Guest Post–The Amazing Ilima Todd!

First Person Present Tense in YA Fiction

Writing a story from a first-person point of view has been popular in young adult fiction for a while, and understandably so. When you can experience what the character does without any degree of separation, there is an immediate connect to what happens to him/her, making it easier to feel invested in the story. The emotion factor jumps up a level, and the stakes feel that much stronger.

One of the big challenges in writing first person is the blinder the narrator must wear. Every description is filtered through one set of eyes or ears, and you can’t jump heads. It can be a fun problem to have, though. The narrator confides things in the reader he/she wouldn’t with other characters. It also makes the voice fun to play with, and you really get to know the character you’re writing.

Also with first person, info dumps become painfully obvious, and it’s easy to end up ‘telling’ too much or overdoing internal monologues. When a person walks into a room, they don’t usually start describing the finish on the table or the whirring sound of a ceiling fan, so having your character do it can feel jarring if not done naturally. Despite the challenges, I love to read and write in first person for that accessibility factor.

I’ve also noticed a recent trend toward present tense in YA fiction. Why present tense? Again, it brings immediacy to the story. You experience events as the character does, and the tension level rises. It can be quite stressful for the reader, but exciting too. In stories with high stakes, you might not even know if that character will make it, a powerful tool to maintain urgency and a need to know what happens next, keeping those pages turning well into the night.

I wrote three books before I tried first person present with my fourth novel and haven’t looked back. In fact, I’ve thought of story ideas I know won’t work with FPPT and pushed them to the side, not wanting to give up my favorite POV.

How about you? Do you like to write/read in first person present tense? What is your favorite point of view to write in?

 

are just a few examples of first person present in popular YA fiction, pulled right off my bookshelf. As you can see, it works for a variety of genres:

 

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Matched by Ally Condie

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The Forest of Hands and Feet by Carrie Ryan

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

 

Ilima Todd was born and raised on the north shore of Oahu and dives for octopus with her dad every time she visits—otherwise she’s diving into books in the Rocky Mountains where she lives with her husband and four children. She graduated from BYU with a degree in physics and eats copious amounts of raw fish and avocados without regret. But mostly she loves being a wife and mama and wouldn’t trade that job for anything in the world. Her first book, REMAKE, will be published this summer!

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4 Comments

Filed under Point of View, Voice, writing process

4 responses to “Guest Post–The Amazing Ilima Todd!

  1. Most of what I read is third person, but that’s more science fiction’s style. I’m currently working on a manuscript that could be done in first person, but I just find it too difficult. That, and I really don’t want to be in my character’s head THAT much.
    Glad it works so well for you!

  2. benschwensch

    Nice job, Ilima! Good understanding of the advantages to both person and tense, and simply, succinctly shown!

  3. Thanks for having me, Carol. 😉

  4. I recently rewrote a new beginning to an old novel of mine in first person present. It took some getting used to — I kept reverting to past, and it gets even trickier jumping back and forth when you are actually talking about the past — but it did lend a certain level of magic and immediacy, like you said. My favorite POV is first person past, but I’m not opposed to tackling present again if it feels right for the book. Great post, Ilima!

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