On Choosing POV and Tense

So I’ve written stories in pretty much every point of view.  First, third, and (the dreaded) second.  Honestly, though, are there ANY writers who’ve written only one POV their entire writing lives??  It’s a serious question.  Or am I the only one who switches between first and third depending on the story?

A couple years ago I joined a Facebook writing group mostly full of romance readers and writers.  All of them write in first-person POV, and usually present tense.  Which makes sense, because a good number of romance novels are written that way.  But but but, even since joining the group, I’ve written things in first-person, both past and present, and recently I’ve gravitated more toward third person.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the group who regularly writes in third person.  (Granted, I also read a LOT outside of the romance genre, especially recently.)

So sometimes in that group or with those people, the topic of POV comes up.  Which POV do you prefer to read?  To write?  Most people usually say they prefer to both read and write in first-person.  Because they feel that way they can most easily identify with the characters and see what characters are thinking.  A lot of them dislike third-person because they think it creates too much distance between the reader and the characters.

My answer is always this: the POV or tense doesn’t matter to me, as long as it’s done well and the story is compelling.  I’ve read first-person that makes me feel removed from the narrator, and I’ve read third-person where I’ve been completely immersed in the characters’ lives.  For me, I don’t anticipate how I’ll enjoy a book based on what POV or tense it’s written in.  If the story and the writing are good, I’ll get sucked into the story anyhow.

BUT.  Then.  There comes the thing about deciding which POV (and tense tbh) to write in!  For some reason, this is always super stressful to me.  A lot of times I picture my stories as movies in my head, so then when it’s time to write, I’m like, “Wait.  Does this work better in first or third?  PAST OR PRESENT. I’M STRESSED.”  So basically this is the question I’m trying to answer with this rambly post: How do you decide which way a story needs to be told?

And of course, you don’t really know how a story should be told until it’s written.  Just like we end up changing plot and character things in revisions (or even while drafting), we can end up changing tense and POV (even which character is the POV one).  But I think I’ve got an idea that could work for me.

Basically, if the story focuses more on actions (“I did this,” “I did that,” etc.) it’s easier for me to do it in first person.  If it’s more about descriptions and emotions, it’s easier for me to write it in third.  Obviously this isn’t a perfect distinction, and it can go either way, but I’m sticking with it for now.

That was rambly.  What do you think of POV and tense (as a reader and/or as a writer)?  And do you think it depends on what genre you primarily read?


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