First person present tense (FPPT): love it or hate it?
I’ve heard both sides. Some readers – and at least one editor – say they hate it. Throw it out the window kind of hate it.
It’s a relatively new technique. Traditionally stories are told as an account of something that has already passed. They are somehow reflective and allow for insight on the part of the narrator. Can you imagine early man telling a story of a big hunt this way? I am in the valley. I smell sagebrush. I am hungry, so hungry. His companions would have assumed he ate some of those funny mushrooms again!
But it seems like a lot of authors are using FPPT lately.
Personally, some of my favorite books are written from this point of view. My own picture book, RWBG, is written from FPPT. My middle grade novel that I’d love to sell is written this way as well… but I’m wondering if that should change.
In my opinion, this tense/pov work best when the main character is in some sort of intense emotional struggle — to the point the reader fears for the physical well-being of the character. By using the present tense, the author leaves room for uncertainty. Readers don’t know if the character will survive since they aren’t telling the story from some safe place in the future. In fact, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan is one of the few that I can think of that is written in FPPT that doesn’t involve a character in grave emotional danger. This book has a great voice so it was probably the right choice, but if Blake had been telling the story looking back, I bet he wouldn’t have come across as quite so sexually obsessed – something I thought was over the top.
One problem with FPPT is that it can be sloooow. It’s difficult to travel inside a character’s head minute by minute while keeping the story moving forward. But K.L. Going is a genius at avoiding this. Two of her books, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD and SAINT IGGY are written in FPPT. Both are fantastic. And both books have main characters that you have to worry about – each one is in very real emotional and physical danger. She keeps the action moving by having short tight scenes.
Another problem with using FPPT is the definite limitation in the amount of details that be given while staying true to the voice of your character. You can only say what that narrator is thinking about and responding to at that one moment. It’s probably one reason I like writing from this perspective – I struggle with creating physical descriptions. But it can be difficult to withhold information from the reader in a way that rings true and yet does not lead to an unreliable narrator. Unless that’s what you want. For the ultimate in this, see INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.
Enough from me. But here’s a list of some favorites written in FPPT that I happen to have within easy reach.
- FAT KID RULES THE WORLD by K.L. Going
- SAINT IGGY by K.L. Going
- THE LUCKY PLACE by Zu Vincent
- LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL by Jo Knowles
- JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia
- ALL RIVERS FLOW TO THE SEA by Alison McGhee
- A HOUSE ON LORELEI STREET by Mary E Pearson
- SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK