Tense and Tension

That first five hours of magic and stunning word count production is a thing of the distant past. The Second Project was rudely interrupted by LIFE, and now I am having a difficult time getting back into it. I sat down late Saturday evening, once supper had put the rest of the household into a nice quiet coma, and tried to ease back into the z-fic rewrite. It was then that I was brought face to face with one of the problematic issues of this story that nagged at me way back when: First person, present tense.

This is one of three stories that “came to me”, in the main character’s voice. I am not pretending to be clairvoyant, nor am I attempting to convince anyone of mumbling creative guru nonsense when I say such things. I am speaking with plain honesty, regardless of how ridiculous it might sound to experienced writers out there—I literally heard, “My name is Holly, and I have a bizarre story to tell”.

Okay. Enough of defending that. It is what it is.

Holly is not real big on descriptive details. I like descriptive details. I like texture, nuance. I am fond of the waxing poetic. I want to know about the guy who calls her Holly Girl. Who is that, he seems so dedicated and sweet while she treats him like a thorn in the side so I ask who what where and why, and Holly says shut up and keep moving. I want to know more about the raspy, lyrical voice of her grandmother, and Holly says listen to the words, shut up and keep moving. I want to explore the origin of her killer instinct and correct her on some the cliches she’s prone to spout and Holly says we’re all going to die, shut the fuck up already.

I’m stubborn, and after all, I’m the one writing this stuff, so I explore anyway. I discover some amazing things which I believe are vital to the tale and I begin interjecting. But Holly’s first person present tense isn’t really flexible enough to do all the things I want to do. Reading back passages of the story, I hear clanging noises.


So, I am awake at 4 a.m., wondering how to fix all this. Let’s ask Google. Google points me to a Writer’s Digest article entitled “The Pros and Cons of Writing in Present Tense”. I expect to find solutions to these problems in this article written by knowledgeable writing writers. What I find is the declaration that only the immature writer insists upon first person. First person is somewhat faux pas. And one of the few ‘pros’ to writing in first person is that it simplifies the handling of the twelve tenses. Twelve?

How many English courses did I take? About twenty thousand dollars worth. I do not have any memory of twelve. No one is going to give me a refund. How disappointing.

I guess I’ll go do what Holly tells me.

9 thoughts on “Tense and Tension

  1. Eadar Doodles + Cheese

    Twelve? Do we have antennae? Heat sensing tongues? I’ll tell you what I would do. Write her thing, finish it, then go back and color in a bit behind her. I find the characters with the strongest presence (and the loudest voices) won’t take a backseat until they’ve got it all out of their system. What you might be able to do is weave in a character with 3rd person POV. I forget if Holly is alone most of the time.
    So the way Holly is written is, “I see danger. I hear moaning. I pick up the shovel and get ready to kick some ass.”? That’s tough.
    I’m ruffling through my virtual file drawer to draw a comparison and coming up blank, but it’s early.
    I’ll tell you what I find amusing, not that the zapocalypse should be amusing, is the push pull conversation between author and character.


    1. Kathy Boles-Turner


      Yeah, that’s what I tried to do way back when and I couldn’t pull it off. Maybe now though I can manage it. I had a very similar problem with early poetry—the more I tried to “fix it” the worse it got—until I let it lay around for three years, then revisited.

      I DESPISE stories that start off in one POV then allow another character to enter with a different POV. This is why I almost burned the Divergent series. And a few others. I have yet to read one that is successful. They may very well be out there, but I’m worn out from looking for them. Besides, if Holly is fighting me tooth and nail now, she would totally cuss me out if I let Adam or Travis talk.


    2. Kathy Boles-Turner

      Push pull conversation is not ending…

      Your second comment has no ‘reply’ button and I am perplexed by that, so I’ll comment here. You have dual protagonists, not disjointed voices speaking over one another.


  2. Michele

    First person is terribly hard, but far from impossible! I know my brain tends to stammer with “I’s” whenever I approach this place, but try to transform your sentences to reveal without opening up with that particular pronoun.

    For instance: The air is dark and grey, oppressive, burning like ashes in my lungs as a cold chill skitters up my spine. Bile rises in my throat as the stench of rotting flesh reaches my nose. It’s something you never get used to. I grab my shovel.

    Try and get descriptive with what she sees. We know it’s coming from her since it’s written in first person perspective.Just leave out the “I.”

    I hope this helps!


    1. Kathy Boles-Turner

      Is this the once so wordy friend of mine? Hi there!

      Good points here. Where I really run into trouble, though, is the often necessary commentary between lines of dialogue. This is where Holly is more apt to let her feelings known about what’s going on, and the I’s get thick. But I think, like Tami said, I may have to write it all out then return later for some repairs.

      Come back and see me sometime.


  3. Michele

    Yeeeeees, it is! Hi!

    Can you utilize italics as a means to reveal her thought process? Like interruptive thought? (is that what you mean?)

    I’d be happy to look at some examples and get you some feedback. xx


    1. Kathy Boles-Turner

      I thought so!

      The word count is probably going to total 20-25k, and nearly half is conversation interjected with commentary, so italicized thoughts might be worse than a forest of I’s. If I can get back into my groove this week, I’ll have a dozen or so pages ready for perusal by the weekend. Maybe. If I’m still having issues, I’ll definitely keep you in mind. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s