Tense and Point of View in Autobiographical Writing

If you are thinking about writing your autobiography, there are many aspects of preparation that you need to consider, some of which we have compiled in a previous blog post.

It is worth exploring how the use of tense and point of view can alter a narrative. Here we outline the different options, and which are best suited for autobiographical writing.

Tense

The tense used in a piece of writing indicates the period of time in which the story is happening: past, present, or future.

Past tense

This is the most obvious choice for autobiographical writing, as you are writing about events that have already happened. Writing in the past tense is the most recognisable and common way to tell a story, for example: “Once upon a time, somewhere before today, there was a fantastic character, who had a great adventure, survived to tell the tale and is now eager to tell you all about it.”

It’s not just easy to write in the past tense, it is easy to read too. If the tense is ‘invisible’ to a reader, they can enjoy the bits that count, like the story and the characters you describe.

Present tense

Writing a book in the present tense is a riskier choice stylistically, particularly when penning a life story, but it can be very effective when trying to convey a sense of excitement and immediacy. For example, “the car comes to a screeching halt” This is uncommon in autobiographical writing but has been successful in fictional stories.

The Hunger Games is a good example of present tense writing, allowing the writer to convey a specific intense emotion and produce a more cinematic feel.

Future tense

Writing in the future tense is not common in most forms of writing as it would be difficult to pull off throughout an entire narrative. It can be used to combine with the present tense to create a sense of apprehension and describes something that is going to happen. For example, “The car will come to a screeching halt”.

Point of View

Who is telling the story? Point of view is the mode of narration for your story. This can be categorised into three viewpoints: first, second, and third person.

First-person

Though the first-person point of view restricts writing to one set of feelings, this is the primary function for memoir and autobiographical writing. This point of view gives readers access to the subject’s inner world and paints a picture of personal struggles and insight from the subject’s own perspective.

Second-person

A less common point of view is second-person, in which the writer addresses an ambiguous ‘you,’ who might be themselves, the reader, a character—or all three.

Third-person

This is the most common point of view in both fiction and nonfiction writing as it has a myriad of possibilities, delving into the thoughts and experiences of multiple characters portrayed by an omniscient narrator.

Consistency

The majority of memoirs, autobiographies, and personal histories are written in the past tense from a first-person point of view. As you are writing about your own life story, and things that have happened in the past, these choices are more natural and suited to that context. Whatever tense and point of view are chosen, it is important to keep it consistent, or you may confuse the reader.

Avoid phrases that switch tenses mid-sentence, such as: “we were seven miles from shore. Suddenly, the sky turns dark.” Mixing tenses can be done when using direct quotations though, as in the following: “the car came to a screeching halt. ‘John is looking for you.’ he said as he rolled up the window.”

No matter what you choose, make sure that the style supports your own authentic voice and doesn’t detract from it.

Documenting an entire life is a big responsibility – but you are in safe hands. Our stress-free process allows you to easily tell your story, your way, and we will guide you through to make the journey as enjoyable and rewarding as we can.

Our team of professional writers understand the approach needed for point of view and tense to match your authentic voice and perspective. This takes the hassle away so you can focus on choosing what memories and aspects of your life you feel are most important to tell your story.

For a full breakdown of our process works, please click here.

Remembrance Sunday is a holiday observed on the second Sunday of November in the UK, and this year, will fall on November 13th. Remembrance Day has its origins in Armistice Day, first dedicated on November 11th, 1919, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, and to acknowledge the wartime fatalities.  

As part of the commemoration, a minute’s silence is held at 11am on this day, originally at the request of King George V. This became a regular tradition annually in the UK until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when celebrations were not held on November 11th, but instead was observed on a proximate Sunday.  

Following the conclusion of World War II, the British government looked to honour the participants of both World Wars, and officially replaced Armistice Day with Remembrance Sunday.  

Remembrance Sunday was then fixed as the second Sunday of the month of November in 1956, and is recognised by the symbol of the red poppy. The red poppy has now become a universal symbol of Remembrance Day, and originated when poppy flowers bloomed in the former battlefields of World War I in Belgium and France, a phenomenon that was depicted in the popular 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields,” by Canadian soldier John McCrae. “In Flanders Fields” famously begins with the line “In Flanders fields the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row” – a reference to the graves of the fallen soldiers.  

The symbol of the red poppy was also embraced by the Royal British Legion who sell red paper poppies that are pinned to clothing in support of the Poppy Appeal. In addition, wreaths of poppies are also frequently placed at memorial sites as a gesture of support.  

Today, Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity to remember all those that have defended our freedoms and protected our way of life. Remembrance events are just one of the ways we can help to ensure the sacrifices of those who served are never forgotten.  

Remembrance Sunday is also celebrated on November 11th in other countries, such as the United States (Veterans Day), Australia, Canada and France.  

For more information on local events or how to get involved, please click here  

At My Story Told, we hope to turn your personal history into a written document for future generations to share, enjoy, and celebrate your life. For more information on our process, contact us here. 

If you are looking to document your ancestry, or to share your own life story, you may want to access military records through the UK Government. You can apply for either: 

  • your own service records if you are, or have been, a member of the armed forces 
  • the records of someone who’s deceased if you’re eligible, for example you’re their immediate next of kin or you’re researching them 

You can also search: 

  • the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website 
  • the Armed Forces Memorial roll of honour 
  • the National Archives 

For more information on the above, visit the UK Government website.