April 5, 2009 at 10:00 AM | Posted in Writing, YA | 5 Comments
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When it comes to tense in YA literature, do you have a preference between either past or present tense?

Books written in present tense seem to have gained popularity recently. A few that come to mind at the moment include Wake, Fade, The Hunger Games, etc.

It seems like a few years ago, more were written in the more traditionalistic past tense. I remember days gone by when I wouldn’t even be able to get past the first chapter of present tense books. But now, it seems like that’s all changed.

Is the YA market shifting more in this direction, or is this simply an observation of sudden enlightenment? It would be really great to get a discussion going on this topic, so I won’t subconciously sway your opinion with my own preferences just yet.

So, without further ado, some leading questions: What do you prefer when writing, and then when reading? Is this simply the current trend in publishing, or is this the natural direction in which the industry needs to transition? Do you have any major pros/cons for either/or?



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  1. The only books I’ve read so far in present tense are Hunger Games and Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers. With HG, I didn’t really notice it (a good sign) or think it benefited or detracted from the book. With CUTB, I noticed it because it was so well-played – it totally made the book. Actually, after reading CUTB I came home absolutely ready to change my entire WIP to present tense!
    … I got about halfway through the first chapter before realizing it just didn’t fit.
    So I think whether or not present tense works definitely depends on the writing style and the pace of the story. HG had lots of action and a feeling of urgency. CUTB had tons of quick dialogue, short sentences, and high-key emotional moments. Long or ‘artsy’ descriptions and drawling narratives usually just sound awkward in present.
    I think it is a trend in that a lot of writers are trying it out now after being influenced by other books. If it introduces a new ‘genre’ of fast-paced, sparse, stylistic novels, I’m all for it. But hopefully it won’t get to the point where novels fitting for past tense are pushed in the wrong direction. :)

  2. It seems to me that nearly everything I’m reading is in present, and I’ve gotten used to it, so I don’t mind. But, to be honest, I’m more comfortable when reading past. My current work definitely needs to be in past, because it’s full of characters’ thoughts and impressions and detail, more than action and dialogue. It all depends on the book. Right now I’m reading Bliss (by Lauren Myracle) and I think it should be in past tense, the present doesn’t do it justice. It’s a decision every writer has to make for their work, and it’s very important. Typically, you can just tell which tense works best for your WIP, and if not, beta readers should tell you. My advice? Don’t worry too much about getting it wrong.

  3. Does the tense matter? I never really thought about it. My WIP is written mostly first-past, because the MC is telling the story in the manner of, “One Year Ago…”
    But I agree with Peachie. If your MS is action-packed and full of dialogue, then I suggest it. I mean, I AM THE MESSENGER is one of my favorite books of all time.

  4. The only present tense book that I’ve read is Hunger Games and honestly, I was a few pages into it when I realized that it was indeed present tense. I prefer writing in past tense, but just because that’s what I’m used to. I have written in present tense before and am thinking about writing a novel in it as well. But as for reading, I really don’t care. If the writing, plot and characters are good, then who cares what tense it’s in?

  5. In my literature class we have just read a novel with one part set in present first tense called I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier. It was very unusual to read and understand. But once I got the hang of it, it was actually kind of fun! But, if I were you, I would stick to a regular past tense. Present tense is waaaaaaay to risky.

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