped me apart, “Never, never, ever use present tense in fiction.” She was a self-righteous person who thought she was a great authority since she had written a couple screenplays for “Lifetime” TV. The very next day, I found a novel at the bookstore that was on the NY Best Sellers list and it was written in present tense. I wanted to take the book and shove it in her face. But I never returned to that writers’ group because it was not a very nurturing group, very critical and not helpful. I always felt like a bad writer when I left the meetings. A couple weeks later, I heard our state poet laureate speak. A college professor, he told the audience of inspiring writers to “follow you own voice.” He said to avoid people who tell you to write this way or that way. Only YOU know your story and can tell it best. His talk was more helpful than attending the writers’ group week after week.

    Do you need to tag the dialogue with “I say?” What happens if you just use quotation marks? Dialogue can move action along, too, by having the character do something. For example:

    I open the brightly wrapped box. “What a nice gift.“

    “I’m so glad you like it.” Melanie reaches for the crumbled up paper as I admire the scarf in the box.

    Best wishes in your pursuits. I look forward to reading your blog.

    Sue

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  10. I prefer 3rd generally.
    That being said: how much scope do you give when you write 3rd person? Are they omniscient or limited or somewhere in between (limited-omniscient)?
    Omniscient is great but can be too large in scope. I prefer a mixture of the two; only allowing for internal dialogues from one character but being able to say what other characters are doing elsewhere at the same time.

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  11. I’m using first person for my novel. I like it because it seems easier for the reader to get into my main characters’ mind. For short stories, I mostly use third person. I hope to eventually get comfortable using both types of POV.

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  12. Widdershins says:

    I write in third person for novel length stories, because It comes easiest, and as a reader I find anything other than 3rd person to be really tiring after a couple’a thousand words (most readers expect novels to be in 3rd person). … and mostly 1st person for first drafts of short stories. I use the editing process to to decide whether to change them or not.

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  13. Jessica Lauren Jane says:

    Wow, nice question 🙂
    I write in first person usually, that way I can babble a bit lol
    usually past tense, although I have written in present tense.
    It really depends on the story too

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  14. davekearney75 says:

    I think the story often dictates the tense and POV. For example, a story told from multiple POVs doesn’t lend itself to first person.

    Writing the same scene in different tenses and/or from different POVs is a useful way to determine what works best for a given story.

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  15. Janey Haas says:

    I usually write in third person, present tense. I never use third person omnipotent. It feels too daunting and broad. I’ll make a small section from the (third person) POV of another character if I really need to show the reader something through them.

    I think first or third person can fit, depending on the story. First is more personal, the reader can really get a feel for what is going on in the main character’s head. Plus, you can use a more informal, conversational tone. With third, you can add more exterior detail.

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  16. JP McLean says:

    I usually write in first person past tense, but it gets a bit tricky when my character has to bring in back story from her distant past. I caught a number of “had had” sentences. Great post.

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  17. Leonie says:

    I usually write in third person past tense, and at this point (for my current story), several points of view. I’m trying very hard not to constantly switch back and forth unless necessary, but it’s a tricky balancing act.

    I can imagine writing subsequent stories in first person past tense, but I suspect I’ll probably choose not to write in present tense. It’s probably just a “me” thing. The first book I actually enjoyed in first person present tense was “The Hunger Games” but generally I struggle to read present tense.

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  18. I’m writing my novel ‘Open Your Eyes’ in third person, past tense. But one of my favourite novels, ‘Home Another Way’ by Christa Parrish, is mostly in first person, past tense, and occasionally switches to third person for scenes where the main character isn’t present. It’s something I’m interested in experimenting with in the future; it was very effective in Home Another Way. All the benefits of knowing the main character’s most intimate thoughts, without being trapped in her POV all the time.

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  19. I need to do more writing to find which voice I suit/like most. EM Leonard’s dictums on dialogue are pretty savvy though-no? That is never go beyond the I said or use adverbs/description after it.

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  20. sionajessica says:

    I write in third person. Most of my favorite books are in third person. A lot of my least favorite books are written in first person. A lot of okay books that I sorta liked are written in first person. There’s only one or two books that I loved that were written in first person… and they weren’t first person present tense (which was the worst thing about Hunger Games and Divergent, and I liked those books decently enough.) But I am very much a big picture sort of person and I’ve always, always felt like first person always seems to dissolve at one point or another into this very self centered teenager-ish whining fest. Eck.

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  21. inkhearted says:

    I started out a few projects in third, but I always seem to switch back to first. The novel I’ve completed is in first. It just seems to work! And I always write in past tense. I actually can’t stand reading present tense books, they really bother me. I couldn’t finish Hunger Games because I just couldn’t stand the way it was written.

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  22. theotherwoman97 says:

    I am hoping that over the course of my 365 daily blogging challenge, my subject material will expand away from it’s current topic, I will stretch my writing legs & find what person suits me best.

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  23. rlsharpe says:

    I let the story dictate which pov and tense I write it in – different stories work better told in different ways. I’ve written in all tenses. I do find first person, present the hardest because I’ll slip back into past a lot when writing it.

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  24. maggiedot says:

    For me, it varies a lot with the project. Short stories allow me to explore various POV styles with a bit more freedom, and I’ve written omnipotent POV for some, 3rd person-closed, and 1st-person present for others (along with mixing closed 3rds from scene to scene). For the longer works, I tend to stick to a closed-3rd person, past-tense, with several alternating central characters, at least so far. It’s not always the most effective for the stories I’m telling (I have to watch over-writing and showing way too much, simply because I can), but for now it’s been the easiest for me to write. Editing may change that!

    Actually, I’m just beginning a great book called REVISING FICTION: A HANDBOOK FOR WRITERS by David Madden which I picked up over the holidays. (One of my goals this year is to improve my editing techniques.) The first chapter of this book is specifically focused on POV choices and the strengths and weaknesses of each style. It’s been really eye-opening for me, and already I think it may be helping me make more successful decisions about my POV choices than I have in the past. It’s very interesting!

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  25. winterbayne says:

    Typically, 3rd person past. I tend to jump character heads.

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  26. dustomundo says:

    I’ve written in both first and third person and prefer to write in the present tense. For some resson, past tense (reading & writing) tends to irk me.

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  27. My books are written in first person, present tense, so the reader can see what’s happening right now.

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  28. Good question! I wrote ‘Watchers’ in the first person, and ‘A Sword, A Star, A Flame’ (and its sequels) in multiple first persons — but at the moment I’m writing in the third person. I find first person narrative very challenging, but fascinating to write. I prefer third person for a story that ranges widely, where the reader needs to see lots of different points of view. I’ve always used the past tense for fiction, but now you raise the question: ‘Watchers’ would have worked just as well or better in the present tense. For another approach: my son’s been writing fiction for relaxation, and he uses a script format — almost all dialogue, with hardly any narrative, all present tense. It’s really different!

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  29. melodyspen says:

    Ah, I missed this post… hope it’s not too late. Despite my current works I’ve been posting on my blog, which was a writing challenge presented to me, written in the 1st person/present tense – I always write in 3rd person omniscient. I love the flexibility of switching between characters in order to get a larger scope of the story in less time. I’m self-conscious about confusing my readers, though, so stick with the advised page marks (*) or (***) between paragraphs if switching characters in mid-chapter.

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  30. I love first person when I’m writing a narrative, but right now I’m mixing third person and first person and it gives me greater flexibility in controlling the flow of information as well as a creative challenge of writing in two voices.

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  31. maggie blair says:

    My current book is in first person -past tense.. Actually tending more towards a narrative! Lets wait and see what happens.

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  32. dustomundo says:

    I’m curious.. what is the appeal of writing in past tense..? I mean no disrespect, it’s just something I’ve always wondered about..:)

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    • jodiellewellyn says:

      I think maybe because a lot of the most famous books are written that way.

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    • Leonie says:

      Some of it’s personal preference, but I have my own pet theory 🙂

      The vast majority of books that I’ve read have been written in past tense, and I suspect it’s partly because (and this is my theory only!) that writing books developed from oral story telling. Telling stories is usually done in the past tense because they relate to events that have occurred in the past – which is why the story teller knows about them.

      If you think about it, when you describe your day, you don’t usually say “I go to the railway station and catch the 8.45 express train.” Instead, you say “I went to the railway station and caught the 8.45 express.” This is because you’re describing something you’ve already done.

      Present tense requires us to take a leap of faith and believe that we’re experiencing the story as it happens.

      I know there’s a current trend to write in present tense, mostly described as “increasing the immediacy of the experience” for the reader, but I think that it’s probably a bit hit and miss as far as the outcomes go. As a middle aged reader/writer, I struggle with reading present tense unless it’s extremely well written. This is partly my own personal preference (and probably my child of the sixties vintage) but I do think that it’s extraordinarily difficult to do well.

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      • pauljgies says:

        I agree with you on all counts. I think story telling is an ancient and honored profession. And I don’t think Homer used present tense.

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      • Leonie says:

        I reckon you’re right about Homer! 🙂

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      • dustomundo says:

        That’s a great point, Leonie, thank you. But still I question: why the persistent past tense? Life isn’t lives in the past, we’re solidly planted in the present.

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      • Leonie says:

        We are planted in the present, that’s true, but usually when we tell stories, we’re telling about something that has already happened. That’s storytelling generally. As far as living in the present, well that’s fine, but we also learn from the past.

        I suppose it’s all about who the narrator is. If the narrator is the person telling the story then they could be telling it as it happens, or after it has happened. If they’re someone else, then in past tense, it could be anyone at all, but in present tense it becomes more tricky. It’s the extra suspension of belief that’s required that goes with present tense – basically telling the story as it happens, which means not knowing (as the narrator) what has happened. It’s very immediate, but not all encompassing.

        When an author writes in present tense, it has to go something like “She looks down the ski run, and sees the perfect white snow spread out before her. Her heart races, and then she drops the tips of her skis and she’s off.”

        The same thing in past tense: “She looked down at the ski run, and saw the perfect white snow spread out before her. Her heart raced, and she dropped the tip of her skis and was off.”

        To a certain extent, as I’ve said above, it’s personal preference. As a reader, the story flows more easily and is more believable in past tense for me. I personally find reading present tense awkward and disconcerting in the context of a story. Inside my head (for whatever bizarre reason) present tense sounds like an airy-fairy breathy voice and doesn’t ring true, and that’s probably because all of my early reading was done in past tense. Others love present tense.

        As a writer, I prefer past tense. I find that I can tell a better story, and because I’m currently writing in third person, it means I can tell a more complete story. It doesn’t mean that I won’t write in present tense in the future, but it doesn’t come naturally for me at this point.

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      • dustomundo says:

        Well that’s great, I’m glad that past tense works well for you.:) And I agree that present tense can sound a bit awkward, but when done well, I think it’s awesome.

        Having said that, I don’t think the present has to necessarily be written like your example:“She looks down the ski run, and sees the perfect white snow spread out before her. Her heart races, and then she drops the tips of her skis and she’s off.”

        I think it can be done differently, in unique ways.

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      • Leonie says:

        I’d be interested to see what you mean by “differently in unique ways.”

        Like

  33. pauljgies says:

    I write in third person, past tense. I do not go into any character’s head except for my main character, who is, for some reason I haven’t fathomed yet, usually a woman. My current blogging novel, “Clay Among the Stars,” has a male main character.

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