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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday Whittleings — Tension with Tenses!

Wednesdays are my day to randomly babble. Sometimes about children's books, others about writing, and whatever else strikes my mind. Random thoughts...random whittleings.

First, I need to thank the wonderful people up in the Gallatin, Missouri area and Daviess Public Library. I was up there last week to present Music Boxes and ramble on a bit about writing...and boy, can I ramble! Luckily, they were very kind and patient, and simply a wonderful bunch. So, here's my special thanks to you!!!


In two weeks, school starts again.     (Oops. I'm not suppose to mention the 's' word in our household)

My co-author (with whom I'm writing a series) has been happily reminding me that I'll have more writing time and can pick up the pace soon. Which he's right...although I grudgingly admit that. Especially since we've run into a little disagreement. Well, more of a friendly contemplation?

(We never argue. Not really. I promise.)

We've declared a Tension with Tenses! And it's as fun...frustrating?...as it sounds.

A story can be told in so many ways. First person? Third person? Or maybe even second? Or perhaps, the omnipotent narrator? And what about past, present or future?  See? It can be a real struggle.

For fun, we took a sentence or two out of our WIP and shoved them into every tense we could think of. The results had us laughing...but then, we laugh a lot. Here are some examples:

Second person, present tense: 
A chill runs down your back, despite the warmth of the day heating through the door. If your talents are discovered, you'll be executed on the spot.

This one hit the ultimate 'no' buzzer. Why? Well, we have four main characters. None of them are 'you'.  (But it was fun to try!)

First person, past tense:
A chill ran down my back, despite the warmth of the day heating through the door. If my talents were discovered, I’d be executed on the spot.

This one is not bad, but we have four main characters...each receiving their own chapters. We decided this up-close-and-personal approach would get a bit out of hand with so many heads.

Third person, future tense:
A chill will run across Myra’s back, despite the warmth of the day heating through the door. If her talents are discovered, she’ll be executed on the spot.

And this one? We added a few more sentences for fun and...Holy Crow! All of the 'will' s, 'need to' s and other future tense constructions make for quite the stumbling read.

It didn't take long to whittle the list down:
Second person in any tense?  Nope. Just plain awkward. And confusing. Definitely confusing.

Future tense? Not going to happen.

First person? Maybe. If we didn't have four main characters. Even if we decided to go for this one, our 3rd/4th characters would make it difficult. These two are, in many ways, actually one character. Kind of. Not really? Somewhat.  Let's just say that they have a unique plot, which is proving tricky even when the distinction between them is in clear-cut third. Putting both into first person would add a new level of insanity. Or possibly genius? I think it's better if we don't go there.

Omnipotent narrator? Uhh...I wouldn't even know where that all-knowing being would come from. A squirrel?

That leaves us with third person in either past or present tense. While our example sentences work fine in both...and wouldn't cause any problems...I'm a past tense fan. My co-author, however, thinks he might prefer present tense.

See, it's...

Tension with Tenses!!!

So, I did what any good writer would do.


There can't be many books out there, which are written in present tense and qualify as being successful. There's no way I would enjoy reading a third person, present tense novel. Right?

Let's just say I did a crash dive on that concept.


Did you know that the following books are written in present tense? (I'm choosing young adult and fantasy/scifi/dystopian examples, since our own book heads in that direction)

The Hunger Game series
Red Queen series
An Ember in the Ashes series
Matched series
and the list goes on...and on...and on...

Yep. My argument that past tense is king/queen was dissolved. Worse yet, I obviously don't mind reading present tense either. Since I was proven dead wrong, I'm now open to either possibility. But now, so is my co-author.

Of course, he is.

Present or past?

Past or present?

Whoever thought that tenses could be so tense!


  1. Second person only seems to work well in non-fiction books.

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  2. Love this TDrecker! I am personally going through this right now. I have to admit, I never paid much attention to "tenses" when reading, but now with writing, I do. I happen to like them all, but you are right, it has to fit with the stories and the characters.
    I enjoyed your tense post today. ;)

  3. I'm a past tense kind of gal too. But I'm slowly becoming accustomed to reading in present tense. I don't think I have ever written anything in present tense.

  4. I was one of the luckies that heard your talk at the library. You did a great job, and I'm enjoying the book! :)

  5. Present tense does seem to be rather popular these days. I think it's a trend. I always say write how you feel it should be.

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