How to Write Point of View, Part 10, Choosing Tense and POV

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Hi SErs! It’s a day of Harmony here at Story Empire 🙂 Today, I’d like to talk about how to write Point of View (POV), and how to choose your story’s tense for best effect.

The writer has a few options when it comes to choosing tense (which is your verb tense), and some of those meld better than others with certain POV lenses. As with POV, the tense you choose will make all the difference to the look and feel of your story.

What are your Tense and POV Choices?

The writer can choose between past, present, and future tenses. Each of these can be paired with 1st person/2nd person/and 3rd person close/distant POVs.

Commonly, 1st person POV works best with present tense.

3rd person tends to lend itself best to past tense but will also work with present tense.

The least used POV and tense are 2nd person and future tense. And if combined, these would make for the most awkward writing and reading, unless done excellently and with purpose. Because of this, I would advise against using 2nd person and future tense. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing so.

Writers such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz have used Future Tense sparingly for purposes of foreshadowing. Here, you might write something like, “Emily couldn’t make sense of what she saw. She doesn’t understand yet, but she will. Emily will regret not taking more notice. In ignorance of what was to come, she blinked and continued washing the dishes. If only she’d taken a second glance.” As you can see, the narrative is primarily written in Past Tense with a brief leap into Future Tense for foreshadowing a thing that hasn’t happened yet. This is a great tool for building tension and suspense.

There are no set rules or edicts, and the writer has the freedom to choose what works best for the story.

Top Tip:

Tense works much the same as POV in that it can create immediacy and intimacy (Present Tense) or more distance (Past Tense). As we saw with POV choice, your decision will come down to what feels right for you and your story as you write it.

What do I mean by Verb Tense?

Present Tense would bring you current verbs such as “I jump”, First Person. “She jumps”, and “They jump”, Third Person. And “You jump”, Second Person.

Past Tense would bring you past verbs such as “I jumped”, First Person. “She jumped”, and “They jumped”, Third Person. And “You jumped”, Second Person.

Future Tense would bring you future verbs such as “I will jump”, First Person. “She will jump”, and “They will jump”, Third Person. And “you will jump”, Second Person.

Some Examples of Books Using the Various Tenses:

Present Tense can be found in books such as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games.

Past Tense can be found in books such as The Maze Runner and Fahrenheit 451.

When I Googled books that use Future Tense, I found that the prose is generally Present Tense that jumps, at times, into Future Tense. Personally, I’ve never read a book written exclusively in Future Tense. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve come across a wholly Future-Tense book.

In Summary: You can mix and match Verb Tenses with Point of View lenses to achieve the best look and feel and style for your story. First Person POV goes well with Present Tense, and Third Person Close/Distant goes well with Past Tense. Future Tense is best avoided, or used sparingly, no matter which POV you pair it with. Remember: You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well.

That’s it from me today. I hope you’ve found this post useful. I’ll see you again on Wednesday 16th March, when we’ll summarise the POV post series to give you a quick and easy recap of all the points covered 🙂

Bio Box for Harmony Kent that links to her website

Part 1, Overview, can be found HERE.

Part 2, First Person, can be found HERE.

Part 3, Second Person, can be found HERE.

Part 4, Third Person Limited, can be found HERE.

Part 5, Third Person Distant, can be found HERE.

Part 6, Common Pitfalls of POV, can be found HERE.

Part 7, How to Choose POV, can be found HERE.

Part 8, Choosing POV, can be found HERE.

POV 9, The Unreliable Narrator and POV, can be found HERE.

©2022 Harmony Kent

98 thoughts on “How to Write Point of View, Part 10, Choosing Tense and POV

  1. Pingback: How to Write Point of View, Part 11, Summary and Wrap-up | Story Empire

  2. HI Harmony, thank you for this information coupled with the examples. It makes it very helpful. I don’t think a book could be written completely in future tense and make sense as future has not happened yet. Maybe something very weird and dreamlike… I tried using two tenses (past and present) for A Ghost and His Gold. It was a way to split the timelines in the book. I doubt I’ll do it again, it was very complicated to write like that.

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  3. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – #Twofer – #ThisWeekOnStoryEmpire and #SmorgasbordWeeklyRoundUp | The Write Stuff

  4. Thanks for this clear explanation of POVs and Tenses, Harmony. Good to remember these things. I tend to write almost exclusively in 3rd Person, Past Tense, but even when I write in First Person, I prefer past tense. (“I looked out the window and saw the car approaching.”) It just feels more natural to me. And I have to say I have a lot of trouble reading books written in the present tense. Might just be a personal quirk, but with very few exceptions, I don’t care for it. It somehow distracts me from the story, rather than providing the immediacy I think it’s meant to do. Maybe because it’s not the way we usually talk when we relate things to others verbally. Not sure. But I definitely like having a clear understanding of how these all work, no matter which I decide to use. Great job! 😊💗

    Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’re probably right, Harmony. I never even think about it when I start writing, except for the few times I’ve used First Person. (Actually, other than Maggie in Swamp Ghosts and Sarah in the entire WRR series, I don’t even do that any more.) Third person definitely feels more comfortable to me, so I imagine I’ll stick to it, as you say. But still, I believe it’s important to understand how things work, overall. Thanks for laying it out so clearly, and who knows? I might get adventuresome one day and try a new approach. (Right now, I’d just settle for getting another book finished, no matter which method I choose. 😁)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmm, thanks so much for all of this food for thought, Harmony. The story I’ve been working on the past couple of years is written in first person past tense. I understand how writing it in the present makes it more immediate. I’ve been trying to avoid passive writing, and it seems present tense should help with this issue. Not sure I can convince myself to revise the whole thing for the umpteenth time.😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. POV, and especially tense, make such an impact on how a story is delivered. For many years I was a POV snob and wouldn’t read anything in first person and NEVER EVER anything in present tense. Now I’m a fan of both and when they’re combined, all the better. I especially love that combo for psychological and domestic suspense. I’m also a fan of third person, present tense.

    When all is said and done, however, third person past tense is still my preferred go-to for most storytelling.
    This has been an excellent series, Harmony!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember when first-person seemed out of the ordinary, Mae. Now it’s so mainstream, and readers have gotten used to it. I really like how immediate and close a first-person POV feels. I can see that when combined with present tense, it’s great for suspense. Third-person is still my go-to too, if only because I frequently have multiple POV characters. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post that really explains the POV and tenses. I can’t say I very ever read a second person story either but it might be fun to try in a short story. I’ve done first and third in my stories, depending what they need. As long as it done well, it makes for an enjoyable read!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Another fine post, Harmony! Great information that is laid out in easy-to-understand language. I tend to choose past tense and present tense, though I’ve dabbled in future tense a time or two. I love first person and third person equally, though not so much the second person. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Excellent post, Harmony. You do a great job of looking at POVs in combination with tenses. Future tense is often indicative of an omniscient pov where the character doesn’t know something, and the all-knowing narrator steps in and speaks directly to the reader. You’re so right that this is hard to do well. I suppose King and Koontz have a good handle on it. Lol. I read a flash piece one that was entirely 2nd person/future tense. Lots of “you will” in there. It worked, but it was only about 5 paragraphs long. 😀 This has been a great series. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. When I first started writing, editors rarely bought anything in present tense, so I got used to third person/past tense. Now, present tense can add a sense of immediacy in stories that I like, but I still rarely use it. I like it, though. It’s odd how trends come and go. I used to love prologues, too, but now they’re not in favor.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You make a good point, Judi about how writing styles go in and out of favor. I enjoy first person present now, although at first it seemed strange, it does add that immediacy to a story, I agree. I used to love prologues too. Hopefully they will make a come back.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m having trouble with the weather here, too – the power keeps cutting out. I’ll just add my agreement to the others that I’ll not be using the future tense and can’t really see it working in a sustainable way. Great, clearly presented series, Harmony. Hope your power’s back now! xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I’m sure we all agree on the limited use of future tense! 🙂
      Hope your power issues settled down quickly. Our friends just a mile down the road had to wait two hours longer than us to get their power back, and a village nearby still has no power as of this morning, so I’m feeling lucky just now.
      Glad you’re enjoying the series, Trish 💕🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Another excellent post on POV! I have never read a book written in future tense and can’t imagine trying to write one. Harmony, this has been such a great series and your examples are perfect to make each POV clear. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Excellent post, Harmony. I hadn’t thought much about future tense until this post, though I suspect I’d never use it. Thank you for these helpful suggestions. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Pingback: How to Write Point of View, Part 10, Choosing Tense and POV | Legends of Windemere

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