Past Or Present?

past-present.jpgHave you thought about what tense you will be writing your story in? To be honest, I never thought about tense from that perspective. I knew the tense in my sentences had to be in agreement, and I made sure I was producing grammatically correct prose, but I never thought about the entire novel being written in a specific tense.

While there are many different tenses in the English language. You will only find two being used consistently in novels. The story will either be written in the Past tense or the Present tense.

As in many other aspects of writing, there is no wrong choice with the tense you decide to use. It’s more of a preference. There are pros and cons to each, and the tense you use may even boil down to the genre of your work.

The present tense isn’t a fan favorite, because it’s not how we tell stories. Think about when you talk to friends and are sharing an experience. It’s in the past tense.

Present tense can sound contrived and unnatural, at least at first, but one thing present tense has going for it is it makes you feel like you are right there in the middle of the action. There’s uncertainty and suspense. Events are unfolding as you read, anything could happen.

My novel is written in past tense, as are most. When you read a book in past tense, you know the person is sitting in the library writing memories and there’s no stress. They didn’t die, or they wouldn’t be able to share their story.

Following is a great example of a passage written in the past and present tense. You decide which one you like better.


Jessica counted silently to five then made her move. She opened the window slowly and slid into the room, her finger to her lips to keep the child quiet. “Sarah, it’s Jessica, remember me?” She whispered

The young girl shook her head.

“We have to get you out of here away from the bad man.” Jessica motioned her toward the window.

“But he said he would hurt me if I moved.”

“He will if we don’t get you out of here now.”


Jessica counts slowly to five then makes her move. She slides the window open then enters the room holding her finger to her lips to keep the child quiet. “Sarah, it’s Jessica, remember me?

Sarah shakes her head, her pigtails bouncing.

“We have to get you out of here away from the bad man. You must be very quiet.”

“That bad man said he would hurt me if I moved,” Sarah whispered.

“He will if you don’t come now, quickly.

So what do you think? Take a section of your novel and write it in both tenses. Which one do you think works best?

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Past Or Present?

Inner Conflict

write-character-edgeYour novel is made up of outer conflict and inner conflict. The outer conflict is what we observe. It’s the plot, the incidents inciting action and moving our story forward.

An outer conflict could be war, divorce, medical issues,  political instability… The sky is the limit. All you need is a good imagination and the ability to pull it all together.

In order for the outer conflict to work, the protagonist has to engage. The outer conflict usually starts out at one level, and the stakes are raised, making a bad situation worse until it’s almost impossible to overcome.

You want action and excitement, but remember, the inner conflict is what will connect your reader to the protagonist and pull them into the story. By showing the protagonist’s inner conflict, you are allowing your reader to see things through his/her eyes and to empathize with him/her.  You are creating that emotional bond. You’re building a relationship between your protagonist and your reader.

Inner conflicts could be the desire to be loved, the need to be understood, stress due to financial issues, guilt, jealousy, fear of failure, pride…

Something else to think about.

-Jan R




Inner Conflict

Point Of View?

1404775735Have you thought about the point of view you will be using when you write your novel? Whose head will you be in?

You may be wondering what I’m talking about. What is the point of view? To put it simply, it’s the voice with which you tell your story.

There are three commonly used points of view in novels. They all have their pros and cons, but if you’re a newbie, omniscient isn’t the way to go. Even accomplished writers struggle with transitions.

Omniscient/ 3rd person omniscient-

  • He/She
  • God-like. You are all knowing and all seeing. You have the ability to look into everybody’s head at once.
  • This can and usually does result in head-hopping.  If you’re not skillful enough to create a smooth transition from one person’s thoughts to another’s, and odds are you are not, don’t use it.
  • Editors and agents will guess you’re new right away because you don’t know what you’re doing.

3rd person limited

  • He/She
  • Places you in one person’s head at a time.
  • You can transition into other character’s heads, but you should limit viewpoints to one per scene, preferably chapter, ideally novel.
  • If you can limit the point of view to the protagonist, you’ll have a stronger story. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have one viewpoint, the protagonist.
  • If you’re writing a romance, consider writing it from the female point of view.

1st person-

  • I/Me
  • You’re in one person’s head for the entirety of the novel.
  • It’s how we narrate stories we are sharing with our friends.
  •  Your reader becomes the character and believes everything is real.
  • The reader is drawn into the story much quicker than with other points of view.
  • 1st person forces you to stay in one point of view, which makes it a great choice for new writers.

I didn’t mention 2nd person point of view because it is rarely used in novels. 2nd person is you/your and is commonly used in instructional writing.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Point Of View?

It’s Your Story (Revisited)

3aefcc38a20542bd3ee999eca594de5eI’ve shared this blog before, but it’s been a while, and a message I think needs to be heard. As new writers, we sometimes listen to everybody but ourselves. Our friends and critique partners mean well, but if you let them, some will try to take over your novel and mold it into what they think it should be.

I was sitting on my couch reworking a scene in the novel I’m writing and stopped right in the middle of it. What am I doing? I asked myself. The purpose of the rewrite was to make some changes based on a critique I received from a critique partner.

The person that critiqued my book is very good at the craft, and I respect her opinion. There were others who critiqued the piece and loved it, offering a few comments here and there to correct grammar or replace a word. So who was right? The three people who loved it, or the one who thought I needed to go back and make some significant changes.

The more I looked at the changes this person suggested, the more I realized she had her own idea of the way the story needed to go, and I had mine.

With this being said, she’s made some great suggestions. Because of her, my story is more believable, my dialogue more natural, and my POV more consistent. Her critiques have been invaluable.

However, I had to remind myself that this is my story. Nobody has a better understanding of the dynamics than I do. Nobody knows it from beginning to end but me. Nobody can tell it better than me.

Weigh comments and suggestions you receive from others and ask this question. Is it making my story better or changing it into something it is not?

Remember: It’s your story.

-Jan R

It’s Your Story (Revisited)

Your Protagonist

protagonist-versus-antagonistYour protagonist is the most important character in the novel. He/she will be in every moment, even if not in every scene.

It’s recommended that you have only one main character in your novel. However, some do have more. Romances, for example, usually have two main characters and are for all intents and purposes, two stories running simultaneously.

Things to keep in mind when developing your main character…

  • Introduce them in the beginning. You want your reader to bond with them more than any other character.
  • Make them active. Nobody wants to read about someone sitting on the couch doing nothing all day.
  • Give them a cause greater than themselves. Dream big.
  • Create conflict around them that battles against their flaws.
  • Make your protagonist complex. Nobody wants a goody-goody two shoes that skips through life with no adversity.
  • Keep your protagonist in character. Be consistent. If you show a change in what one would expect the character to do, you must show a reason.
  • Draw on yourself, friends, people you look up to, to build your character.
  • Create sympathy for your character. You want your reader to care about them and what they are going through.
  • Make them virtuous, clever, and generous. You want your reader to like them.
  • Make your character attractive. I know this isn’t politically correct, but it’s what works.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Your Protagonist

Underlying Elements

flawopportunityThere are four main dramatic elements to your novel. You probably never thought about it, but if you did it right, they are there. If they’re missing, you need to revisit your work and make some adjustments.

That’s one of the nice things about writing. Nothing is set in stone, and when equipped with time and knowledge, you can change anything.

So back to the blog and the elements that I was referring to.

  1. Passion – yours not the Novels. Write something that you are passionate about. If you’re not passionate, it will come through. What’s important to you?  What are you trying to get across? What do you want to be the takeaway?
  2. Theme – what your reader takes away from reading your story.  Yes, the theme and passion can be the same thing and probably are in a great many cases. Examples of theme would be, belief in yourself or all things work for the good of those who serve the Lord. 
  3. Flaws – your character must have flaws. They don’t have to be exaggerated or grotesque but face it, nobody is perfect. Talk about a boring read.                                  The flaw could be as simple as a lack of confidence or the inability to put the past behind them.  The character doesn’t have confidence,  so the theme would probably be, believe in yourself. Note how they can work hand in hand and build on each other.
  4.  Premise – What if a (flawed character)(encounters some problem) and had to (overcome the flaw) to (solve the problem). You know your story. Fill in the blanks. Does it make sense? Is it enthralling or boring?

One of the things that the agent wrote to me after rejecting my work, was I had a great premise. It was a silver lining to a dark cloud that sprung up after the initial shock of being rejected. And while I thought the passion and theme were there, my characters were not flawed, which means that my passion and theme were probably weak.

Something to think about.

-Jan R


Underlying Elements