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  1. #1
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    3rd person or 1st person

    I've been writing in 3rd party past tense so far, but having read books recently in the 1st person present tense, I'm wondering if I'd be more suited to that style. I've rewritten part of my writing, and was wondering if you guys could express an opinion on which sounds better. Thanks.

    3rd Person:

    Mary woke to the echo of footsteps.

    Her eyes felt heavy when she opened them, like they’d been glued shut. A stabbing pain shot up her side as she tried to get up, causing her to pause mid sit up and catch her breath, her head reeling.

    As the pain subsided she grimaced her way into a sitting position, taking in her surroundings. She’d been lying on what appeared to be a bundle of furs and cloth on a rock floor. In fact, the whole dimly lit room seemed as much cave as room, like someone had hastily carved out a natural cave to provide rudimentary dwellings.

    The light was provided by the dancing light of a solitary torch mounted on the wall, casting long, fleeting shadows across the rock walls.

    Where am I? She asked herself, the confusion of sleep slow to evaporate.

    She thought back, grasping for memories that lingered just out of reach. How did I get here?

    She remembered being at the church, helping set up and lay out the food. She’d finished late and was heading…The memory hit her almost as hard as the car had originally.

    She fell back onto the furs, unable to breath as shock and panic took hold. She scrambled to the edge of the makeshift bed and wretched, but nothing came up from her hollow stomach.

    She planted her palms over her face and sobbed.

    * * *

    1st Person:

    I wake to the echo of footsteps.

    My eyes feel heavy when I open them, like someone’s glued them shut. I try to sit up, freezing halfway as a stabbing pain shoots up my side. My head reels from the sudden pain.

    As the aching subsides, I manage my way into a sitting position, testing each movement an inch at a time. My back resting against a cold wall, I finally notice my surroundings.

    I take in the dimly lit room, which looks more like a cave to me, with its rough-hewn rock walls, lit by the dancing flames of a solitary torch on the wall.

    Where am I? The fog of sleep is slow to clear from my mind as I search it for answers.

    Concentrate, I tell myself. I focus on what I can remember. I was at the church, helping set up for the event.

    Luke was in the crowd. Then I’d left. Everything after that grows fuzzy, my head starts to pound as I struggling to make sense

    The memory hits me like a run-away car, and trust me, I know how that feels. The screech of tires, the rush of air and the cold hard impact of the ground.

    I bury my face in my hands and sob. I feel winded all over again, my breaths coming in shallow, ragged attempts. I lean forward over the makeshift bed under me and wretch. Nothing but pain comes up from my hollow stomach, which seems to have taken up temporary residency in my throat.



  2. #2
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    Both of them work. I don't know that I have a strong preference of one over the other, except that I'm not fond of first person present. The first person viewpoint provides more of a sense of urgency to the MC's predicament, but present tense narration always strikes me as a bit gimmicky in a story. Have you considered first person past as an alternative approach?

  3. #3
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Actually, to me this kinda reads like you initially wrote it in first person, then re-wrote it in third to make it sound as bad a possible in comparison. It reads like propaganda for first person, lol. A lot of detail and a character appear in the first person that don't appear in the third person. I was right on the verge of thinking it was two different stories. She's laying on furs and cloths in the third person, which vanish in the first. She sits up on top of the furs in the third person, but leans her back against a wall in the first. She sits up with a single grimace in the third person, but slowly and carefully inches her way up in the first. Two completely different stories, in my opinion.

    I vote for third person, but I think you should incorporate some of the detail from your first person effort into your third person. However you decide, you need to take more care with your words and grammar. For example:

    Third Person

    Her eyes felt heavy when she opened them, like they’d been glued shut. Eyes don't feel heavy, eyelids do - and feeling like they're "glued shut" does not indicate heaviness, but difficulty in opening them.

    She’d been lying on what appeared to be a bundle of furs and cloth on a rock floor. Really? A bundle? Perhaps sleeping on it is where the pain in her side originated. Did you mean to write "pile"?

    She scrambled to the edge of the makeshift bed and wretched... Explain to me how a pile of furs and cloths can have an "edge".

    First Person

    The fog of sleep is slow to clear from my mind as I search it for answers. You meant to write that she searches her mind, but instead wrote that she searches the fog.

    Everything after that grows fuzzy, my head starts to pound as I struggling to make sense Two sentences and not a period to be found. Wrong verb tense.

    Nothing but pain comes up from my hollow stomach, which seems to have taken up temporary residency in my throat. I think you wanted to write that her stomach took up residency, but you wrote that the pain did. At any rate, I think you're trying to say something in a cute way, but I'll be danged if I know what it is. She's nauseated? She's hungry? I've never felt those two things at the same time myself, and I've been around for a while. Or maybe she has a sore throat? Only you can say.

    That's my two cents.

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the feedback.

    Glifindel - I hadn't considered 1st person past tense, because I haven't really read much that's written in that way, so I think I may find it harder to write. I might give it a try though and see how I get on.

    John - What's your reason for voting 3rd person if you think the 1st was better written than 3rd?

    I see what you mean regarding those passages, and will need to work on that, it's the sort of thing that I tend to miss when reading over a piece as I know how it's meant to read.

  5. #5
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I don't think the 1st was better written than the 3rd; I just think the 1st included details that did not appear in the 3rd. You changed the 1st story from the 3rd to make it more appealing. I think if you include those 1st details in the 3rd, then the 3rd would be better than the 1st.

    But if you're set on first person, then I'm with Gil - first person past. First person present is extremely hard to write consistently and often presents difficulties in expression and logic.

    Yeah...always good to get a second, third, and fourth pair of eyes on your writing.

  6. #6
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    Hey guys. I've re-written the 3rd person and incorporated some of the extra details from the 1st person version. Does this sound better?

    I found it surprisingly hard to revert back to writing in past tense (considering that's all I ever used to write in), I kept writing things in present tense, then having to go back and think over how it should be worded for past tense. I must have spent too long reading present tense books recently!

    Anyway let me know what you think.

    ***

    Mary woke to the echo of footsteps.

    Her eyes lids felt reluctant when she opened them, like they’d been glued shut and wanted to stay that way. She tried to sit up, freezing half way as a stabbing pain shot up her side, her head reeling from the sudden pain.

    She grimaced her way into a sitting position as the aching subsided, testing each movement an inch at a time. Resting her back against the cold, rough wall, Mary finally notices her surroundings. She’d been lying on what appeared to be a pile of furs and cloth, stretched out over a rock floor into a makeshift bed.

    In fact, the whole dimly lit room seemed as much cave as room, like someone had hastily carved out a natural cave to provide rudimentary dwellings.

    The light was provided by the dancing light of a solitary torch mounted on the wall, casting long, fleeting shadows across the rock walls.

    Where am I? She asked herself, the fog of sleep slow to evaporate.

    She thought back, grasping for memories that lingered just out of reach. How did I get here?

    She remembered being at the church, helping set up and lay out the food. She’d finished late. Luke was there…The memory hit her almost as hard as the car had originally.

    The screech of the tires, the rush of air, and the cold, jarring impact of the road.

    She scrambled to the side of the makeshift bed and wretched, though nothing but pain comes up from her hollow stomach.

    Then, lying half off, half on the bed, she buried her face in her hands and sobbed. The memory flashing over and over in her memory, winding her all over again until her breaths shallow, ragged attempts.

  7. #7
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    lol...wow, you really are having difficulties with present/past and other things. I think you should find a editor or a friend who likes to read to look these things over. Maybe you should stick to first person present, lol. This is definitely not better.

  8. #8
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    I normally get the gf to have a read over my writing as she's good at picking up on errors, but haven't seen her today lol

    I've been through it myself carefully again and can see a few times when I forgot to correct the mistakes in tense (and even one or two instances when I've just completely missed out words!)

    Other than those errors, is there anything specific which makes it worse than the previous attempts?
    Last edited by Will Prendergast; 01-07-2014 at 11:04 AM.

  9. #9
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    OK...suggestions in red. If you have any questions about why I changed something, ask away.


    Mary woke to the echo of footsteps.

    Her eyelids felt glued shut. She tried to sit up, but a stabbing pain in her side froze her halfway, and her head reeled.

    She grimaced into a sitting position as the ache subsided and tested each movement an inch at a time. As she rested her back against a cold, rough wall, she assessed her surroundings. She sat on what appeared to be a pile of furs and cloth stretched out over a rock floor into a makeshift bed.

    The dimly lit room seemed like a cave hastily carved out for a rudimentary dwelling. The light of a solitary torch mounted on the wall danced and cast long, fleeting shadows across the rock walls.

    Where am I? The fog of sleep was slow to evaporate. She grasped for memories that lingered just out of reach. How did I get here?

    She remembered the church, helping set up and lay out the food. She finished late. Luke was there…the memory hit her almost as hard as the car...the screech of tires, the rush of air, and the cold, jarring impact of the road.

    She scrambled to the side of the makeshift bed and wretched, though nothing but pain came from her hollow stomach.

    Then, lying half off the bed, she buried her face in her hands and sobbed. The memory flashed repeatedly in her mind until her breathing became shallow and ragged.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 01-08-2014 at 05:02 AM.

  10. #10
    Member Lawrence Tabak's Avatar
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    By the way, can't imagine anyone "hastily" carving a cave out of rock. Even if it were dirt, it would take quite a lot of effort.

    That said, first person gives you, in general, more immediacy into the MC's head and feelings. It also is limiting, in that you are restricted to what that character sees and feels. Present tense, as in Hunger Games, is a bit trendy, but can be very effective in high drama stories. I also think it's effective in capturing youthful POVs and voice. Think about how teens relate an event: "Then she says, 'no way,' and I say, 'I know." So then she's like..." It's all in present tense.

    No right or wrong. Some writers are better at one than the other. Experiment and get opinions from other writers, not just friends.

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