I am working this through and talking to myself here because the question of point of view often comes up in my writing. I often write in first person from the viewpoint of a child. But the thing is that I often use some words or description or wisdom beyond a child’s years or understanding. And is that okay?
As for tense, when I speak in present tense from a child’s point of view, it is obviously not the child writing my story. I am placing my adult self in her point of view for a while. I am immersing my grown-up self into my ten-year-old self so that I can pull up memories and share them with the sense of immediacy that present tense affords.
In writing memoir or personal essays, I do not want to focus on I, I, I…. I want to bring in my reader and allow the reader to share the experience, to connect with it, to take away something memorable, to hopefully gain new understanding of himself. Creative nonfiction is all about telling a compelling true story and embedding reflection, speculation, and interpretation.
I transport myself back across the years and tell my story as though I am living it in the moment. Naturally, it comes out spilled across the page with the sights, sounds, smells, details, thoughts, and understanding of a little girl. But all of that is filtered through the experience of a woman because that’s what I am now.
Occasionally, I will shift the tense, as in at the end of a story, to be in future tense, prefaced by, “I don’t know it yet, but…” or “Years later, my sister will tell us….” This adds complexity, allowing me as the narrator to become someone who has knowledge of the past and also the future. Point of view and tense work hand in hand.
So I am not writing as the child/author/I, but I am writing from a constructed persona — a separate someone who has the innocent perspective of a child filtered through the eyes of an adult, someone who knows past and future. Someone who can lay it down on the line as with that fat multi-colored pencil I have that has red, blue, and yellow lead all meshed and formed into one sharpened point and as it slips and shifts in my fingers when I write the colors all run together to form the words.