On the Verb Tense Fence


After chatting up one of my critique partners yesterday, I’m curious about reader preferences when it comes to verb tense in fiction.

My friend had just taken a glance at my new submission and noticed that I changed from simple past /past progressive to simple present/present progressive. The first thing she said was, why the change? She wondered if there was a specific reason why I did this to my story because she found the use of the present tense distracting. Of course, I find this fascinating!

Do you have a verb tense preference when choosing which fiction to read? Do you have a difficult time reading books that take place in the present tense? Do you even notice the tense while reading, or does it hinge on whether or not the book captures your attention?  Will you put a book down or refuse to read it at all if you see that it is written in a certain tense or point of view?

Quick peek at the tenses of which I speak:

Simple present – Marcy sings

Present progressive – Marcy is singing  (is/am/are)
Simple past – Marcy sang

Past progressive – Marcy was singing (was/were)

My novel is a fantasy adventure. It’s written in the first person, and I am editing it to move from past to present tense. For my story, I believe it is the right change because of the way the story has to unfold for the main character as he discovers what’s happening. I also feel that use of the present tense helps with the sense of urgency and the feeling that you’re right there in my character’s head as he is trying to come to grips with his whole world falling apart.  I could be wrong… but I am finding the process of changing it over exciting.

While the decision to make this change has felt right on, the execution has proved difficult for me. I grew up reading books that take place in the past tense. The main character is retelling the story from some point in their future and it’s like we’re sitting across from each other and I’m just listening.  Or the whole thing is told from the omnipotent point of view, yet in the past tense, so you do some head hopping but you still have the sense of the story being a retelling of events.

There is a sense of comfort in the first person past tense as well. I mean, if the narrator is telling you this tale, surely they must survive the ordeal? When I was a kid perhaps, but of course this is not always so. I remember when I was younger and stories were being told in the first person past tense and it was mind-blowing to learn that the main character was actually dead and speaking to me from the grave!  What a concept.

Which makes me wonder: How much of this is trend versus device used for a purpose? A lot of the YA novels I have read in the past few years are told in the present tense. Personally, it doesn’t bother me or distract me if it is done well.  In fact, I was surprised to find that my critique partner disliked it in general. (Hence today’s blog post!)

So, I am curious. What say you, blog readers?  Does tense matter to you when it comes to your choice in reading a book? Do you notice it? Does it make it difficult to read at your normal pace if a book is in a tense you’re not used to reading?

Getting Centered to Write Using Healing Touch

After what felt like an eternity of fighting with my revision, I have finally completed my new Chapter One for THE EXPATRIATES.  *and the crowd goes wild*

I’ve added a plot twist, changed the POV, and removed a character from my story which required a lot of shuffling in the opening scenes. Holy smokes this was a struggle!  The changes on their own have been hard enough. But on top of that September has been a fog-like month for me.

I thought with all my exercise that I’d have loads more energy, but not the case. I’ve been ramping up on the marathon plan and ran 18 miles twice and 22 miles once this month, on top of the smaller weekday training runs. Over the course of my training program I have run 237.9 miles in 2011 so far and just cannot believe it. And yet I have been consistently just wiped out by the time dinner rolls around, which means clarity and focus for writing has been tough to find. Hence my blog-silence and my inability to get my critique partners the work I owe them. (thank you all for your patience!)

I have a friend who has been working toward getting her certification to provide Healing Touch services (holistic nurturing healing energy work). I see her on a regular basis and each time have an interesting experience. Well, last night I had my appointment and complained about being in a fog and feeling totally disconnected and tired. She suggested that we do a whole-body connection and a mind clearing in addition to the ankle and knee support I have needed while running.

It took about an hour.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, you lay fully clothed on a bed or in my case a massage table, under a blanket. The room is dark and there is gentle soothing music playing. The practitioner works in the air above your body, sometimes laying hands on your energy centers or joints or hands and toes. The entire thing is so relaxing and incredibly soothing.

For those of you whose eyebrows are raised in dubiousness, hang on. After my healing session, I got home last night and finished my revision – almost 17 pages and solved a sticky dilemma with my story. I can also report that today I feel bright eyed and bushy tailed for the first time all month!

I realize alternative medicine isn’t for everyone, but I am curious if anyone out there has partaken of these interesting fruits.  Have they helped? Do you receive these services regularly? I receive massage often and I’ve mentioned Healing Touch, I’ve also tried Reiki and see a biofeedback doctor as well. I’m planning to do acupuncture soon.  What about you?

image: google images

What’s in your (character’s) wallet?

What’s in your (character’s) wallet?

When developing your characters, what steps do you take? Do you make a list or trust your memory? Do you stick to the list or let it grow as your character takes form?

Do you list out their physical characteristics? Do you have a list of their likes and dislikes?  Do you include their desires? Their goals? Their quirks? Their fears? Their strengths and weaknesses? Do your characters have secrets?

I’ve got a character file for each of my novels that deals with all of the above and more. If, say, while writing some dialog, it turns out my character has a strange way to turn a phrase, I’ll incude it on their notes.

When they interact with other characters, I include that in chapter order in an effort to maintain continuity.

Many moons ago, I blogged here about developing layered characters which prompted my friend to share a little tidbit that she uses while developing her characters:

What does your character carry around in his pocket?

Interesting, eh?  It does make me think about my character differently.

I carry things around in my pocket all the time.  Sometimes it is a seashell, sometimes a clear white crystal, a smooth metal coin with an angel on it, and sometimes a starfish.  These things hold special meaning for me and when I am thinking about certain things, these help me to keep focused.

So, what’s in your character’s pocket?

Fab Word Friday – Troika

Fab Word Friday – Troika

In honor of the upcoming Rule of Three Blogfest, I bring you Troika. This word comes to us alllll the way from Russia where it means, in general: three of a kind.


Specifically, it has a troika of meanings:

  1. a sled or a carriage drawn by three horses side by side
  2. a folk dance
  3. a trio

I actually knew someone who used this word in normal conversation whenever they had the opportunity to talk about three of anything…  this was my face whenever that happened:

And now about that blogfest…

We have a simple set of rules, an incredibly vivid world, a schedule, and a prompt… and at the time of this writing, 34 writers signed up to take part.  Will you be #35?  There are prizes! And it is sure to be a ton of fun.

The first posts go up on Oct 5.  I hope to have something interesting for you all!

Happy Friday!