Picking A Tense

I’ve never given much consideration to the tense I use when I write. It’s just an assumption that I’m going to write in the past tense. Most published works are written in past tense, and I’ve always struggled to write present tense anyway. All the articles say writing in present tense is harder, and more disconcerting for the reader (although it’s gaining ground, and more works are coming out in present tense), so why would I even try?

Point-of-view (POV) is easier. I typically try to write in third person, but for this new young adult project I knew I wanted to write in first person. This is Bo’s story, and I wanted it told in her own words and from her own viewpoint. So, the original plan, without giving it much thought, was to write the story in first person past tense.

Which worked all the way up until I actually started writing it. The first 300 words I put down that first day were a mixture of past and present tense. I kept trying to write in past tense, but the sentiments I wanted to express came across so much better in present tense. It was really annoying. I vacillated, trying to make it work in past tense, giving actual consideration to writing the whole story in present tense. Which was crazy. I’ve never written a whole story in present tense. A short story here and there, sure, but never something as long and complicated as a novel.

I tried doing research. I read a lot of articles about choosing a tense for a story, but none of them seemed to help. They mostly focused on how to write in different tenses, not how to decide which tense is right. A couple of days went by, and I made no more progress, because what was the point in moving forward if I didn’t even know if I was writing in past or present tense?

Then I started reading The Hunger Games.  Lo and behold, it’s written in first person present tense. I’ve never noticed that before, and this was my third time reading the series (which I finished last night, by the way). It got me thinking. Maybe I can make this present tense thing work.

What finally sealed the deal was an article I found that actually addressed the issue. It wasn’t specifically about tense, but focused on how to effectively write in the first person. A subtopic was about choosing a tense, and I finally had the answer to my question. Basically, if your narrator is telling a story, use the past tense. But, if the narrator is actively experiencing the story, use the present tense.

That actually makes a lot of sense. I felt set free. I tweaked those first 300 words so that it was uniformly present tense, and I really liked the way the story came across. I finished chapter 1 last night, and the whole thing is in present tense, and I’m really enjoying writing it this way. That feeling may not last. I may get halfway in and curse myself for making this decision. But for now, it feels right and good, and I’m excited to get into chapter 2.


I’m pretty excited about the new young adult project I’ve started, even though at the moment it’s only 300 words and I can’t decide what tense I want to write it in. Also terrified, because I’m terrified every time I start something new. The weight of the project is looming over me, and I know that so much time still needs to be committed to it. It’s a bit overwhelming.

First up, though, I need to do some research. My favorite kind. Reading. I’ve spent the last several months in a fantasy mindset, and while the new project will have some fantasy elements, that isn’t the principal focus. I’ve been trying to write a fantasy novel. I just finished reading an epic fantasy series. But a young adult novel is different. The voice of the character is different. The themes I need to explore are different. The writing style and length are different. So I need to shift my mindset.

The best way to do that is to read young adult novels, especially those with a teenaged female protagonist, since I’ll be writing from the point of view of a teenaged female protagonist. My first choice was the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, since I’ve only read it once and that was a couple of years ago. But, alas, the first book was checked out of the library when I dropped in on Saturday. My back-up plan was The Hunger Games, which I own. I read the first book yesterday. I’ll start the second sometime tonight.

I’ll probably read more off and on as I work on the project. It helps, it really does. It keeps me centered on what others have done that worked, and helps me to examine things like character development and pacing. It’s exciting, and challenging, and I think I’m really going to enjoy this new project.

Doing What I Want

I didn’t realize it’s been more than a week since I posted. Admittedly, I haven’t been all that interested in keeping track of the days. Not only haven’t I posted, I haven’t been writing. I think today is the first day I’ve even sat down with the computer on my lap since last Thursday.

There’s a valid reason. I haven’t been feeling well, and sitting upright was not a good position for me to be in. I’ve spent most of the past week and a half curled up on the couch in the fetal position reading books. (By the way, I finished The Codex Alera last night. I hate that feeling of loss after finishing a series I’ve really enjoyed.) But, I’m on some new medication, so I decided today would be a terrific day to get back to work.

The problem is, I have no desire to work on my current fantasy project. Even thinking about it makes me want to go to the library and find more books to read so I can avoid doing work. And that’s not a good mindset to be in, especially when you’re trying to accomplish something of great creative genius.

So, I applied the same logic to working as I did a few weeks ago to my nothing-to-read quandary: why force myself to work on something I don’t want to work on, when there’s something else I’d rather be working on anyway? And with that, I started working on the first chapter of my young adult idea.

I’m not going to go into specifics, but this is an idea that popped into my head sometime last year, and I haven’t been able to quit thinking about it. The original plan was to ignore it until my fantasy project was done, but the longer that project takes, the more I want to just drop it and work on the new one. I haven’t done much planning on the young adult project (intentionally). But I know how it starts, and today I’m just in the mood to put it on paper. And if that’s what it takes to get me back into writing mode, then so be it.

I’m not done with the fantasy project. I may even work on them both at the same time, which is something I’ve never done before and even struggled to understand how authors work on multiple projects simultaneously. But, as long as I’m working, what does it matter which project I’m focusing on? They’ll both get done eventually. That’s the plan, at least.

A Daunting Task

Today’s post is related to yesterday’s, Getting Lost Is Exactly What I Needed. They both stem from my reading of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, but I wanted to pull this topic out and give it its own space on the page. One thing that’s always impressed me about Jim Butcher’s work is the pace at which his novels are set. From the first chapter the story just rushes forward, often finding its conclusion within mere days of the characters getting involved, and there’s so much going on that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of which details belong to which subplot.

The Codex Alera is no different. Jim Butcher has built a complicated and fascinating world, and has populated it with people who all have their own desires and motivations. He weaves these people together with such grace and fluidity that it almost resembles a ballet. His stories are complicated, and the characters have to fight tooth and nail for every inch they gain over their adversaries.

My current fantasy project isn’t like that. I understand that I’m not Jim Butcher, and he has so much more experience than me, but I can’t help feeling completely inadequate to fulfill the task at hand. I like the main storyline of my project. But I don’t have much besides the main storyline. I don’t have interwoven characters, and random people who show up from the past, and strange things happening that won’t make sense until the end. I can see these threads in other authors’ work, but I don’t know if I’m capable of creating them myself.

Jim Butcher’s characters get thwarted at every turn. They make a plan, and it fails, and they make another plan, and it fails, and they get captured on their way to some big important event, and someone else has to step in and make sure the important thing happens. My characters have a plan, and they follow that plan, and nothing particularly bad happens to them along the way.

I need to make some changes. I need more subplots, more history to enrich the plots that already exist, more peril for my characters, more roadblocks to throw in their way. I just need…more.

I have the basis for more subplots already, in the editing notes I’ve been making, which I discuss in the post Rewrite Sticky Notes. I want to add in more mythology, and pull in more of Callum’s family history to further define his motivations. But it isn’t enough. I’ve decided to halt my push to finish the first draft. What’s the point of writing the ending if I’m going to have to make significant changes to it anyway? Instead, I’m going to do some planning. Determine what subplots I need to add, and figure out how to incorporate them into the story I’ve already created. Then I’m going to begin rewriting. I don’t feel up to this task. It’s terrifying, and as yet I have no idea how to accomplish it. But, as tends to happen, maybe it’ll make more sense to me once I actually throw myself in and get started.