As you may or may not know, I’ve been working on the sequel to my young adult novel The Unwanted this year. (The tentative title is Prophecy Boy, but that’s liable to change at any minute.) I’ve also been working on a bunch of other things, but I’ve finally come back to the YA book after some time away from it.
In case you’re interested in process (I’m a sucker for hearing how writers approach their work), I’ve reread what I’ve written to date and made a bunch of edits, and as I transferred them from a hard coy to my electronic file, something felt… off. I couldn’t figure out why the changes I’d made weren’t sitting well with me.
The answer came to me while I worked on another project, creating an online class for a website called Skillshare, about how to create an outline for a YA novel. It’s a unit I’ve taught in an in-person class before, and I wanted to see how it would translate to online. Anyway, I had reached the part in the script where I discuss some of the distinctive characteristics that make a novel a YA novel: “As a general rule of thumb, YA novels are often (though not always) written in the present tense to convey a sense of immediacy and/or urgency to the action, and to immerse the reader in the events and the narrator’s point of view.”
I refrained from smacking my forehead. I’d revised everything into the past tense.
It was a conscious decision and I had stylistic reasons for it, but preparing that class lesson made me face the fact that it just didn’t work.
The thing is, I knew it didn’t work. As I wrote new scenes, I sometimes had to backspace in order to change a present-tense verb to past tense. But no, it was something I was doing to make a stylistic point.
Well, I wound up saying to hell with my stylistic point and I’m writing it in present tense now.
I’m used to second-guessing myself, in writing as well as oh so many other things, and I should maybe know better by now, but clearly I have more to learn on that count. My point, and I do have one, is: Learn to trust your instincts. Or put another way, the story you’re telling knows what it wants to be.
Listen to it.
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