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Question about verb tense change in picture books

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Hello, everyone! I'm in the process of writing a  picture book manuscript right now (like the very first 100 words) and I had a question about changing the verb tense from third-person present to third-person past. I started it in third-person present because I'm quickly establishing who the main character is and what he likes to do, which would segue into the story that unfolds, causing it to change to third-person past.


I saw in an older thread on this board that it's generally better to keep PBs present tense because past tense can create a disconnect between the story and readers. I'm trying to replace what I have with the present tense, but it sounds strange to me to keep it present tense. And it would feel weird to make the beginning part past tense because then it would feel like the character isn't like that/doesn't do those things anymore. If I changed that to past tense, would readers feel that way, too? Or is that just me?

Are there also any exceptions to the no-tense-change rule that are successful, or is it still something to avoid even in certain circumstances?

Thank you all so much, I'll greatly appreciate the feedback!! :flowers2
#1 - October 20, 2018, 05:17 PM
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This is hard to say without seeing the manuscript. Something that doesn't work in general might work very well in one specific case. Why not complete it and then get it critiqued? You can find partners on these boards or post in the SCBWI crit area or look for a local group if you don't already have partners to work with.
#2 - October 20, 2018, 06:45 PM
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Thank you for your response, Debbie! I figured I'd ask now, but you're right, I should get the manuscript finished first and have someone look it over! ::-) Thank you so much, you're a huge help! :love5
#3 - October 20, 2018, 07:19 PM
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I always write all of my picture books in past tense. But I recommend keeping the same tense all the way through, no matter what tense you use.
#4 - October 21, 2018, 11:41 AM
Verla Kay

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I always write all of my picture books in past tense. But I recommend keeping the same tense all the way through, no matter what tense you use.

Thanks for your response, Verla! I'm glad that there are others who prefer using past tense! ::-)
A question, though: do you feel that introductory parts of the story can still be written in past tense? Would this create a weird disconnect or make the reader think "this character WAS this way and DID these things, but they don't do that anymore"?

Thank you!! :flowers2
#5 - October 22, 2018, 04:51 AM
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This is almost impossible to answer without seeing a sample of the writing, Sara.

And just for your information, in my stories I don't have any "introductory parts." I just write the story and let the facts reveal themselves throughout the story. Instead of "telling" readers things, I "show" things through actions and/or dialogue.
#6 - October 22, 2018, 12:22 PM
Verla Kay

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Yes, Verla, you're right! I just need to get through my first draft and then ask or critiques and tips. The first draft will always need revisions anyway, big and small :) Thanks for your help!!
#7 - October 22, 2018, 05:24 PM
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Good news! I took Verla's advice and ditched the introductory sentence I had. His family is now introduced in the activities he loves to do with them! This basically solved my tense issue and cut down my word count!! :yeah

Thank you all so much for your help!! I'll be sure to post my first draft of my manuscript for critique once I finish it! I'll be ready with paper and a pen for further advice! :grouphug2
#8 - October 22, 2018, 06:12 PM
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:yay Sara. Glad you found a workable solution.
#9 - October 23, 2018, 10:43 AM
Verla Kay

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Sara, it sounds like you solved your issue in a way that made you ms stronger -- well done! I wanted to chime in that I'm not sure most PBs are written in present tense. My guess is that more are written in past tense. I took a quick glance at my own children's bookshelf. Most of the PBs are in past tense, with the exception of some written for very young readers, i.e. "Duck walks to the pond. Duck gets wet." etc. Hope that helps. I agree with the suggestion of getting a critique after you've completed the first and possibly second drafts. Love your profile picture!
#10 - October 23, 2018, 11:12 AM

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Thanks, Christine! I'm admittedly more of an illustrator than a writer -- MUCH more 😅 -- but I still have a great passion for writing!

That's very reassuring, Christine! The board post where I got that info was from 4+ years ago, so it's very likely that present tense may have been more widely used at that time. I'm not sure how often or how fast the market changes, and I'll definitely need to read up on that 😂

Also thank you for the kind words about my profile picture!!
#11 - October 23, 2018, 01:03 PM
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