Okay, for the record I like first person point of view (POV). When it’s done well. Often it’s not. However, as a young adult writer, I did an informal poll. Walking into my local Borders, I paged through the YA section. About two out of every five books were in first person. And maybe half of those were present tense. You know how that goes: “I hurtle through the door and confront Julio.”
I began to think, why has there been such a shift in POV and tense? When I was a kid reading, back in the 70s and 80s, things were a lot simpler. Third person POV ruled. My favorite authors all wrote in this format: David Eddings, Piers Anthony, Steven King. And everything was in past tense. That was just the norm. You strayed from that and you ran the risk of falling into the literary fiction side of the fence.
Yet now very commercial books are written in your face with raw emotions delivered rapid fire through present tense. It should be exhausting for anyone reading more that a short story. Then how can Libba Bray write 480 pages in Going Bovine and get away with it? The answer… Voice.
First person can easily degrade into stream of consciousness. Think the last chapter of Ulysses where Molly Bloom just goes off. I’ll let you judge how much of a success that was. (I loved it.) With a proper voice to anchor the narrative, the reader gets personally involved with the protagonist in a way he never could with third person. I’ve even experimented with a close third POV, where it’s still third person, but you still filter the world through the protagonist’s POV.
I blame social networks for this trend. I’m looking at you Facebook. Your status post may be doing more than just sharing your life with the world. Next time you peruse your News Feed, notice how many of your friends are posting in present tense. Of course they’re using first person. They’re writing about themselves. What’s the upshot of all this? It numbs you to the immediacy of first person present tense. Since you see it everywhere, it becomes the status quo. And guess who’s on line all the time, posting and reading? Young adults. No wonder they’re drawn to fiction that mimics this.
Have I done any research t verify this? Looked back to see how first person present tense emerged and see if it matched the rise if social networking like Twitter and Facebook? Hell no. This is just my own stream of consciousness. And even if this new trend toward immediate narrative didn’t begin with status updates, it’s certainly being held aloft by it.
Now go off and update your status or tweet about your hit cocoa. Let’s keep first person present tense alive.