How am I going to tell this story?

povTwo of the decisions a writer has to make are which point of view and tense to use in telling their story. I’ve written short stories in third-person past tense, first past, first present, first past, and once in second present. I’ve written two novels in third-person past and one in first present. What? No third-person present or second-person past stories? Hmmm …

Anyway, I’ve begun work on my next novel, and though I love editing to refine syntax and word choice, I can’t say the same about revision. I love the result, of course, just not the process. So, I’d like to settle on point of view and tense before I write any more, to avoid the chore of changing those two elements in a completed book.

I’ve experimented with a few sentences, adapted from one of the stories, to evaluate which produces the most compelling voice.

1. [First-person present tense]

  • The night touches me with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. I breathe it in and exhale pain and fear. I rise and enter the house, fumbling for the door lock. I smile at myself. In this place, I have no need to lock anyone out.

2. [Third-person present tense]

  • The night touches her with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. She breathes it in and exhales pain and fear. She rises and enters the house, fumbling for the door lock. She smiles at herself. In this place, she has no need to lock anyone out.

3. [First-person past tense]

  • The night touched me with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. I breathed it in and exhaled pain and fear. I rose and entered the house, fumbling for the door lock. I smiled at myself. In that place, she had no need to lock anyone out.

4. [Third-person past tense]

  • The night touched her with soft kisses, its promises true, devoutly kept. She breathed it in and exhaled pain and fear. She rose and entered the house, fumbling for the door lock. She smiled at herself. In that place, she had no need to lock anyone out.

Does one of those stand out to you? I’m favoring first present, but maybe that’s only because I used that for my last novel. But here’s another problem. This novel began life as two short stories, and those stories are told from two different characters’ viewpoints—one in present tense, the other in past.

I believe An Illusion of Trust worked told in first-person present tense, but I wrote it from only one viewpoint. I don’t know if that would hold true using first present for two characters throughout a whole novel. And both viewpoints do have to be in the same tense, right? Right? Shoot. Now, I’m confusing and confounding myself.

Any thoughts you’d like to share on choosing viewpoint and tense?

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22 thoughts on “How am I going to tell this story?

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