Monday, April 18, 2011

For Writers - Which Tense?

Today's tip is an answer to a question I received this week regarding tense...

Q. My critique group read the first few chapters of my YA. The main criticism they had was that I kept bouncing between past and present tense. One member told me I should stick with present tense because it's good for YA, but another said present tense wears the reader out and I should stick to past tense. I asked for a tie-breaker, but the other member said it doesn't matter as long as I stick with one or the other. I don't know which one to choose. Which tense is best for YA? Help!

A. The answer is: there is no one true answer. A majority of YA novels may be written in past tense, but there are a lot of very popular YAs written in present. What you choose comes down to a matter of taste and the kind of effect you are trying to create.

Past tense is a familiar and comfortable tense for storytelling and for reading. Present tense creates a sense of immediacy and puts the reader in the moment. Both can be appropriate and effective for telling your story.

FWIW, I have seen some critics write that they are tired of the present tense "gimmick" in YA, but I disagree that A. it's a gimmick and B. that it's tiresome (or C. that it wears the reader out.) But again, this is a matter of taste. It depends on what feels right for the story.

I agree that you do need to be consistent. (That is, don't jump from past to present and back within a sentence, paragraph or even scene, although you could use a different tense to effectively set a bit of story apart - say, a flashback, for example, or a different narrator.) In the end, it comes down to which tense is right for the story, and right for you as a writer. Trust your instincts. If it feels right, do it.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered on Tip Tuesday, either by me or the panel of expert contributors, send it to: gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com.

This week's link roundup:

What is a story beat? (RayeannCarr) Excellent.

Outlines (Iggi&Gabbi) Techniques for those who hate outlines.

27 Steps to Plotting (PlotWhisperer) YouTube series. Cool.

5 Tips to Power Through that First Draft (MysteryWritingisMurder) via Alan Orloff

20 Great Similes (DailyWritingTips) Inspiration.

3 Traits Your Hero & Villain Should Share (Wordplay) Creating worthy opponents.

2 Sides of the Story (TheOtherSideoftheStory) Dramatic Irony.

This is Intense! (EbonyMcKenna) Tension, transition and pacing, oh, my.

Finding Conflict (Gail Carson Levine) What you do with it is important.

Revision: The Blind Spot (BeyondtheMargins) How to get over it.

Revision: The Drawer (BeyondtheMargins) The magic of letting it sit.

Revision: Optical Illusion (JessFreeFalcon) Love yourself enough to be a little afraid...

Just say NO (TheOpenVein) The power of no.

YA Love Triangles (YAHighway) Why so many? Discussion.

Talking Character (VictoriaMixon) Editors chat.

Offbeat Lessons (WriteitSideways) Persevere and follow your weird.

Get Fresh! (FictionGroupie) Dumping those tired cliches.

Now go. Write!