Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Four Viewpoints (Part 10 of 17)

Authors usually write second person in the present tense. Ordinary observations seem stronger when you shift to second person.

Here's a comparison:

First person: I peer into my husband’s musty study. The neatness tells me that no one has been there. I smile. They haven't found the incriminating document.

Second person: You peer into your murdered husband’s musty study. The neatness tells you that no one has been there since his death. You smile. They haven't found the document.

The experts insist that the second sounds more ominous. By injecting murdered and death, they say it sounds more natural.

They may be correct, but it doesn't feel right to me.

You need to be comfortable in whatever POV you choose.


  1. Doesn't feel right to me either - the insertion of the "you" makes the author seem to be talking to the reader and that would pull me out of the story. Of course, right now I'm doing first person, and haven't a clue how to distance myself from that yet. For a memoir, first person makes sense.

    Thanks for your blog. I save your posts for future reference.

    Have a blessed day.

  2. Would it be as powerful to use the words murdered and death when writing in first person? Those two words seem to be the key factors, not the viewpoint. I believe personal preferece factors in, too. Much of the popularity of certain styles is subjective, don't you think?

  3. Heather's comment is exactly right--that's the point. Using "You" speaks directly to the reader. If I wrote a recipe in full sentences, I wouldn't write, "And then she adds one cup of flour."

    Memoir (which is usually an autobiography) has to be done in first person. You could write about yourself and your experiences by saying Heather walked into the room... Doesn’t sound right does it?

    In first person we don't want to distance ourselves. "I" am the POV person and only what I see/hear/think/feel goes into the manuscript.

  4. Jeanette asks about using words such as murdered and death. Those terms are matters of preference. Focus on POV—that’s the purpose of this series of blogs.

    If you're going to write for publication, you need to decide which POV to use. To do that well, you need to know how each functions and its purpose before you choose.

  5. I was interested to see your example of first person written in the present tense. Is it okay to write a whole book that way? I'm working with an author who is writing a teen novel. The novel contains diary excerpts, which are written in first person, present tense - they feel okay. But I want to tell her to change the rest of her novel into past tense. I don't think I've ever read a book written in first person, present tense, and didn't realize that it could be acceptable, correct grammar.


What are your thoughts?