That is the question.
It seems like it should be simple. My default has always been third person past tense. I guess that was always the natural way for me to write. Then I started writing The Girl Without Hands and for the first time I really enjoyed writing in first person. Granted, my MC is Esther and she’s super spunky, which is probably the only reason I love it so much. In my other novels I keep it third person, and while I zoom in and out as warranted, it really is me expressing things for my character. I write their story.
With Esther, I get to be her for a few hours a day. Esther is inadvertently funny, clever, and brave. She has a foul mouth and an amazingly open heart. It also doesn’t hurt there is a sexy king making eyes at her at this part of the story. ❤ However, while I’ve been Esther-ing, I’ve asked myself more than once if past tense is the right tense for me…er… her. Ultimately, I decided that yes it was. And that only was minimally influenced by the fact that I was already 30,000 words in when I started questioning it.
However, the dilemma does not end there, my friends. On my plate right now, in addition to Esther, are two short stories that I’m writing. Both I have chosen to write in first person to best convey the tone of the story, but that same question has stalled me at my last scene (on story one).
I’ve done some reading, and a lot of people aren’t too keen on the present tense stuff. Personally, I think in high intensity stories, it adds an immediacy that can’t be matched by past tense. The story I’m writing is short, and honestly could benefit from that immediacy.
Then again, could I just be obsessed with my discovery? Does “He looks at me” sound more intense than “He looked at me”?
What helps you decide on past or present tense? Or is this a debate that rages solely in my head? And does the viewpoint make a difference to you when it comes to tenses? I never have this problem when I write third person. Active tense just doesn’t hold the same allure unless I’m in first person and I’m in the action myself.
Do you ever change it up? Or is there a one size fits all stories?