Thursday, September 20, 2012

YA Novels: Person? Tense?

For this edition of Whoseywhatsit Thursday, I've decided to pose a question to you all.
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  • What tense do you write your YA in?
  • Do you believe one tense is better than the other?
  • What about marketing, from an editor or agent's standpoint? Is past tense easier to sell or present tense?
  • What person do you write in mostly? First, Second, Third person close, Third person omniscient? 
Okay, so I had more than just one question. 

I've heard a lot of chatter around the blogosphere lately, about these exact questions. Some folks believe YA written in present tense brings the reader closer to the main character, makes for a more intimate relationship, it's the near and now. This, for the most part, is totally true.  And from the stats on YA first person novels purchased, it's obvious that some readers love that.

But is it the tense of the story or the story itself which a reader falls in love with? We've argued many times that tense and person can make or break a story. 

Before a writer even begins writing the first chapter, he/she must decide who is going to tell that particular story (person) and how it's going to be told (tense). Person can give a writer the freedom to give the reader views and information from many different angles of a story - Third Person Omniscient. Then there's Third Person Close, which can lead to more intimacy between a main character and the audience - limiting, but more freeing than  First Person, which, as we know, limits the writer's options. Vital information must be delved out to the reader from the view of only one character and said character might not have full access to all the information the reader will need to follow the story line(s). But there are ways around that, which we won't get into today. We won't touch upon second person, either.

Recently, I've heard that a first person present tense debut YA novel could possibly be too hard a sell. Editors shy away from first person as well as present tense, with the exception of established and well-read authors. What if you are a debut YA author with a great story written in first person present tense? Should you change it, knowing that if you were already that established and well-read YA author your story would probably be accepted as is by an editor?

What do you do? 


  1. I write in first person present tense. It's easiest for me, and I definitely feel more connected to the characters when I read that way.

  2. I write third-person omniscient the majority of the time. From time to time, I may do something approaching third-person limited if a book is more focused on just one character instead of an ensemble cast. I tend towards past tense, though my Russian historical novels and the books of my contemporary historical family saga are in present tense. First-person present tense makes my brain freeze up and my eyes glaze over, and unless it's a memoir (in which case that combo can work very well), I probably won't pick it up. It's such a weird, non-intuitive way to narrate a novel, and if the stakes are high, it basically removes all dramatic suspense over whether the narrator will live or die. I feel closer to characters in third-person, since I think of them by their names, not a constant string of I-I-I-me-me-me-my-my-my. There's more narrative distance.

  3. Good discussion topic. I wrote my first young adult in third person, but wrote my most recent in first person present tense. From the writing stand point, I felt like first person worked well for the energy and perspective of this specific story. The fact that there are storyline elements unknown to the protagonist works well for the adventure and mystery I built. For a different genre and young adult story, I might go back to third person. That being said, I have not landed an agent yet, maybe that is partially because I chose present tense first person.

    I wasn't aware agents and editors typically shy away from first person. Thank you for the information :)

  4. I write mostly in 1st person past tense.

    1st person mostly because in writing prompts, it allows me to not spend time thinking of names, but with my novel, it's to get into my MCs head.

    Past tense, because present tense is a little hard to write.

  5. Hi, I'm back. New Leaf Literary answers questions from writers on their tumblr, so I took this topic to them.

    They said they don't know of agents shying away from first person present tense, infact one of their facorite authors writes first person present tense.

    Here is the link to the blog:

    Hopefully this relieving news for others as well :)

  6. I am not a writer... so I don't know if my opinion counts, but I prefer books to be in first person. I just love to read books from that point of view. I don't know if that is because I feel more like I am in the book. I am surprised to read that editors shy away from first person!!

    Angela's Anxious Life

  7. Angie - thanks for sharing your thoughts! As a reader and I writer, I also much prefer first person, but I don't think I like present tense as much as past tense.

  8. Of course your opinion counts, Angie. I love to hear it! I was really surprised too, when I was told that editors shy away from first person and present tense. I really enjoy writing in those forms. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  9. EmilyAnn...thanks for the link. Awesome!

  10. I work out how I want that story to reveal itself, so it takes me a while to decide what pov and what tense works best. I've written in just about all except unlimited omniscient. That one is tricky and takes some skill. Maybe one day.

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