Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First Person, Past Tense: Good or Bad?

I wrote one of my short stories in first person, past tense. That means that it went something like this: I walked down the hall and saw a man there... etc. Personally, this is my favorite tense for first person narrative. I really dislike first person, present tense, i.e., I walk down the hall and see a man. It seems so stilted and uncomfortable to me. It just doesn't read well!

However, in my creative writing class, my professor said, "Writing the first person account in the past tense suggests she is retelling the story." There were other comments that suggested he wasn't a fan of this tense because of the effect it has: that it leads the reader to expect the character narrating has survived and is recounting the story.

I'm not sure I agree.

One of my favorite authors, Rachel Vincent, writes in the first person, past tense. Her Shifters series and Blood Bound series are written this way, and not once while I was reading them did I say to myself: Oh, look at that. It's written in first person, present tense. Therefore she must be successful by the end of the story! I didn't feel that Rachel's characters were retelling their stories. I felt that I was right there with them, every step of the way.

I'd like to hear some other opinions on this, so please feel free to comment, fellow writers and readers! Do you agree that this viewpoint leads the reader to believe the narrator has survived and is retelling the story?

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