Is it really okay to write in the present tense?

 

Tenses, past and present are a vital part of any narrative. Some say you should never write in the present tense as it is a sign of amateurishness. Say that to Hilary Mantel, Charles Dickens and Ian McEwan.

Still, there  are many who dislike the use of present tense. Philip Pullman is one such author who frowns upon it because of its limitations, in his opinion.

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‘I want all the young present-tense storytellers (the old ones have won prizes and are incorrigible) to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective. I want them to feel able to say what happened, what usually happened, what sometimes happened, what had happened before something else happened, what might happen later, what actually did happen later, and so on: to use the full range of English tenses.’

You can read the full article here:

http://www.theguardian.com/global/2010/sep/18/philip-pullman-author-present-tense

I have to say that on the whole I agree with him. Personally, I’m not a fan of novels in the present tense, without some past tense in the form of flashbacks or memories. That being said, I believe the present tense can be used well for short story writing. I then thought, oh no, present tense!

A horrible memory came back to me. A creative writing tutor once shamed me in front of the entire class when I submitted a present tense short story, written in the first person, by saying, ‘Never write in the present tense. Only amateurs and bad writers do that. Don’t write in the first person either, that shows a lack of imagination and arrogance. Let’s face it, no-one wants to listen to your voice, you are nobody.’ His words hurt and I vowed to never write in the first person or the present tense again.

 

Until a year later after gaining a Creative Writing Diploma and winning a short story completion with a piece written in the first person present tense.

Glimmer

 ‘The world will not end because I close my eyes. The sun will still shine, so too the stars. Yet the darkness behind my drooped lids tells me otherwise. I see a macrocosm made up of swirling silhouettes and geometric shapes that aren’t strange to me at all. This is where I live now, in x-ray blackness. There is peace in this non-colour. A stillness that demands quiet.’

This story is now part of my anthology – Glimmer and other stories – and is getting some brilliant 5* reviews.

‘A stunning collection of highly original short stories, written with verve and style. They do not glimmer they sparkle!’

‘Glimmer and other stories’ is a miniature treasure chest of jewels. I absolutely loved these short stories. As I was reading, I fell into a trance of adjectival excess… they were mesmerising, masterful, original, eloquent, lyrical, clever…’

 http://amzn.to/239YbRG

glimmer front red 2

With Mr. Pullman’s article fresh in my mind, I decided to write another short story in the present tense, with past tense mixed in. Then I thought, oh, does it work? Why not write the whole thing in the past tense and be done with it? No one will criticise me and…well, I did and I didn’t like it as much. The tone and narrative voice works better in the present tense, for me, anyway.

What do you think?

Below are two short extracts from the beginning of the story The Shivering Oak. Inspiration for the story came from a painting by Marc Chagall.marc-chagall-autumn-in-the-village

Present tense:

Coward.

To conceal yourself up a tree like a rat.

I do not hide. I am here for all to see. Lounging larger than the low roof I recline upon.

At least, that’s how it seems to me as I raise my chin to the sky and let the sun kiss it. Yes, even the heavens are on my side.

I will wait.

I do not grow tired or hungry. I am nourished by the warm May winds that gently stroke my bare arms and lips, which are red. I painted them the colour of blood. But, now that I glance at my reflection in the darkened window of the building opposite, I think they resemble the hue of the roses on my dress. Or perhaps they are nearer the shade of the berries on the bush growing below your dangling feet. I notice the soles of your shoes are worn. Is that a toe, that pink protuberance sticking out from the emerging hole? The twitching thing is making Genghis yank at his leash.

I sit up to get a better look. You struggle to maintain position on the creaking branch. One hand wrapped around the frail wood, the other clutching onto your fiddle. The same violin you used to seduce me at the Christmas concert.

The village hall was crammed that night with the young, old, and those in between. Forced to stand at the back, I peered over the shoulders of the tall men. I didn’t mind, though. It was good to be in the world again after all those years cooped up with dad.

Past Tense:

Coward

Concealing yourself up that tree like a rat.

I did not hide. I was there for all to see. Lounging larger than the roof I reclined upon.

At least, that’s how it seemed to me when I raised my chin to the sky and let the sun kiss it.

Yes, even the heavens were on my side.

I waited

I did not grow tired or hungry. I was nourished by the warm May winds that gently stroked my bare arms and legs, which were red. I painted them the colour of blood. But, when I glanced at my reflection in the darkened window of the building opposite, I thought they resembled the hue of the roses on the dress I wore. Or perhaps, they were nearer the shade of the berries on the bush that grew below your dangling feet. I noticed that the soles of your shoes were worn. Was that a toe, that pink protuberance that stuck out from the hole? The thing that twitched and made Genghis yank at his lease.

I sat up to get a better look. You struggled to maintain your position on the creaking branch. You had one hand wrapped around the frail wood, whilst the other clutched onto your fiddle. The same violin you used to seduce me last Christmas at the village concert.

Thank you for reading. Any comments about which tense works better for you, would be very much appreciated.

Glimmer and other stories will be on a Kindle Countdown deal from 6th June. So, if you want a copy at a bargain price, just head over to Amazon.

 UK: http://amzn.to/1n6Hqpu

US:  http://amzn.to/239YbRG

 

 

Writing Tips From Neil Gaiman

I’ve just finished writing a middle-grade action adventure book, working title – Revenge upon the Mummy Snatcher – yes, I know, not a great title.

2012-09-18 at 10-05-20 (1)Anyway, I gave it to a number of Beta readers and have had some really constructive feedback. However, sometimes, one or two readers went beyond the requirements of pointing out flaws in character, plot, dialogue etc, and sent me full-on editing with occasional re-writes they have done themselves.

Whilst I appreciate their effort and thank them profusely, it left me in a quandary, because they have given me completely opposite views/pointers on my work, leaving me somewhat confused.

My head was in such a whirl that I almost gave up on the novel until I came across Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules of writing. Number 5 resonated with me immediately, as did number 8.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/

Thank you, Neil Gaiman, you have rescued my befuddled brain and set me back on course with my book.

Just need a better title.

Here are the first 500 words  from Revenge upon the Mummy Snatcher:

Chapter 1: We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked slow and tentative, deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh, long and weary-filled drifted towards her. It seemed to gather friends as it neared, and soon the sad laments of dozens of disembodied voices surrounded her. The moans continued, drifting in and out of her ears like tired moths trapped inside a lampshade. She tried to struggle on, but the wails tugged at her ankles, forcing her to stop and listen to the muffled chatter that swirled and scuttled inside her head.

“We, the dead, abide here. Quietly resting, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“A futile gesture. For this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, lie still, poised in readiness for our resurrection.”

“What a wait we’ve had. So many years spent lying in a state of half-remembered promises and expectations, grown dull with the passing of each century.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips and thought she heard a murmuring of souls.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-hair unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped and said into the blackness, “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Found out!”

“Not Yet.”

“No.”

The voices ceased.

She called again, but no answer came. There was a smell of rot so strong that Cleo nearly vomited. It disappeared and she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She stood tall, shrugged, and said, “The dark is just an absence of light,” then shook the torch that was gripped in her hand. “Stupid, froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“Mum, don’t creep up on me like that.”

“I can’t very well do anything else, can I? It’s darker than a black hole in here.”

“I know. I can’t see a froggin’ thing.”

“What do you expect? We are half way down a pyramid. And don’t say ‘froggin’ I know what it really means.”

Cleo mouthed the word again, and then once more, just because she could.

If you enjoyed the extract, you might like to have a look at  my YA Dystopian/Sci-fi Adventure series – The Song of Forgetfulness – here:

http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/

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Five FREE Tools To Help Self-Published Authors Succeed.

It is hard being an author, whether self-published or traditionally, getting your manuscript/book looking good, free of grammatical/typo errors and noticed when it is published, is very difficult. So the more tools at your disposal that can help you do that is surely a good thing.

I have recently discovered a few neat little devices that can help to make those jobs easier.

1: Scrivener – The first and truly brilliant, especially if you are considering self-publishing, is this word processing and book formatting tool – You can download it for a Free trial to see if it is for you.

Don’t take my word for it, though – the self-publishing legend that is Joanna Penn (you can learn more about Joanna and her books to help self-published authors here:http://www.thecreativepenn.com/) has a blog about the value of using Scrivener. http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/02/04/scrivener/

scrivener

I’m sure most of you have heard about it, but until I actually used it, I didn’t realise how fabulous it actually is. Not just for formatting – which it is brilliant for – but for lots of other useful writing implements that help to make your manuscript the best it can be. You can store valuable research, photographs and lots more that can aid you with the planning and plotting of your writing project. Don’t forget that Scrivener allows you to format not only fiction manuscripts but non-fiction, screenplays and well, you’ll have to see for yourself just how useful it is.

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

2: Grammarly – On a similar note, Grammarly, is a free spelling and grammar checker that goes beyond the capabilities of your word processor. It also helps you to choose the right word by showing ‘context-optimised synonym suggestions’ and asking you if it is the correct word to use in context with the sentence. It also claims to, ‘Grammarly corrects over 250 grammatical mistakes while also catching contextual spelling errors and poor vocabulary usage. Works wherever you write online. Grammarly helps you write mistake-free in Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and nearly anywhere else you write on the Web.’

grammarly

Great stuff really. I use it regularly and find it very useful. It is totally Free. Of course you can subscribe to a paid version, but for me, the free version is all I need.

https://app.grammarly.com/

3: Canva – Creating your ebook cover can be a nightmare. You can pay for someone to do it for you, or you can try to design it yourself. This is what I chose to do with the help of my husband who understands how to use Photoshop. Photoshop is expensive and difficult to use if you are not familiar with the programme. I recently discovered a website – Canva – that offers Free design templates and many free stock images for you to choose from to design and format your ebook cover. I have a very poor quality screen shot of a couple of ideas I had for my middle-grade action adventure book, currently titled: Vengeance of the Mummy Thief. The cover in the middle is one of their stock templates.

Canva

Some of the better images you will have to pay for, but at $1 a time, it is very affordable. You can also download your own images and use their photo editor to create great-looking designs. Even if you only use it as an example, or to try out ideas, it can be done quickly and easily. It is very simple to use and has many other useful features, such as basic photo editing, Twitter, blog page, Facebook heading designs and much more. Well worth a go in my opinion.

https://www.canva.com/

4: Bookshow.me – One little tool that I find  really useful is the URL shortening device that sends customers to your selling page for any country. So that if for example, I live in France and click on the link, It will go to the Amazon page for France and not America or the UK so that I can buy a book directly from my own country.  All you have to do is go to http://bookshow.me/ type in the URL for your book, click the button and you get a shortened URL that will direct any buyer to the right page for their particular country.

bookshow.me

http://bookshow.me/

5: Yasiv – Lastly, something that I found very useful when deciding on Keywords to use for my books when uploading them onto Amazon.  Apologies for another poor quality screen shot here.

Yasiv

This neat little free device helps authors discover categories that do well in their niche. Also works with anything that is for sale on Amazon. You can find out the keywords successful authors use. It doesn’t tell you what the keywords are as such, you have to type in words as I did for my book Whisper Gatherers: YA Dystopian Action Adventure, and up came one hundred and twenty-nine books in that category. Meaning, it is fairly popular, but not so popular that my book will get lost. Then I typed in: Sci-Fi Action Adventure Series. Only seven came up. Clearly that is not a popular category, therefore, I won’t use it in my keywords. Therefore, it is quite useful in helping to decide what keywords to use when listing them on Amazon.

http://www.yasiv.com/

There is a more in-depth keyword tool that isn’t free called Kindlespyhttp://www.kdspy.com/

This shows you lots of stats for the books in your chosen category in one click, thus saving you a lot of time and energy. You can then go to these books and look at word bubbles that show the keywords that are used to sell them, oh, and it does more, a lot more, go take a look.

I hope some of these suggestions will be of use to you in your writing ventures. If you know of any others, I would be glad to hear from you and so would many other authors too.

You can learn more about my YA Sci-Fi Action Adventure Dystopian series – The Song of Forgetfulness – here: http://thesongofforgetfulness.com