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What POV? What tense?

Two important decision you have to make early on about your novel are What POV are you using? and What tense are you writing in?

Let’s define our terms first.

POV, or point of view, means who is telling the story and in what way?

First person POV means the main protagonist is the one telling the story. The narrator speaks to us directly in some form, using the pronoun I and describing their actions, their emotions, their decisions. If you’re using first person POV, you can only describe events as the protagonist sees them – they can’t tell us about something they’re not there for, unless they learn about it later.

Second person POV means the narrator talks directly to the reader using the pronoun You. This is rarely used except in genres such as choose your own adventure: You are standing in front of a locked door. Do you rattle the doorhandle, look for a key or move on?

Third person POV means the narrator is telling us about the characters and what they are doing. The pronouns used are he, she, it, they.

To make things more complicated, there are different types of third person POV – there is close, meaning we are inside a person’s head and listening to their thoughts while watching others through their eyes, or omniscient, meaning we are watching from a distance, and see all characters equally. If we can see inside one character’s head, we can see inside the others’ heads as well. Alternatively, we’re simply describing their actions and guessing their thoughts.

Writing omniscient can be tricky as it’s easy for a beginner to head hop – to jump from one person’s thoughts to another. This prevents any kind of bonding with the characters as we don’t stay with them to learn what they feel, and can be distracting.

You can still tell the story from the POV of different characters in third person close, but the jump between characters is infrequent and marked by some sort of scene change. This way the tension can build more, as we don’t know what both sides of the conversation are thinking at the same time, for example.

Tense means when the story is set, relative to when it’s being told.

Present tense means it’s being told as things happen. I walk down the stairs. He throws the ball.

Past tense means it’s already happened and now you’re learning about it. I walked down the stairs. He threw the ball.

Future tense means it’s going to happen (or might happen). I’m going to go downtown and buy myself a car. He’s going to run for a bus. It’s not very often an entire book would be written in future tense!

Past perfect means it happened even further back than the past, before the normal timeline. I had caught a fish before, but nothing like the size of the one I caught today. He had missed his bus every day for a week, until today. Again, this is a tense for specific circumstances, not to write an entire novel in.

Combining Tense and POV

So there are multiple permutations to choose from. Which should you use?

There’s no definitive answer to this, but there are definitely some issues to consider.

First person present tense

This combination gives a sense of urgency. We’re experiencing events at the same time as the protagonist. We have no idea how things will work out. This is often used in thrillers. I stand staring at the barrel of the gun pointing steadily at my head, and swallow hard. How am I going to talk myself out of this one? In this style, the protagonist can’t know what’s coming, although they can know things they conceal from the reader.

First person past tense

This is a more relaxed style than present tense. We already know the person will survive, or they wouldn’t be telling the tale. I stood staring at the barrel of the gun. How was I going to talk myself out of this one?

There are two versions of the narrator – the one experiencing events and the one telling it later. The second version may be completely undetectable, or they may add their own opinion on proceedings. If I knew then what I knew later… Of course, that was the worse thing I could possibly do, but I didn’t understand at the time… Now, looking back, I understand why that happened, but…

On the other hand, it can be irritating if they tell the story in a way that conceals details by deliberately hiding them from the listener in order to create a desired tension.

So between the two options, consider whether your primary aim is to keep tension going – in which case use present tense – or to create a more reflective piece of writing – in which case use past tense.

Third person past tense

This is the invisible one, the classic one, the one that everyone is used to. Whether you decide to use third person close or third person omniscient, this one is a safe bet. He hid behind a car and peered out, trying to work out whether he had been spotted. They stood and argued for over an hour, until finally they both ran out of steam.

Third person present tense

This is the really tricky one. While it’s becoming more common, it’s also very unpopular in some circles, and is the most intrusive, noticeable combination of the four.

The big danger of using third person present is that it can be very superficial – I always liken it to audio description on a TV programme, coupled with the soundtrack, as it feels to me as though I’m listening to someone who’s describing the action they can see and I can’t. He’s hiding behind the car, looking to see whether he’s been spotted. Now he’s standing up, running over to the building.

This combination is very hard to use well, so be very sure it’s the one you want before committing too much time to it. If you are using it, try to dig deep into your character’s thoughts and opinions, to avoid that trap of simply narrating what you can see.

So in conclusion, which should you use?

That’s purely your decision, depending on the story you want to tell. But make sure you’re making an informed decision, considering the strengths and weaknesses of each style and which suits your story best.

What type of editor do I need?

One important question to establish the answer to early on is what level of editing your work needs. Do you need a developmental editor, who can help you work on the structure of your book? Do you need a copy editor, who will make sure it follows a style guide and reads consistently? Or are you at the final stage, where it’s just a proofread to check for remaining errors?

But another important question is what the editor specialises in. There are many different types of writing – fiction, which subdivides by genre; self-help books; technical books; academic writing, and many more. And each editor will have their strengths and weaknesses and preferred types of project.

Personally, I’m well-versed in issues such as plot development, story arcs, and point of view issues, but show me a list of citations and I’ll struggle. For other editors, who are used to working on highly academic or technical texts, fiction might be their weakness.

Each editor will have their usual language to work in, as well. Believe it or not, there are definite differences between UK English, American English and Australian English, for example, and while some editors might well work competently in more than one variety, others will prefer to work in the one most familiar to them, while some localisms might well be overlooked or misunderstood if your editor is not familiar with them.

So when you’re looking for an editor, remember to check what type of writing they are used to editing, or prefer to edit, and then you’re more likely to find your perfect match.

The new computing curriculum

Back when I was at school, people suggested to me that I could work with computers. Believing that working with computers consisted of entering data and typing, I rejected that option outright, unable to think of anything more boring.


Then I got my hands on a ZX81, and I discovered that while using a computer might be boring, someone actually had to write the programs for others to use. That was where my interest lay, and where I found real pleasure.


I completed a degree in computing and IT, and by the end of it had a growing understanding of how much society is dependent on computing systems, and of how problems are solved by careful thinking and planning.


At this point I was also trying to earn some money, and extended the childminding training I was doing by getting a job teaching in adult education. I was teaching beginner IT classes, so while I had done all this marvellous learning, I was now teaching how to use a mouse and use basic spreadsheet formulas. It wasn’t the most inspiring of subjects, but it was enjoyable, and at least in the early days I was learning more about my subject all the time as I came across problems that others were having.


I went further by qualifying to teach in a secondary school; the business ICT was not the most interesting of topics, but there was the creative and computing sides to tempt me. The first school I trained in used Flash and Fireworks, and the second had a strong control element, and both of these encouraged me to believe that the subject was well worth teaching.


It seems to me that the trouble with ICT is that it’s easy to teach but hard to teach well. Most people these days have some level of ICT skills, but generally the subject seems to have a bad reputation as far too often it’s taught by people who have no real training in it and don’t have any real knowledge to pass on (I rush to add that this is the general impression I get, not from my very limited first hand experience).


I have sought to keep a balanced curriculum, including creative, business and more technical elements, within the current guidelines, and I feel this is really the best way to go. The skills of word processing, basic spreadsheets and (to a lesser extent) databases are still important, even if you’re only running a home. Being able to balance a budget using a spreadsheet, write a well laid out letter, use the web efficiently and understand the consequences of using ICT for a business will be applicable to everyone, surely. Being able to express yourself creatively using ICT is also important; I’ve long had admiration for those who take ideas from the world around them and modify and develop them through use of technology, and I feel creativity is essential to living well. That’s not to say the new curriculum is wrong: you can’t possibly make the most of computers without having at least a basic understanding of how they work and the implications of them.


Now the curriculum is being completely overhauled. I should be rejoicing: it’s changing to embrace the side of the subject that first attracted me. I only became interested in computers when I found that I could write my own programs; surely I should welcome the chance to encourage that interest in others?


Sadly, things are not that straightforward. The draft curriculum does seem to be written in a rather biased way; maybe this is simply a reflection of the extra detail needed for the new elements, but it would be a shame if in the pressure to include computing elements the creative side was lost, not to mention the less interesting but still important business ICT.


Partly prompted by these changes, there are discussions taking place on the future of the subject: there are fears that the focus on computing will drive students away, or that the lack of teachers available to actually teach computing will mean that the subject will become still more watered down and weakened. I was shocked when I did my training to discover that while to teach maths you had to have a degree containing at least 50% maths (and that means maths, not accounting or economics), to teach ICT all you needed was an A level or equivalent experience.


There are already schools where ICT is taught in a cross-curricular way rather than in discrete lessons, and this worries me; while there are teachers who will encourage the use of ICT to complete work, are they actually prepared to teach the ICT skills needed, or are they dependent on the skills the students already have? Will they merely take advantage of the fact that students have a basic ability to type and correct documents, or are they willing to spend time teaching how to use audacity, for example, to create a podcast, thereby increasing oral skills? As long as there are discrete ICT lessons where the students can learn these specific skills, I can imagine some teachers taking advantage of those skills, always assuming they have the knowledge themselves to support them, but I don’t see much space in an already crowded syllabus for the extra teaching of ICT skills alongside the specific subject knowledge, which is a shame as using two separate skill sets will surely develop students’ thinking skills and ability to relate learning to different areas.


The new curriculum is still under consultation, and I have to trust that by the end of the consultation period it will feel more balanced. In the meantime, I intend to do the best I can to encourage good ICT and computing teaching, by developing and offering materials to help support teachers in the new curriculum, including cross-curricular learning. It worries me, for example, that primary teachers are expected to teach computing, which for many must be completely new and alien. I also see many opportunities to combine ICT with other subjects, but feel that often teachers just don’t have the time to investigate and create materials suitable.


I’ve no idea how this will pan out, just as I had no idea when I started this blog how it would develop, but it’s a good excuse for me to put my own skills and creativity to use, and to extend my own ability and knowledge. And so is born. Not much there yet, but I’ll be adding resources as I develop them (or find them in my filing system!), safe in the justification that as I’m offering them to others I don’t need to feel that time spent on them is mostly wasted.


Feel free to take a look, make use of anything you fancy and suggest anything you’d like to see in there.