I know readers seldom think about a writer’s thought process when creating a book, but since that’s what I do all day, that’s what is on my mind most of the time. So pardon me for occasionally wandering off on mental writer acrobatics.
I am currently drafting the latest genius mystery. These are told in first person from my main protagonist, and third person from whichever of her family has a point of view in the story.
Studies—and sales—have shown that readers generally prefer a book written in past tense. In third person, that’s fairly standard: “He loved her; he had always loved her.”
But in first person, everything is filtered through one person, someone who is presumably living and breathing as they tell their tale. When I first started the genius series, I wanted Ana to tell the tale in present tense, as if she were writing a diary. But that’s really really bad for action scenes. “I am punching him in the nose…” Uh, probably not as she’s talking or writing.
So I switched to past tense and rolled happily on, except… Ana exists in a continuing series of books. She cannot say “I was a cynic” in one book because she’s still a cynic in the next book. Right? That’s where my head starts spinning. “I knew he loved me” vs “I know he loves me.” Because he’ll still love her in the next book. The tale isn’t over.
And yes, I know few people care how authors torture themselves over such idiosyncrasies of language. I’d be better off looking for typos because I can tell from my mailbox that readers obviously care about them! Thank you for letting me rattle on as I puzzle out how things work. Is there anything else that bothers you in first person tales that I can fret about?