Monthly Archives: November 2014


Is Past Tense always reflective?

I had a lively discussion with my fabulous crit partner about the connotations of tense, and she opened my eyes to a point of view I’d never considered before (gotta love that). Thus started a raft of googling to try to find out if I was alone or not.

Apparently I am.

Present Tense

  • Talking about things as they happen (I run up the stairs.)
  • Can make the reader feel they’re right there with the narrator as the story happens.
  • Can make the action feel as if it’s happening RIGHT NOW!
  • Can feel unnatural, because we’re not used to hearing stories as they happen.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a really well-known example of a novel written in present tense.
  • Here’s a great blog post on present tense by Ava Jae if you want to learn more.

Past Tense

  • Talking about things that have already happened (I ran up the stairs.)
  • Can make the reader feel they weren’t with the narrator when the story happened.
  • Can make the action feel like it happened ages ago.
  • Can feel more natural to read, because we’re used to hearing stories told about the past.
  • I’m not going to give an example because there are a bazillion of them.
  • Here’s another great blog post about past tense by Ava Jae.

So, what’s the problem?

Looking Back

photo credit: linh.ngan
via photopin cc / Text added

According to everyone who isn’t me, past tense implies the story is being told from a point in time after the end of the story.

I’m not saying everyone’s wrong, just that I don’t see it that way when I’m reading (or writing.)

For me, past tense:

  • Makes me feel like I’m right there with the narrator as the story happens.
  • Makes the action feel as if it’s happening RIGHT NOW!
  • Feels more natural to read, because I’m used to hearing stories told about the past.

I prefer reading past tense. In fact, present tense can ruin a book for me. A story has to be really well written for me to get over the tense and into the story. That was one reason I didn’t like the Hunger Games. But it did work for Sheena Wilkinson. I think this is mostly because of point 4 in the Present Tense list. Who narrates their actions as they run for their lives or have some quality time with their significant other?


Is Past Tense always in the past?

I think it comes down to more than just tense.

Some stories are framed as an older version of the narrator telling a story to her BFF days later (or her children years later). But this should have an effect on the way the story is told. Because the narrator knows how the story is going to end and what events are important.

For a book like this, try When We Wake by Karen Healey. The main character, Tegan, sits down and tells her story directly to the reader (or listener). It’s been a while since I read it, but parts of it are definitely reflective. The first page is full of it. (“…on the last day of my first lifetime…”, “I’ll tell you the whole story…”, “…one thing I’ve learned over the past months…”)

For a standard story (without the let-me-tell-you-a-tale framing) I read them as if they are happening right then, and I’m along for the ride. The narrator doesn’t know how the story’s going to end any more than I do. (And, in the case where I’ve read the story before, I know more than the narrator does.)

If that doesn’t make sense, think about it as if I’m live tweeting my day. (Well, not my day, that’s boring. But someone’s Very Exciting Day.) No one tweets in the present tense (do they?). And as I’m tweeting, I don’t know how my day’s going to end.

And I think this is a crucial point for writing YA. You can’t tell the story from the POV of the older narrator (even if it’s only older in terms days or weeks). It needs to be told by the teenager as they experience(d) it–going through that coming-of-age moment, rather than looking back on it.

Whether you see past tense as something that happens after the fact, or a play-by-play as it happens, you need the voice to be that of the character as they were during the story, not as they are afterwards.

That is how I’ve always read novels written in past tense, and why they suck me in. I’m living the story as the characters do.

But maybe it’s just me.

Book Reviews Reading

Review: Taking Flight by Sheena Wilkinson

Last week, on a whim, I decided to check out my library’s ebook lending service. I’m so glad I did because I stumbled across an absolute gem of a book. Wait, make that two.

taking_flightThere are only a couple of hundred YA ebooks available, so I just browsed through them all, waiting for something to jump out at me. The first one that did was Grounded. Check out the cover.  Moody and dark, gorgeous orange tones, an unhappy-looking guy in a hoodie. What more could I want? When I clicked for more info, the first line said, “The sequel to Sheena Wilkinson’s multi award-winning Taking Flight.” I was interested enough to go back and look for the first one. When I found it, I realised why I’d missed it before. The top half of the cover is a silhouette of a horse. It screamed “horsey book” until I glanced at the bottom half. Mysterious guy in a hoodie. Yes please. Borrowed it and fought against a buggy ereader to read it. So glad I did. Got the sequel the next day.

What are they?

Taking Flight and Grounded by Sheena Wilkinson

First published 2010 (Taking Flight) and 2012 (Grounded)

Gritty, contemporary, young adult novels.

The Blurbs

Taking Flight: ‘Beyond the fence everything is dark, but in here is our own lit-up world. Just me and Flight. Our breath snakes into the night like the aftermath of a firework.’ The only riding fifteen-year-old Declan has ever done is joyriding. When he’s forced to stay with his snobby cousin ‘Princess’ Vicky on the other side of Belfast, he’s shocked to find himself falling in love with horses. Vicky would do anything to keep Declan out of her already perfect life and away from her precious showjumper, Flight, no matter who gets hurt… Moving from a harsh Belfast housing estate to the glamour of the showjumping ring, Taking Flight is a fast-paced story full of conflict, jealousy and courage.

Grounded: Declan loves Seaneen, but his ambition to work at a top showjumping yard is stronger than anything he’s ever felt before. So when Declan is offered his dream job in Germany, he should be thrilled. There’s nothing for him at home but dark history he’d rather forget. But he’s terrified: leaving Seaneen’s harder than he expected; troubled hood Cian won’t leave him alone, and when he finds a traumatised horse in a derelict barn, he knows he has to help her. No matter how scared he is. Grounded is a gripping story of courage, fear, despair and joy; the sequel to the award-winning author of Taking Flight.

Why should I read them?

Because life is shit sometimes.

The stories deal with what it’s like to live without hope of anything better. And what happens when a little bit of hope arrives.

They are gritty, down-to-earth stories. Well written without a lot of flowery description. The horse stuff is intertwined with the every day stuff to make for an intense, emotional read. The characters leak out of the page and into your soul. Declan and Vicky (and all the supporting characters) may have acted a little out-there sometimes, but their behaviour was always grounded in their reality, and their actions and reactions never felt off.

They aren’t exactly happy stories, but I’m a fan of any book that can suck me in and make me cry. And they’ve lingered with me. I don’t want to let these characters go yet.

They also gave me hope because sometimes I wonder if anyone will be interested in my little New Zealand stories. Well, I was sure interested in these Irish ones.

And the good news is Sheena has a new book, Still Falling, coming out in February 2015.