Points of View and Tenses

Please Note:

By points of view I am of course referring to the first (‘I’), second (‘you’), and third (‘he/she/they’) person points of view in writing.

By tenses, I am referring to past and present tense in writing (I think future tense technically exists, but is incredibly difficult to utilize).


Ok, so I wanted to see and hear everyone’s thoughts regarding POV and tenses.

  • Which POV/tense combo do you prefer to read/write?
  • Which one is more difficult for you to write/read?
  • Do you believe certain POV and tenses lend themselves better to particular forms of literature?
    • (i.e. novels, short stories, poetry, etc)
  • Do you believe certain POV and tenses lend themselves better to particular genres of literature?
  • (optional) Can you give any examples of your favorite use of POV/tenses?

To answer these myself:

I tend to lean more toward reading third-person with no preference for tense, while I prefer writing in third person present. I used to write in third person past, but that was always incredibly difficult for me, and still is. I just didn’t know that present was an acceptable tense beyond poetry.

I actually have a lot of trouble reading first-person narratives because I have so much trouble identifying with characters. I’m not sure if this has something to do with the way I consume most other media (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 1st person POV movie, I dislike 1st person in video games, etc), and I honestly wonder if generations who get to grow up with commonplace VR will feel differently from me.
Actually, I’m going to add that as another question:

  • Do you believe that other forms of media have an influence on our preference for POV?

I think poetry and short stories are well-suited for first-person POV. This is probably my bias, but most novels utilize first-person in such a way that it could honestly be switched to third-person without any difference. It’s just utilized badly…or it could just be my bias for stream-of-consciousness, but very few novels justify the need for first-person.

I think horror stories in particular are well-suited to present tense. I’m so sorry Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, but…I think y’all are wrong. :sweat_smile:
Also, because fantasy and sci-fi authors have concepts that usually need explaining, I think third-person is rather useful for those genres…but I also think it might be holding them back by creating an environment that lacks experimentation, but then that just gets into a discussion about the relative stagnation of the genres.

Best example of first-person POV? Catcher in the Rye because I suck. I just think that first-person as a POV is best utilized when it mimics actual thought-processes but doesn’t actually mimic real thought processes because reading Joyce’s Ulysses is an actual ring of hell. If it can be ctrl+F replaced with third-person pronouns, then it’s not being used to its full potential.
Another good example of first-person is the Invisible Man. By removing the wall between the reader and the Narrator, we as the audience not only read his thoughts and feelings, we experience the humiliation, the anger, the lust—we feel every emotion the Narrator felt when recounting his life’s story because it is happening to “me”.

This is exactly the problem I have with Silas Marner. While both novels occur over similar stretches of time, in Invisible Man we are experiencing the Narrator’s life as he felt it. Again, we feel every instance of anger and humiliation and come to understand his way of thinking.
By contrast, Silas is one description of an event after another after another.
And then this happened, and then that happened, and then this other thing occurred to the antagonist at exactly the same point and there was no dramatic tension whatsoever—and then I got so bored of hearing/reading what was happening to the characters instead of experiencing it, that I walked up to my literature teacher and told him, “I’d much rather get an F for this module than finish the book.” I just hate Silas Marner so much.

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I’m still working out what I want to ask/explore (started in CCH thread) so I will just say: Thank you for starting the thread. I will move the posts over so the other thread won’t be derailed and comment much more later in this post.

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Someday, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and to perhaps have a discussion in a different thread and fora; it is something that has been tempting me to try as well.

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Ask away. I can’t remember if there is a recent/current POV discussion thread.

Stoic’s story was told in Third Person (Present)
Crook’s story is being told in First Person (Present)

But doing Present at all is definitely off the beaten path for most readers. So if/when I do DG and McCormick, I’ll likely do them in Third Person (Past) and First Person (Past) just to have experimented with the four major approaches.

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Since the last thread to talk about POV and tenses and such was from over two years ago, I’m just going to make a new one, because this could lead to some super interesting (and incredibly off-topic) discussion.

I think that genres within the gaming world has a greater influence and impact on our preferences for POV rather than other media which may not translate over into a game successfully.

First-person shooters, from a gaming perspective, has slowly influenced most gaming genres in today’s market. An example of that is Cyperpunk 2077, just announced a few days ago as a “first-person rpg.”

With graphical games, I feel this is easier to pull off than VN or Choice Script games because it is easier to identify with visual graphics aiding the effort to connect with a character than through imagination and written words alone.

While I agree with this on its face, because of the poor utility seen in most efforts, I do think this is something that can extend to CS games as well. This is where I was leading with my query to @Eric_Moser.

Where I think the effort might fail is when you include more customizability within the MC/protagonist presentation. This is where I am struggling. Is it going to only be effective to write from the 1st person point of view if we, as writers, limit the MC/protagonist to our vision… only allowing the reader to influence the MC and not “become” the MC themselves?

I believe that 1st person perspective is underdeveloped in CS games and I do think there is a lot to explore and develop on this front. My worry is by utilizing this point of view we may be limiting the MC too much.

Sorry for the multiple postings.

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Most of the things I read are third-person, past, with the exception of CoGs and a few first-person past novels. I think third-person, past is more common overall, so we end up reading it more than usual.

I used to write in third-person, past tense, but since most of my writing is now in the form of a CS game, I now write in second-person, present tense.

I have some difficulties with first person. First, I associate it with YA books, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but I like very few of them. Second, it sometimes feels a little self-involved or whiny when not done right, and that’s not a quality I particularly like in a protagonist. Third, it ends up feeling like journal entries, or something private which I’d be better off not knowing.

I don’t find it difficult to write in first-person, per se, but I rarely have a story where first-person would work better than other points of view.

CoG’s second-person approach is something I think only works in multiple-choice games, or games in general. I haven’t seen any other form of literature use second-person yet, though, so that may change.

Sometimes. I see POV and tenses as things that should, ideally, be almost invisible to the reader, as a undercurrent that helps reinforce the genre.

I don’t have any good examples, but I don’t want things to niggle in my mind because they were written in one particular tense or POV. I don’t want it to take me out of the experience and let me see the hand of the author at work.

Fatehaven’s twist of the POV into an actual plot point was one of the best things I’ve read ever. The game’s worth picking up for that alone, I think.

Choice of Games changed my perspective of POV and tense, and I don’t say that lightly. No one taught me that second-person as a viable point of view, or an immersive point of view. CS games changed that.

Also, I would really like to reference Fatehaven again, because it also changed my view of POV and tenses. In Fatehaven, the change of POV and the twist of POV into plot point was incredibly thought-provoking and still forces me to think about what POVs and tenses mean. It’s not often that I get reminded that past tense means that events happened in the past, or that present tense means things are currently happening. It sounds like an incredibly inane thing, but most of the time, tenses and POVs don’t perform a special function. They’re a tool, and it’s rare that they add meaning to a story. Thinking about them adds an additional layer to the story, and I like acknowedging that.

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First person perspective inherently forces the reader to ‘roleplay’ as the protagonist instead of ‘being’ the protagonist. The narrator is your character talking to her/himself, not some godly voice from above speaking at you the player directly. A good way to think of the second person narrator is as a dungeon master in a game of D&D.

I’ve always found dialogue easy to write and even easier to read. I’ve read my share of trashy fanfics that were rough on the English but were still easy reads because they were mostly dialogue. Dialogue has an inherent energy with distinct tones which you can hear inside your head. It makes for instant page-turners.

1st person narration, if done right, will feel like constant dialogue. The protagonist’s energy and tone will come through your exposition and details. I would recommend every 1st person author here to read their work out loud, to make sure your stuff outside the quotes has just as much energy as the stuff inside.

Glad you enjoyed it! I was more than happy to leave 2nd person behind for 1st!

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I took a break from writing this morning and checked out this thread. Great discussion thus far.

I’m finding the differences between 1st Person, Past versus Present, to be very interesting. Yes, the dialogue with the different approaches can be similar, but the reflections will be much different.

Writing Crook’s story now, I’m trying to balance going “too stream of consciousness” versus “too gathered and composed to be told as events occur.”

When someone sits down and writes a memoir type of story, basically 1st Person Past, they can reflect on events more thoughtfully and add vivid descriptions, etc., that wouldn’t have occurred to them at the time. But with 1st Person Present, you’re jumping right into the head as things happen, and most of us aren’t natural poets, so reflections and observations won’t be quite as…I guess I’d say “poetic.” But even in 1st Person Present, the main character will likely reflect on past events, so there’s room there for the more well-worded stuff.

I’m definitely going to need the beta readers to help me find the balance. And my real life writing group will likely help too.

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I read a book years ago which was written in first person, but alternated between present and past tense. An interesting experiment. The obvious motivation for this was that the book was about time travel, and written from the perspective of a teenage girl who was involuntarily time-traveling to the time of the bubonic plague, for short intervals. The changes in tense (between the modern and historical sequences) served well to disrupt the reading experience and call attention to the protagonist’s disorientation in an unfamiliar environment. It wasn’t just a pretentious stylistic choice, it served a particular purpose. In retrospect, the device was maybe a little crude, but still effective.

But I was a teenager then, and I’m not sure I would make it through a book like that if I picked it up now. I’ve gotten too comfortable with limited third person, and even omniscient third person narrators aren’t always comfortable for me. But that part’s beside the point, you asked about tense and person, not narrator POV.

I will read the occasional first person short story, and even more occasionally write one. I don’t usually read first person novels unless they’re hugely compelling to me, because it’s an uncomfortable perspective to me. I can’t even properly articulate why I don’t like first person. It’s like it itches my brain or something. The exception to this is epistolary work, which I usually find delightful. Actually, a CYOA game in epistolary form, hmm… Worth pondering.

I will definitely second whoever said (I think it was more than one poster) that text adventures and visual novels have made me comfortable with second person in a way I could never have imagined before I got so deep into them. I’ll sit down to write a little Twine game and second person just kind of happens on its own, just like when I write linear prose and limited third happens effortlessly.

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I feel like reading second person in cyoa’s is kinda default but I have definitely noticed that my best work is third person. I don’t exactly know why, I always thought that it’s because I’ve been writing short stories and novels for so long that my style is just better there. Cos comparing my cyoa stories to my novels is frightening for me.

But third person, and even first person at times, and past tense is most comfortable for me. Does anybody struggle with present? I write it and it always seems so stiff for me. Reading it is different, but looking at my own stuff I feel like I’m just directing the MC and other characters, not telling a story. I feel like combining second pov and then present tense is just a disaster waiting to happen for me. But other authors do it beautifully.

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I think the fact that I come from a country that speaks without tenses naturally makes me profficient with English present tense. And as such, I find it quite difficult to write in past tense.

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I wish I could agree with this, but I’ve actually never been able to finish playing a game that’s in first person. I’m sure you’re right, as nothing about your argument sounds wrong, so maybe this is just a personal preference thing.

I agree entirely with @Hazel I also find it so, so very weird to read in first-person and it’s ridiculously hard to explain why. It just feels…not good.
God, it almost feels like watching Michael Scott on the Office do anything, I just want to shut the book, take a deep breath, and dive back in until I need to come up for air again. It’s just such an intensely uncomfortable experience, and I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority for it, but heyyyyyyyy at least I’m not alone. :sweat_smile:

Actually, writing that out has made me realize that it’s a preference that is not in fact born out of the third-person nature of TV and movies like I thought it was (which was my initial reason for including that last question), but more just an personal thing so I’ll just move on…


This is 100% true. No one ever taught me how to properly write in second-person, or to even recognize it as a viable POV in narrative, but here we are.
I find it much, much less disorienting as first-person and am better able to identify with the character as a result.
Fallen Hero, I think, is one of the better examples of second person. Despite the fact that the character has their own personality and motivations, the tense allows me to feel and identify for them in a way that third-person would hinder.

I’m so glad you brought up Fatehaven because it was kind of the CoG that really made the idea of tenses click for me.
As you said, I’d never really seen them used in such a way before, as most authors merely use them as tools for the sake narrative flow (coughguiltycough) rather than as a function of the narrative itself.

Agh, I had more to say but I got distracted and had to leave this comment—hopefully it’ll come back to me.


To bring up Fallen Hero again, that game is essentially you influencing the direction of the characters and story, rather then becoming the MC. It’s very difficult to pull apart what makes that game so effective in my eyes, but I think part of it enters into territory that might lie outside of the realm of simply discussing POVs.

For me to identify with an MC of any POV, I need to empathize with them, and want to see them succeed. Maybe this turns off other readers, but in Fallen Hero, while I was disappointed that I couldn’t make the MC my usual charming and affable protagonist that I always play as, the way @malinryden describes the MC’s feelings of inferiority rent my heart (because I understood them so well) in such a way that I not only perfectly understood what they were feeling, but wanted them to succeed at their goal, thus melding my thoughts with the MC’s. The MC essentially wormed their way into me and hooked me along for the ride.

Whether this would have been as effective in first-person, I don’t know, but I believe that getting a player to become the main character is less a matter of POV, and more a matter of getting the player to empathize in a way that makes them forget the limitations of the medium.

I know, this is very vague and probably not helpful in the way you might want it to be, but it is the way I see it.
Whether or not that holds up in anyone else’s eyes…

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I’m writing a game which I hope to eventually publish. I’ve been attempting to write it in 2nd person, as it seems that the majority of games on CoG are in 2nd person. However, I’ve recently been thinking that my writing style might be better suited to 1st and 3rd person (or maybe I’m just inexperienced in writing 2nd person). I’ve given it some thought, and I believe I would still be able to write an engaging and interactive story for CoG in 1st or 3rd person, but the lack of 1st and 3rd person stories on CoG makes me worried that less people would be interested in my story because it’s not in 2nd person.

So what are peoples’ thoughts on this? Do you prefer one point of view over another or do you not have a preference?

I think that you should write whatever tense you’re comfortable with, as it will show in the fluidity of your writing! I don’t think there’s any right way to do IF and no way to please everybody. :slight_smile:

That being said, in the realm of IF, I personally tend to read exclusively 2nd-person POV. As has been said upthread, I find first-person to be a little jarring (I am ‘forced’ to inhabit a character that isn’t me, so that when it says ‘I do this’ I think, ‘but I wouldn’t do this’, whereas the ‘you’ in second-person is more imperative), and third-person to be very distancing (I am observing a character moving across their stage, but they are separate from me and I am separate from them). 2nd-person POV in IF is really good at making the player-character in the story “you,” and that’s just what I prefer when playing a role or controlling an avatar in another world.

Again, though, I think you should go with your gut. :slight_smile: The Wayhaven Chronicles is one of the most popular HGs ever and employs first-person POV, so anything is possible!

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That’s so funny because I am the opposite. I find 1st person better because "I " am making the choices. It helps me get into my character’s head better. With 2nd person, I always feel like it’s bossing me around. “You do this. You do that.”

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That’s hilarious! :laughing: I guess I’m submissive in that the narrative bosses me around and I just accept it, like “oh, okay, I’m doing this now!”

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