• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Narrative mode + content


Just a couple of quick questions.

When you are writing/reading, do you prefer first or third person? And do you tend to focus more on dialogue, description, character development, action, etc, or an even amount of each?


I tend to write in third person past tense. Not entirely sure why, it's just the way I feel most comfortable.

When it comes to writing I tend to really not focus that much on description. It's just not one of my strong suits. I tend to focus more on dialogue and action.


toujours gai, archie
Third person, past tense. The past tense because the story is not happening right now. I've always found present tense to be absurd. First person or third person is a matter of choice. Either can be made to work, either can be made awful.

When I'm reading, I shouldn't be focusing. The author should be carrying me along. If I am starting to notice dialog over description (for example), the author is losing me.

When I'm writing, I am just trying to tell the story in as believable way as possible.

When I'm editing, that's when I focus on pacing, continuity, consistency, vivid language, and so on. I have to build the body and make the engine before I can worry about painting the car.


I write in third person present...not sure, mainly I try to stay in the character's head, which allows for inner dialogue. I don't go into heavy description in regards to setting. Action, dialogue, and character dev are what I focus on. Particularly, action. When reading a book, action is usually what hooks me so that would be why. Pointless dialogue and endless philosophical monologues, on the other hand, does the opposite.

Noma Galway

I usually write in third person past...but quite a few of my short stories have been first person present. The one I'm working on now is first person past...which is strange because she dies at the end.

I like writing internal dialogue far more than external dialogue. As a reader, either way will hook me, as long as it's done well.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
We write in third person limited, past tense. We have no objection to first person as readers, or experimental tenses, but we write in multiple points of view so we need the flexibility to change perspectives, sometimes mid-scene (this is called head-hopping).

Our stories are very character driven, so we focus on character development and interaction - and thus dialogue - first, with action coming in at a very close second as our stories are also set in a violent urban fantasy sub-culture.

Description is only important to us so far as it serves to differentiate our characters from each other (if Mook 1 needs to be told apart from Mook 2) or to illustrate those features that are important to specific characters in terms of development or plot (one has extensive spell-scars, another has iridescent white hair, while a third is overweight). We do not believe in using the description practice I call "grass" - when the taste of every berry, the bark texture of every tree, the name of every village elder, and the smell of every cow plop is described in page after page of travelogue. I have seen this done more than once, and while some writers, and readers, like it, it drives us insane.
I write in the limited 3rd person present, but within chapters I frequently shift the perspective between characters depending on who I want to be the camera, as it were, in a scene. This has three benefits: the reader gets, in total, an omniscient third person look at the world; the book retains the intimacy of a first person point of view; and the cuts between perspectives accelerate the pace. Basically, I've just adapted the techniques of an action movie to a novel.

I'm with the Shadow Lord re description. The Tolkein/GRR Martin road has been well-traveled. I'd rather take a more Elmore Leonard approach and strip the story down as much as possible.


Myth Weaver
I use first person past [and sometimes present] for writing Crime. I think it gets me closer to the action.
For Fantasy I write mostly in third person past.
One thing I did notice recently, my average sentence length for my Crime writing is less than half it is for my Fantasy. Not that surprising I guess but the difference was bigger than I expected.
I couldn't tell you about what I read. If I'm noticing the tense the story is written in, then it really hasn't gotten to me like it should.


For some reason, I can't stand reading stories in first person. I imagine there's a lot of good stuff I'm missing out on because of this, but the stories don't draw me in. They bore me right from the "I". Which is why I write in 3rd person limited (past). I'm a pov snob.


Mainly third person past, but I'll break into present, and even second-person present or past, as the narrative requires.

For instance, a chapter that opens after a bunch of badguys have locked the goodguys in a chamber and drawn their swords starts in third person present tense, with the narrator (me) explaining the primal nature of swords, before dropping into third person past tense again as the fight gets underway.

To many, swords are terrifying. They flash and gleam; unholy, alien. Heavy steel edges bite flesh and lop limbs like the teeth of predators long-lost to memory. The sight of a sword borne with menace is enough to reduce some men to prey.

Jarrod enjoyed lethal combat the way some enjoy dance. The poetry of the body, flesh aspiring to grace, an invitation for a greater spirit to reside for a while, driving the human form to something exalted and transcendent.

Jarrod’s rapier flashed from its scabbard and he engaged one of the soldiers immediately as those at the table stood. The other soldiers — obviously Hillwhites or Hillwhite loyalists — began hacking at the assembled. Other swords came out, most of them too late. Men screamed. Blood fountained.

And when I'm doing a third-person POV and I want to get into the character's head, I'll sometimes switch to second-person, because this is how the character is thinking. Here, a secondary character is thinking about how long his friend's castle might hold out against a siege:

It begged the question to Carter of how anyone ever built the ****ing place to begin with. It boggled the mind.

The Front Door sat inside a mighty tower, nine floors high with indexed arrowslits converging on the bridge, right where you’d need to stand to build a rampart. You’d run out of workers long before the men in the tower ran out of arrows.

If you ever got inside the Front Door, you’d find yourself standing in a two-story kill zone fifty feet on a side. The door behind the tower, which led through the mighty outer wall, was stone, three feet thick, on splendid and exquisite hinges that took four men on a winch to close. It would have to breached with a ram. This made for its own set of problems, because rams took time. Further, he figured, working the problem backwards, you’d have to build a rampart that would support men on a battering ram big enough to take down a stone wall.

Worst of all, the third floor had a number of barred trapdoors opening to the room below.

There were all sorts of horrible things hiding on that third floor to be fired at, dropped onto, and poured over anyone fool enough to take the time to breach the second door. Flammable oil, bags of powdered glass, cauldrons and fire pits for boiling water and lead, jars of acid, big sharp rocks, caltrops, pretty much any ***hole thing that Jarrod could think of, he’d squirreled away up there, redefining the term murder hole.

Oh, you splendid son of a *****, you'll be all right for a while.

Carter was sure that Jarrod would die disappointed if no one ever tried to breach the Front Door. So there was that.

I don't recommend this for the beginning writer; it's a very advanced writing technique and it's exceptionally hard to do well. If you don't know exactly what you're doing and why, you could end up with a literary train wreck. Plus, your editor might hire someone to kill you.


I try to do something new each time I sit to write, sometimes first, sometimes third, but the decision to do so comes in the first paragraph. I write naturally in the third person, its my 'default mode' but on occasion I'll write the first three sentences of a story and stop to reread it and say 'that does not work' and switch to first person to try it that way.

Some stories, depending on the perspective, work better one way over the other. One can be rather dispassionate and distant to the content where the other will be far more personal and emotive to the characters (and in turn, the reader). Sometimes by making the switch, the story you wanted to write can improve greatly, but in the end it all comes down to how comfortable you feel writing that way.
I write in third-person past. I keep the perspective within scenes to the same character. As a reader I find too much head-hopping annoying, so I am trying to not do it as a writer. I trying to keep the chapters reduced on the hopping as well. Ideally each chapter has one perspective, but doesn't work out like that all the time.

I read a story a while back that switched back and forth. In one perspective it was third person and another perspective first person. It was interesting, but rather jarring to read.
I prefer to read and write in first person. I enjoy seeing things through the character's eyes and being in their head. Although, if I feel it is necessary, I will write in third. The novel I'm working on now is 1st person, present tense with multiple character viewpoints. They say that it's hard to write in present tense due to a tendency of slipping into past tense, but once you get used to it, that issue goes away. My last novel was present tense too and, by this point, I've written in present tense so much that I literally have difficulty writing in past tense.

I try to focus on and have an even amount of everything to keep the stories balanced but I have a tendency to put in a lot of character emotion. I'm sure I don't only speak for myself when I say I write what I like to read, and I really enjoy poetic stories where the character's really confess their emotions in a way that I can feel them too. I personally prefer reading older literature than new because the author's put in a lot of art into their writing that, in this short attention spanned day and age, they will teach you not to do. A lot of what's in old literature would be considered breaking the rules today and that pulls me to it.