first person, present tense

I’ve started reading a book by a favorite author, but this one is not in her regular series. It was a surprise when I opened it and began reading to find it in first person present tense (fp,pt), and I find that rather than getting used to it as I read it’s a struggle for me even after 30 pages or so. I just can’t seem to make the adjustment.

I’m always fine with first person, it’s the present tense, all characters all the time, that’s uncomfortable for me. The last sentence was “now”. The sentence I’m reading now is “now”. The next sentence will be “now”.

Why do writers do this, and does anyone else have a problem reading it?

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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22 Responses to first person, present tense

  1. Bill Crider says:

    It’s supposed to make the writing more “immediate.” It bothers me in some books but not in others. Depends on the writer, I guess. Or maybe the mood I’m in.

  2. Richard says:

    Yes, well it seems more like a gimmick to me. I stopped reading another writer I liked after two books because of it and I doubt I’ll make it through this one.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Hell yes, I have a problem with it. I’ve come across several short stories in anthologies using first person present tense and invariably I’ve skipped over them.

    I can’t think offhand of a novel written that way that I’ve read but I’m pretty sure I have.

    It’s a gimmick that should be retired.

  4. Richard says:

    I agree, Jeff!

  5. I’m with you guys. The times I ran across it I found myself struggling with such that i end Up giving up and usually avoid such books now if I know beforehand.

  6. Richard says:

    This one came highly reviewed and praised by others who had read it. I had no idea it would be fp,pt. The problem I’m having is that 2 or 3 times per page it jars me enough to stop reading and think “Ugh! I hate this!”.

  7. Patti Abbott says:

    I find the second person present tense even more difficult. Only book where it worked for me was A Prayer for the Dying.

  8. Unless you’re Raymond Chandler, I’d suggest you stay away from the First Person narrative. Like Bill, I find some writers can make the First Person Present Tense work, but most can’t. As you say, Rick, it’s a gimmick.

  9. Richard says:

    Patti – I agree, that’s even worse.

    George – I’m not saying first person POV is a gimmick, it’s the present tense that is. I’ve read quite a lot of mystery fiction told in first person that’s good.

  10. And I’ve read a lot of mystery fiction told in the First Person that was Bad. Really Bad. Most writers can’t pull it off successfully. To further complicate matters with the First Person Present Tense is asking for Trouble.

  11. Jeff Meyerson says:

    So, after all this, how about naming the book?

  12. Richard says:

    Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I really like her Retrieval Artist series, and was SO looking forward to this one. Sigh.

  13. Evan Lewis says:

    Normally I DESPISE it. I’ve seen it done effectively only when the narrator has such a distinct an unusual voice that it seems natural.

  14. Evan Lewis says:

    P.S. Even WORSE, though, is third person present. It’s like reading a synopsis.

  15. Richard says:

    I can’t think of an example of a novel in third person present. Anyone have one?

  16. Evan Lewis says:

    Hard to recall many because I toss them aside after the first paragraph. I can think of two offhand, but because they’re by current writers I otherwise admire, I won’t take their names in vain.

  17. Todd Mason says:

    Doesn’t throw me, but I’m forgiving in this wise. I know I’ve read third-person presnt tense, but can’t name it at the moment…one I liked that was first person present tense, iirc, was William Kotzwinkle’s THE FAN MAN.

  18. Richard says:

    If there’s a twist out there Kotzwinkle would find it. He’s a favorite, though there is much of his work I haven’t read — yet.

  19. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Rick, I tried to google ‘first person present tense’ to see if there were any examples listed. Instead I got a link to this blog!

  20. Richard says:

    Ha! Maybe we’ll have professorial types dropping in to elucidate.

  21. Carl V. says:

    I’m having a real hard time recalling if I’ve ever read a book like that. The one book that I always think of that I had a hard time getting used to but ended up really enjoying was Charles Stross’ book, Halting State. I’m thinking it was written in the second person and was not like any book I’d ever read in that regard. It worked for the kind of story he was telling but had an adjustment period.

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