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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Third Person Past vs. Third Person Present


For most of my writing career...we'll call it that despite lack of publication...I've always written from a third person point of view in the past tense. Fanfic from a couple of the fandoms I started reading this year are written almost exclusively third person POV, present tense.

What's the difference?

3rd/past: Justin thought he heard a knock and went to investigate.

3rd/present: Justin thinks he hears a knock and goes to investigate.

A lot of readers have a preference, a lot don't. First person definitely isn't my thing unless it's especially well done, but first person is more prevalent in genres I don't read so I don't come across it much.

Because of all the 3rd/present I've been reading and enjoying, I decided to give writing it try. Once I get in the right zone, it's not hard to stay on track. I struggled a bit when I worked on two projects using different tenses, but since writing exclusively on this book, it's been fine.

Remember the critique I got from the editor a couple of weeks ago? The page I submitted was 3rd/present. She thought it an interesting choice, but felt it was hard on both writers and readers for long books. Well, everything is subjective, isn't it? And when she said that, I couldn't help but disagree.

I didn't find it any more challenging to write than 3rd/past (but it's only 24K at this point) and as a reader I don't find it difficult to read 30K, 40K, 50K fics written this way. Maybe some people do--if you're a die hard and have a definite preference. For others, a well-written story is a well-written story and not much is going to mar their enjoyment of it.

So now I have this one book written in 3rd/present and everything else is 3rd/past. Except everything else is in various stages of completion and wouldn't take much more work to convert to present tense if I choose to finish them and drop them into this series.

The dilemma is do I just write and publish in whatever tense appeals to me at the time of writing OR do I change this one book to a 3rd/past so as to stay consistent OR do I change everything else to 3rd/present?

The obvious decision is to change the single 3rd/present book to 3rd/past. It's the least amount of work to maintain a consistent voice across this body of work.

3rd/present isn't a choice I've seen in romance that I can recall. Then again, I read almost 100% fan fiction, so my knowledge of what's going on from that aspect of the publishing world is zip, zilch, nada. But I'm almost certain 3rd/past is still the most prevalent choice.

My perverse preference at this point is to publish what's in past tense as is and write in present tense from here on out. Why? Because it's different. It's outside the norm. Outside the box. And that can be really hard to find in romance.

While I'm not necessarily in this for the money, I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. I think a mix of tenses could be detrimental, and if I'm going to spend money on content/copy editors and professional looking covers, then I need to not make other decisions that potentially wastes those expenses.

Hm...got some thinking to do. Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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Jen FitzGerald
Thanks for stopping by one of my little corners of the world wide web. So, a little about me...My husband and I have been married for twenty years and we have three adult children although our youngest is still in high school. We've lived in Texas for fifteen years and for the rest of the story, click here.
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Jen's Glossary of Terms

  • DH = my husband
  • my Brown Eyed Girl = my oldest daughter
  • DD = my Darling Daughter (the younger one)
  • Sonshine or Marching Band Boy = my son
  • NT = the North Texas chapter of RWA
  • RWA = Romance Writers of America