Theresa M. Moore, author of ten books, including her latest, Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Publish and Market a Book On a Shoestring Budget, Rev. Ed., and another 4 in progress wrote to ask The Blood-Red Pencil editors this question:
Recently I have received two books for review which were written in third person present tense (action as it happens) instead of the standard third person past tense. I found both books hard to read as I am used to the latter style. Is this an acceptable way to write a book for new authors?Here’s my take on this, Theresa.
Where did this style originate, and should it be accepted by editors?
Writers are constantly being told they need to write something new, but not too new: something unique, but that the reader can identify with … a plot device that grabs the reader, but doesn’t lock them in a stranglehold … a new twist on an old story … characters who will lead the next rage-wave … and on and on.
What editors want is a story that will grab their attention, carry them late into the night reading, and make them close the book and want to call the writer the next morning to grab them before someone else does. Yeah, they want that unidentifiable “something,” be it a unique plot twist; a new vampire, but not a vampire; a thread that runs through the story that will establish a platform for the writer and create mega sales; a story that moves them; something different, yet not too different; fully developed characters who arc over the course of the book and who live and breathe in a setting that will pull the reader into the story.
They’re rarely looking for a way of telling the story that baffles the reader.
He sees a manuscript on his desk, neatly typed, with a compelling title, and he picks it up, ruffles through the pages. He reclines in his desk chair and begins to read. He is only a few pages into the story when his assistant comes in, sets a cup of mocha on the manuscript. “Hey, I’m reading that.”Yes, there have been books written in third person/present tense. It has the feel of the old gumshoe TV shows. It lets the reader in on everything that happens as it happens. Third person/present tense is not easy to maintain for 300 or 500 pages, nor is it easy to keep the attention of the reader who’s sitting smack in the protagonist’s lap seeing and feeling his every move as it happens.
“Sorry,” she mumbles. “Where can I put it? Your desk is covered.”
“Set it on top of the Dan Brown tome. I’m gonna pass on that, anyway.” He smiles, watches her leave the room, and picks up the manuscript. He knows it’s not a new ideal; it is, in fact, a remake of a hundred other books: A vampire who craves the blood of young teens, but holds himself in check because he’s in love with a human cheerleader. But it’s written in third person/present tense. He nods his head. Yeah, that’s a twist. He checks the cover page to see if the writer included her phone number.
Before you write this kind of book, get several published books under your credit belt. Establish yourself with your agent and editor, so they know when they receive this third person/present tense manuscript that you can handle it and they can work with you. Or , better yet, you’re close enough to your agent or editor you can talk to them ahead of time and see what they think of the idea before you start. An unpublished writer sending this to an agent or editor probably won’t get far.
She may get the first few pages read, but not much more, unless the agent and the editor think it’s brilliant.
Thanks, Theresa, for the question.
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and the novel Angel Sometimes. Two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out soon.