WRITERS WORKSHOP: Point of View and Tense- Putting them together for your story.

This is the sixth and final part of the outline for the Writers Workshop we recently did on Points of View and Tense (Part of our NaNoWriMo preparation series). I separated the entire outline into separate blog posts for ease of use and navigation.

The previous parts are accessible via the links below:

WRITERS WORKSHOP: First Person Point of View (1st POV)
WRITERS WORKSHOP: 3rd Person Point of View (3rd POV) Limited/Multi
WRITERS WORKSHOP: 3rd Person Omniscient (Part 1)
WRITERS WORKSHOP: Omniscient POV (Part 2)
WRITERS WORKSHOP: Tense in POV (Future, Present,and Past)

What is Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month (in November)

    1. In 1 month, you write 50k words. (1,6667 words per day)
    2. A good way to join a collective writing effort, but can also be a terrible time if you don’t like pressure or deadlines.
  • Point of View or POV and Tense.
    1. The Point of View, or POV, is defined as “the Narrator’s position in relation to the story being told.” It’s the perspective you use to describe the events and details of your story.
    2. Tense is the temporal distance or time between the existence of the narrator and the events he or she is describing.

Putting Things Together: Narrator Point of View and Tense:

  1. Putting things together.
    1. How to choose which combination is right for you:
      • Choose the right combination for *the story*.
        1. A short story might be better in 1st POV present tense because it’s about five minutes of a murderer’s life as she contemplates turning herself in.
        2. A Fantasy Epic might be better in 3rd Multi past AND present in order to cover not just the first Main Character, but three generations later as the Main Character tries to figure out why he doesn’t age or die.
        3. A Romance Family Saga might go a bit against the grain and do 1st Multi Present in order to really get into each character’s life as the family goes through the sudden death of one of the brothers.
      • The Usual Combinations:
         photo First Person POV Past Tense_zpsu8vtwub4.jpg
        1st POV Past Tense.
        • 1st Person POV Past Tense (Catcher in the Rye, The Secret History, To Kill a Mockingbird, “Sally’ by Isaac Asimov, “Rocket Man” by Bradbury.)

         photo 3rd Person POV Limited Past Tense_zpskkbkgzvt.jpg
        Third Person POV Limited Past Tense.
         photo Omniscient POV Past Tense_zpspuvrqfza.jpg
        In 3rd Omni, or Omniscient POV, the Narrator knows everything, past and future, but narrates or “speaks” in the past tense, using past tense verbs.
          • 3rd Omni Past Tense (Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings)

         photo 3rd Limited Multi Past Tense_zpsjhd4dcd5.jpg
        Third Person POV Limited Multiple Past Tense (3 POV Limited, with multiple narrators, all using past tense to narrate their version or view of the story).
      • Unusual Combinations:
         photo First Person POV Omniscient_zps6kragf26.jpg
        In First Person POV Omniscient, the Narrator knows everything, and may switch between verb tenses as the main signifier to signal to the reader where in time an event is taking place.
          • 1st Omni Mixed Tense (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides)

         photo Omniscient Point of View_zpsutirhyzu.jpg
        In Omniscient Point of View, Mixed Tenses, the Narrator knows everything and may mix tenses in order to sideshadow additional details or describe concurrent or future events.
          • 3rd Omni Mixed Tense (Perfume by Patrick Suskind)

         photo 1st Person POV Present Tense_zpsmwcyeuxg.jpg
        First Person POV Present Tense: Once rare, now being used more in all genres and categories, especially short stories.
        • 1st POV Present (American Psycho, The Other Boleyn Girl)

Questions to ask yourself:

If you’re having trouble deciding which POV and Tense combination to use, you can go the “safe” route — the most common and traditional combination — and use the 3rd Person Limited POV Past Tense.

Or make a list of your top 10 favorite books. Use the combination that is most represented on that list.

Or make a list of the top 10 books in the genre of your story. Use the combination most represented (or most memorable) on that list.

Or write the first scene in several combinations and figure out which feels best for the story.

Or you can try other combinations by asking yourself some questions:

    1. Do I have a spark-feeling about this story? Did the idea or concept come to me complete with POV and Tense? Maybe my intuition knows best?
    2. Am I having trouble starting the story aka Writer’s Block? Maybe it would progress better with a different POV/Tense combo?
    3. Who am I writing this for? Who is my audience? Will they care about the POV/Tense combo? Do I care if they care?
    4. Am I choosing this POV/Tense combo to be experimental and edgy, in order to please the greatest number of people, or because it feels right for the story?

Why is the right POV/Tense combo important?

  1. It can be a dealbreaker if you’re looking for representation or going the traditional publication route.
  2. The wrong one can impede progress because you don’t enjoy the story as it’s being told.
  3. The wrong one can cause you to waste a lot of time and energy if you have to redo it.

Final message:

Choose the right combination for your story. Learn it if you have to. It’s a set of tools to add to your writing toolbox, not another “strong opinion” that causes divisiveness among writers. Holding on to a preference can cause you to miss out on some good books, or discourage you from putting a new spin on an old theme.

What is your favorite combination to read?

What is your favorite combination to write in?

For more writing articles, check out:

CHARACTERS: When Readers Dump You
WRITING: DETAILS – Specific and Unique
WRITERS WORKSHOP: Writer’s Block & Writing Anxiety
WRITERS WORKSHOP: Dialogue (Basics)


Contact me by leaving a comment below, on Twitter (@JoanWIP), or Facebook.

Hang out in my mental playground! For cheaper than a venti latte, my highly-rated short stories are available on Amazon, Fresh Cuts: Breaking Volume and Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning Volume. #Fantasy #SciFi #Horror #Fables #Fairytales #SelfRescuingHeroines #DiverseBooks.

 Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning has been reviewed as “Smart” “Fresh” “Disturbing” and “the part of Wonderland people don’t talk about”!

 Fresh Cuts: Breaking has been reviewed as “Twisted” “Hilarious” and a “Delightfully perverse collection”!

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