Should you write "I am" or "I was"?


#1

Sorry for the confusing title, but I was wondering, should I write in a way as if everything is happening now or as if the MC is telling a story, narrating everything? Or should I change perspective completely, to he/she/they?

What kind do you prefer?


#2

Depends on the story. I personally like to write I am if it is a book set to the present or future and was if it is more historical/past.


#3

It depends on your story.

First POV: Me/I - character narrating. Makes the story very biased as it’s told from one perspective (sometimes more but never at the same time.) This is often used for Young Adult or New Adult. It’s good for character driven stories.

Present tense: makes good for action packed stories. It puts the reader right in the middle of what’s happening.

Past tense: is the most popular and most used. Makes good for narrating fluidly and unreliable narrators.

Third person POV limited he/she/they: you follow one character, but the narrator is not the character. It’s another entity. You don’t know more than the character though. Harry Potter was written in this POV.

Third person POV omniscience: you, as the narrator, KNOWS EVERYTHING. This is often used for fairy tales like The Brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are probably the most popular in modern times who’ve used this POV. They make the narrator a whole other character with a distinct and often humorous voice.


#4

Any of them are just fine :slight_smile:

I tend to stick to 3rd person past tense because it’s easier for me to write in description and narration that flows well in that tense.

1st person present tense can for sure make for immersive, action packed reads too. The one thing that I will warn you about though is that it is incredibly easy to slip to past tense by accident when writing. Keeping the tense consistent is the number 1 challenge for stories written in first person present (at least, that’s what I’ve noticed).


#5

Don’t you think you can have unreliable narrators in present tense? (and this is meant as a genuine question because I’m curious about your opinion – not challenging your statement).


#6

I think you can, definitely. I think it just makes it easier to actually make it obvious that the narrator is unreliable when they’re rehashing the story rather than narrating what is happening RIGHT NOW.

Of course, you could also have someone who never sees anything negative and thinks everything is amazing, and will narrate what is happening right now as something fantastic - even if it’s a mass murdering happening.

Anyways, personally, I think past tense makes it easier to work with a biased and/or unreliable character. :slight_smile:


#7

The only thing I’m wondering, is it okay to switch between past and present? Because I technically do that.


#8

Thanks, it’s something I never thought about. I always felt it was easier in present tense because it’s harder for the reader to figure it out and the effect is more of a twist when they finally realize that the narrator was just bsing them the whole time. I need to try a few short stories to see what comes more natural to me.


#9

I think I’m just really biased against present tense. I can’t with it and when I read it my brain keeps wanting to change it to past.

It’s only in a few stories where that hasn’t happened :joy:

So that has a factor in my opinions as well, obviously.


#10

It really depends on how you do it. A general rule of thumb is “no.” However, if you’re writing in present tense and are making a reference to an event that occurred in the past, then it’s ok.

Examples:

Acceptable instance of tense switching
I stare at the painting for a long time. I’d found it a year ago, sitting on my fiancé’s desk the day after his funeral. Now, it hangs in my kitchen: a constant reminder of what could never be.

Incorrect instance of tense switching
I quickly run after the ball. Addie followed me and kicked at my shins. I fall face first into the ground.


#11

Not going to lie, I like both examples because they both still flow and I still understand what the narrator is getting across. I think I’m just going to continue doing what I enjoy, never got any complaints yet.


#12

Go for it! :slight_smile:

The reason why my second example is considered incorrect though is because the tense switching in that instance accidentally implies that the events took place in two separate periods of time (even if they appear to flow well). The first example makes it clear that it purposely is describing two separate time periods (which is why it’s considered acceptable).


#13

I guess my stories won’t be on your to-read list since 1st person present tense is my preferred POV/tense, lol.

I also do it because my characters are always in peril of their life at some point (and I swear, one day, I’m going to kill off a main narrator and switch to another one). If I wrote in past tense, it’s obvious they have to survive since otherwise, they wouldn’t be around to tell readers about it (at least in first person – in third, you can get away with it since you can just drop them from the roster).


#14

I do see what you’re saying, but it can easily be interpreted into happening the same time, the mind tends to fix mistakes they see, so only people who are trained into that type of field would pick it out. I think the only time I heard someone complain about present or past tense is people with English degrees. However a quote that I loved hearing from a published author was that they didn’t follow any sets of rules, they wrote what they felt.


#15

The second example is grammatically incorrect. You can’t mix past and present tense to describe a continuous scene.


#16

It’s basic grammar. Trust me, readers will know. Using correct tenses is not a rule you can break.

When authors say they break rules, they are generally talking about genre mash-ups or mix of POVs that were previously not acceptable. They don’t mean to just toss out any grammar rule.


#17

Very true. Heck, this is why people get paid to edit manuscripts, and even then, some published books will contain typos. Even professionals can have trouble hunting down every single typo/grammar mistake. They tend to be sneaky :slight_smile:


#18

Mistakes are human error. If you look hard enough you will find mistakes in published books. I don’t think there is nothing wrong with it. Which is why I’m fine with writing my book as it is now, I was curious about whether or not it mattered. But I mean my book is basically just the bones of the story, it’s not even flesh and blood yet. I’m only building my foundation.


#19

Some grammar rules like fragmented sentences can be breakable in certain instances (i.e. if an author’s trying to set a certain mood or if they’re going for a very staccato, fragmented flow).

Tense rules are generally going to be pretty set in stone, but for initial drafts, mistakes are definitely acceptable (don’t want to stop those creative juices from flowing!)


#20

Technically I broke it, but I mean, it is wattpad and a rough draft, so it doesn’t bother me much