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Marketability of present tense prose

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I've gone and written a MG-ish 30kw fiction in present tense. In particular it's a 3rd person present tense main narrative that includes a fairytale being recounted in 3rd person past tense, presented as a narration over a 3rd person present tense description.

It's meant to be "cinematically" illustrated--not as densely as a sparse-prose graphic novel, but more as a one picture is worth a thousand words concept, catching high dramatic points and replacing a lot of establishing prose and descriptions. It does feel kinda screenplay-ish, but is much more fleshed out and presents characters' "unfilmable" internal emotions and thoughts.

Is this present-past-present layered structure a totally wacky :crazy , unmarketable idea? I've read many pros and cons of present tense--usually as a vehement rejection thereof (viz. Philip Pullman). I see quite a few newer MG and YA titles in 1st person present, but is 3rd person present going too far afield?

It'd take about two weeks to recast/proof it into customary 3rd person past (or a much longer rewrite in the modish 1st present), but I'm wondering whether it's worth the effort just for the sake of not overly challenging agents/publishers who might recoil in revulsion upon first glance. Or should I wait to get "established" before even bringing it up?

/Thanks!
#1 - August 05, 2015, 11:58 AM
« Last Edit: August 05, 2015, 02:36 PM by alexander-templeton »
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I'm a firm believer that writers have to do what they need to do to tell their stories. If this what what your story seemed to call for, then I see nothing wrong with it; I have read YA in 3rd present; I am not well-read in MG, so I can't really address that.  but the proof of the manuscript is in the writing--have you let critique partners and/or beta readers read it? What has their reaction been? If you haven't, I would highly recommend that before thinking about recasting the story.
#2 - August 05, 2015, 12:45 PM
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Present tense is much more popular now than ever before. You need to know why the story has to be told this way, obviously, but if the story demands it, I wouldn't change it. I've always written in past tense, but I've written an entire novel in present tense because it has to be that way. I tried rewriting in past tense but it became flat. I don't quite understand the why of it, only that the voice and story need to be in the present tense.

As to switching. Again, do you have a purpose? Donna Jo Napoli's Zel is written in 3 viewpoints. It's been a while since I read it, but the boy and the girl main characters are in first person, whereas the mother of the girl is in 3rd person. At first it jarred me but when I spoke to her, she said she did that deliberately to create a greater distance between the reader and the mother. And it's worked.

I've read some framed stories (story within a story) that have this structure of present-past-present. Sorry not to have examples right now, but my ole brain is still on vacation :)

I think the only way to know what works is to actually do it and see if it's a better story or not. Good luck with your writing.
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#3 - August 05, 2015, 03:01 PM
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What Vijaya and Marissa said.
#4 - August 10, 2015, 11:58 AM
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Agents and publishers will absolutely not recoil at first glance JUST because of the POV and/or tense. I suppose they might recoil if it's not done well...but they could recoil for any number of reasons.

While 3rd-person present tense is not common in middle grade, I think it can be done. But then again, like Marissa, I'm not a big believer in having to write with a certain set of rules in mind. Everything should serve the story. Story is queen/king. So, I would agree with Vijaya. Know your purpose for using third person present.

More importantly - I will echo the others: this would definitely benefit from some trusted beta readers. Make sure to use ones that read middle grade books so that they can address your specific concerns.

You could try re-writing just the first couple of pages and then read out loud. The read out loud part is important. You might then be able to hear the changes between different tenses or POV. I'm not sure what your story needs most: urgency, or distance, or emotional connection, or heavy world building, or more authorial involvement or less. All of these things and more are affected by POV and tense.

I can't think of any middle grade books off the top of my head that are narrated in the 3rd person present. If done well, it might be a refreshing way to experience a story. Good luck!
#5 - August 10, 2015, 01:56 PM
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I agree with Marissa and Vijaya. Always trust yourself, Alexander! Follow your instincts and go for it!  :bunnyshake :like
#6 - August 12, 2015, 08:07 AM

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What I've found is that, after working many weeks in mostly 3rd Present, with some 3rd Past folded in as a character-read narrative, standard 100% 3rd Past reads dull and distant. One's mind and perspective on "normal" adapts quickly. Furthermore the change persists: 3rd Present no longer seems breathless, just, well, immediate. IMO all storytellers could benefit from frequent exercise in Present-tense technique.
#7 - August 12, 2015, 11:19 AM
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.

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