My Battle with Tense

As many of you know I recently sort of finished the first draft of a new manuscript. I thought the edits would be fun…until I stepped back and looked at it. I mean really, really looked at it.

I wanted this ms to win the grand title of being the book I deemed good enough to query. It had voice, a pretty risque and off the wall plot point, a hero worthy of swooning and a heroine that readers can get behind. And if I had to categorize it within a genre, I would have placed it smack dab on the contemporary romance shelf at my local indie. Right between erotica and women’s fiction (whatever that is).

So I sit down to edit this story that has made me literally giddy. It’s made my friends giddy. It even made my husband smile. I had readers begging me for more. That was great. But I’m looking at this ms and a painfully obvious issue jumps off the page and smacks me in the face. HARD.

Contemporary romances are not written in first person present tense.

Like….EVER.

And I panicked.

There was no other way to tell this story. It would not be the same. I already had some plot issues to fix. Goal, motivation, conflict sort of stuff. But to change the entire book to third person past?????

No. Freaking. Way.

So I researched it. Went straight to Google. I know, I know. People say you can’t trust Google but I’m one of those hungry for knowledge people and my gosh…the answer to anything is at my fingertips! So I google it.

There are a lot of first person present tense HATERS in the romance reading realm.

There are even discussion groups on Amazon and Goodreads about just how much it’s hated!

And I’m thinking, Why?? I love the immediacy of first person present!


But then again, I read everything. Even enjoyed a second person POV book once upon a time.

So there I was. Freaking out.

I read blog post after blog post that said NEVER WRITE ROMANCE IN FIRST PERSON…AGENTS DON’T WANT IT. I read comments from readers in those discussions that said IF A BOOK IS WRITTEN IN FIRST PERSON PRESENT I IMMEDIATELY PUT IT DOWN.

Yeah…that was enough to make me attempt re-writing this thing in third.

And it sucked eggs.

Not because I can’t write. But because the story was altogether different. First person present gave the hero what I wanted. A very you-never-know-what-the-heck-he’s-gonna-do feel. The heroine is always on her toes and it makes for a very fun, romantic romp between two very unlikely people. By changing the tense, those elements disappeared.

The main complaint I read however was that the readers want the hero’s POV as well. In third person of course. I went to all my romance novels on my shelf and lo and behold…they are all written that way.

I think a string of profanities that would have made Satan’s toes curl spewed from my mouth.

But I had to admit to myself that I am one of those people who have said…I wish I could read his side.


Twilight. The Fever Series. The Night Huntress. Shades of Grey. (Don’t judge me).

Meyer gave a sample of Edward’s POV and it was meh. Even Moning gave a chapter from Barrons’ POV (Fever series…MUST READ). That glimpse did exactly what I thought it would…it told me things I really didn’t want to know about Barrons. Moning said it would be so. She said readers might regret asking her to write it.

Why?? Because crafting a swoon worthy hero is sometimes like falling in love. When you fall in love, you know that person has faults but you don’t see them. Love has blinded you. Gouged your damn eyes out. Everyone else sees something different but YOU see what you need to see in order to give your heart over.

That’s what a writer has to do. Make you give up your heart to the hero just as the heroine has. And yes…I’ve loved a few heroes written in third person but say the name Edward Cullen, Jericho Barrons, Bones, or Christian Grey in a bookstore and watch women’s heads turn up like someone just yelled Fire!


I’m not saying I’ll never write in third person and I’m not saying I don’t enjoy reading books written that way. I do, I have and I will continue.

But sometimes…A story has its own life.

And it just isn’t the same if you change it.

This story came to me. That’s how it feels anyway. Charlie and Emma formed and Emma told me her story and I can’t for the life of me alter the POV without altering the intensity with which she felt the events.

So I won’t. Not until every last agent on the planet has rejected this ms, which they may very well do. I don’t know. But I owe it to myself to try.

So NOW…give me the down low. Do you HATE first person?? If so, what was the last first person book you read?

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16 Comments

  1. I love first person present tense. I read it and I write it. And I've seen some very successful books written in first person pov for both the heroine and hero. But here's the kicker. They were all YA. Maybe you're writing the wrong genre. πŸ˜‰

  2. I think 1st pov in romance can be done well. Twilight was an excellent example! Never listen to "never" but have a backup plan. If the bulk of agents/publishers don't want it, be prepared to query A LOT. Or there is always e-publishing –they are looking for different. Stay true to your voice, and your book! πŸ™‚

  3. Stina…my male lead is a male escort so I'm doubting I can make him 17 LOL. I love YA and I love urban fantasy but I think my skill lies in romance. And Jess…yes. I loved Twilight. The rest of the books not so much. I have to say that most of my faves, the ones that stuck with me, have been written in first person. And I'm with ya. Sticking with my gut instinct on this one. I've developed a tough skin thanks to my crit partner and betas. I'm querying this one.

  4. Hmm . . . First person POV is not a problem for me, but I write YA and that tends to me the norm in YA. It is the present tense that caught me off guard. I venture to say that there is a fair amount of romance written in first person (Anna Quinlan, Elizabeth Young, Megan McCafferty) although they all write in past tense I believe.

  5. If that's the way your story needs to be told, don't back down from it. I haven't read a lot of first person books, but there just aren't many in the genres I read, so don't base it off my experience.

  6. I write in 1st person, present. Not all the time, though. It depends on the voice of the WIP. If you feel like this WIP needs to be in 1st person, present, then go for it.

  7. To be honest I don't like present tense. It doesn't make sense to me – as it the events haven't happened at any specific point in time. I find it distracting. First person isn't a problem, but it's true that 3rd is the rule in adult romance with both POVs.

    The last 1st person present I read was "The Kitchen Daughter" and I have to admit it was very well done… Women's Fiction genre.

  8. I have read a lot of third person novels and have really enjoyed them. Especially when it came to dystopian or fantasy novels. They all seemed to be in third person. Then I read the Hunger Games and my opinion totally changed.
    It doesn't matter what POV you use for your novel as long as you do a great job writing in that POV.
    Now I am writing a novel, a dystopian in first person. I questioned my choice at first too because there aren't a lot of first person dystopians anymore, but I am sticking with my choice.
    Maybe writing in first person will give your novel something unique for people to enjoy. Do what feels right to you. Best of luck!

  9. I like first person POV and you have to listen to your characters and tell the story the way they want it told.

    BTW… I just found your blog when I signed you up on the MCRW website. Welcome to our chapter!

  10. I find it hard to write in anything but 1st person. I have to rethink everything and then do constant editing and revision. It is easier To research ans wrote non-fiction.

  11. I really enjoy first person present. It makes the story feel like it's happening NOW, and allows the reader to experience the MC's surprise and reactions more dynamically than if we read about it after an event has occurred.

    I write paranormal and have several characters who demand their stories be told in first person present. No discussion allowed.

    Others prefer third person (they're all guys, by the way – I just think they don't want the author in their heads). But even those I write in third person limited, once again to keep the reader guessing along with the MC.

    Write the stories the way the characters want. And if the character comes alive more fully in first person present, then ignore the negative feedback and follow the character's story the way they present it. It will have far more heart in it than if you try to force it another direction.

  12. I actually think I hate 3rd Person Point of View. Don't judge me. It's just how it is. Though of course it's fun to read about what the hero is feeling, if he's feeling 'it' as much as the heroine is, but 3rd person makes me feel like I'm reading. Not living.

    That kind of sounds stupid, but that's my logic. 1st person lets me be the person, be the main character and live her ups and downs in real time. While 3rd person kind of peeves me with its high intensity dramatics and since I can't get under the heroine's skin I always end up feeling like I hate her. Because more often than not, she's a huge drama queen. Somewhat like Bella. And mind you, I liked Twilight (obviously because Edward) and also because it was first person.

    Then again, I'm the biggest fan of Julie James. And she always writes in 3rd person. I guess it also depends on mood. I can read 1st person all the time, but sometimes 3rd person can be a welcome change to add flavor to my reading list.

    And now what's up with the whole contemporary section being filled with 3rd person? We definitely need a good change over there.

  13. Thank you for sharing your feelings on this. You have every right to tell your story your way. Sometimes it is just like that … rules scmules this is what feels right to me!

    BUT … I HATE first person present tense and will drop a book the instant I realize it's happening.

    I do not hate first person (past tense). In fact, when done well, I ADORE it. But I am very picky about when and how it works. I don't think it works well in romance. I usually see it in contemporary fantasy. First person romance is sometimes called "chick lit" because by taking out the man's POV, you are left with a story about a woman, probably written for women.

    First person, IMHO, needs attitude. If you can replace "I" with "he" or "she" and nothing changes, you shouldn't have been writing first person. It needs to mean something. It needs to have heart. From reading your struggles, it sounds like maybe yours does.

    My first problem with first person past tense is that it's illogical. You are NOT doing this right now. Do you think you're fooling me? You mean to say you've got your laptop open and you're typing right now while you're making out with this guy? Because I don't think you are. Or at least IF you are, he's really doing it wrong. πŸ™‚

    My second problem with first person present tense is that it destroys immediacy. I know you said you thought it created immediacy and that is the biggest argument I hear in favor of the style. I can only say that I feel the opposite, and on this point it may come down to what I'm used to reading. It is so distracting to me that I almost feel like I'm reading in a foreign language and have to translate. There's nothing immediate about that!

    Present tense has a dreamlike quality when I read it . In fact, when I use it personally, it's always in a dream sequence. It feels surreal. Not quite there.

    ****************************************************************************

    One of the things I've noticed about first person in general is that it is a popular choice among new writers, often to their cost. The trouble is that they see themselves in the role of the character and they feel that onto the page. It is immediate FOR THE WRITER. Present tense may feel that way too for some people; it's just not for me.

    But to the reader, the most immediate POV is third person. It's the one that most easily let's us into a character's head and pretend that we are him or her for a short while. The first person narrator comes across more like a friend telling us this really awesome story. That's why I say first person POV needs attitude. I've got to love the narrator as much as the story so that I can sit there and hang on every word.

    Ultimately it's your baby and you gotta do what's right for you. But I thought I'd try to explain it in a way that maybe you haven't heard before. You already know it's going to be a tough sell, but this is why. I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I love reading first person/present tense. I like letting the POV of the character whisk me away and lead me where I dare not go in real life. I think this is one of the main reasons that people become glued to a fictional story. I was struggling with tenses myself until I read this post. If the story's voice comes from first person, then I say go for it.