Inside the Heads of Strangers

I’ve just read a fabulous article on point of view in fiction.  First person and/or present tense, is a new trend in historical fiction which I know irks some readers. After all events happened in the past so shouldn’t they therefore be written in past tense?

I very willfully disagree. First of all, in this world of unlimited eBooks and limited attention spans we authors need to keep our readers turning the pages. I predict we will see more and more of this form of writing in the future.

Second, I can’ resist quoting Hilary Mantel’s beautiful words on how the present tense seems natural for capturing:

the jitter and flux of events, the texture of them and their ungraspable speed. It is humble and realistic – the author is not claiming superior knowledge – she is inside or very close by her character, and sharing their focus, their limited perceptions. It doesn’t suit authors who want to boss the reader around and like being God.

Bosch's 'Removing the Stones of Folly' ( with amendments).
Bosch’s ‘Removing the Stones of Folly’ (with amendments).

Indeed. Truth is complex and nuanced. The omniscient point of view (different from tense but no less potent) can lend a level of detachment to a story, which some people prefer. Yet a novel written in first person present tense pulls readers more intimately into the protagonist’s head and subjective story world. And unless this protagonist is a supremely annoying individual (well, even that can make for good reading) it can engage the reader and help the story come alive.  It’s the literary equivalent of mind-reading. It helps us understand the motivations of people we might never encounter in our daily lives.

This is, of course, all academic. Brilliant books have been written in all tenses and from all points of view.

As a writer, I found first person present tense helped me understand ‘The Infidel’s Garden’ protagonist Marjit on a far deeper level.

As I reader, I enjoy the form for the same reason. Click on the link demon to  read this terrific article:

bosch demon 1 flipped with shadow




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