First Person

Question from a reader: The first person has always been a struggling point of mine, not to mention breaking the fourth wall as you did very briefly with the descriptions of football. I’ve only toyed with the idea of it until recently, having just begun a little experiment of my own. My question about the style, though, is why the change [to first person present for the Out of Position series]?

Well, the simple explanation is that that’s how I wrote the first story, and that’s how I came to think of the characters, so that’s how all the subsequent stories were and are written. The choice to write it for the first story wasn’t really a conscious one, but it worked well for the visceral tale, immersing the reader in the present moment.

If you want to break it down further, you could ask “why first person?” and then, “why present tense?” First person is the easier one to explain. In these books, the feelings of the two characters and the tension between them is the main conflict, so getting as close to those feelings as possible is important. Additionally, it’s not a big, sweeping epic; it’s a personal story, so there isn’t a lot of action that takes place away from the main characters. So first person works and allows me to present the same events from two different points of view. Also, first person allows me to use present tense–third person present is a much more awkward voice.

So why present tense? Well, that is something of an ongoing experiment. I actually think there isn’t a whole lot of difference between that and the more traditional past tense, save for habit. We use the two interchangeably when telling stories to our friends: “So I’m walking to the store and there’s these two women pushing baby strollers taking up the whole sidewalk, and I ask them to move, but they’re not even listening…” Present tense is a little less formal, and it allows characters to recall events from the past (as in the “Brian’s Song and Dance” chapter of Out of Position). More to the point, it has an immediacy that seems to fit this story.

Which is not to discount the above answer: that is how I’ve grown accustomed to writing these characters and their lives, and probably the series will remain in first person present until the end.

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