Friday, November 15, 2013

I don’t understand the appeal of FPP (first-person, present tense).


I’ve just started reading a new book, and it uses this FPP style that is apparently a trending fad in teen fiction novel writing. I have to say this: it’s hard to read this way. I don’t know who or why anyone would enjoy this perspective.

It’s my understanding that books for children today have to be snappy and action-packed. We live in a world where YouTube is too long to watch; we need 7 (or less) second long Vines. Calling on the phone takes too long; we simply text. You can hardly find a website or blog that doesn’t use the “Top 10” formatting, highlighting bullet points over the actual meat of the article, to allow for ease of skimming for points rather than proofs.

This is our society today. We have no attention spans. I get that.

So, perhaps it’s arguable that first-person present is a culmination of that. Cut out the past-clinging words. Everything happens RIGHT NOW! Chapters are short. Action is heavy. Dialogue is simple (or non-existent).  

But reading that way is awful, friends. Simply awful.

In some ways, perhaps I feel this way because of it’s not what I’m used to. I mean, you’re looking at a guy who does a bi-yearly read of the Lord of the Rings. I love fiction that allows for pauses, description, and dialogue that carries a depth of interesting logic.

But, the logic of a book holds a place in my head. Why was this book written? Who is the narrator? Who is the narrator trying to reach by the narration? When was this narrated? These are questions that fill my head when I read, and FPP really boggles that up for me. Is the narrator of a FPP holding a flipcam up to their heads as they progress through the story? Is that why it’s being told as if it is happening right now? I suppose the trend of FPP in YA fiction and the increasing popularity of vlogs (video blogs) have a connection. FPP sort of reads like a vlog, doesn’t it? Only, when the narrator isn’t constantly holding a camera—say it’s set in medieval times—I feel pulled out of the text. The Hunger Games works in FPP, I’ll admit. But HG is a reality TV show narrative. It makes sense to have a FPP when the cameras are literally always on Katniss. There’s a logic to that. However, most other FPP narratives I’ve noticed don’t work whatsoever. If your FPP is set in a fantastic world, a farm, or a desolation without technology, then I would bet 9 times out of 10 that FPP is going to be a jarring way to experience your world.

The last thing I want to say about FPP is that it’s sort of a false way to make a book snappy and intense. I believe that intensity should come from what sort of events take place in a novel, not what perspective they are told in. If I’m feeling tense by reading about a character who is baking an apple pie, then there’s something wrong with how the story is being told. The best fiction knows how to create tension, yet give the reader places to breathe. FPP, by inception, is always intense. Everything happens NOW. Baking apple pie becomes something not warm and soul-refreshing, but snappy and jarring. FPP doesn’t allow the reader to take in the moments where I should be allowed to enjoy the surroundings, the environment, the character’s thoughts. FPP too often pushes past any would-be tender moment to get to the next action sequence.

EDIT: I just came up with a new observation.
Using past-tense creates a natural reading identifier between prose and dialogue, since people speak from the first-person and in the tense of their moment. I've noticed myself eying the prose as dialogue while reading in the FPP, and I realized its because when the book's perspective is FPP, the natural indicator of dialogue is missing. This goes for gender tags, too. FPP limits being able to easily identify characters using the "he says" "she says" because the narrator uses "I say." This is especially confusing in works where there is more than one narrator.

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!