How to choose tense and point of view when writing a novel

Well, my third novel Little Red Gem is off to my publisher of choice. Writing 60,000 words is difficult enough, the editing process is doubly difficult in that you're tidying up bits here and there, you're looking at chunks instead of the whole book, or you've looked at it over and over and can't pick up the typos anymore. So it wasn't until I tweaked the ending and did the final read through that I really fell in love with this story.

The thing that surprised me most is that I'm not a romance writer, so why was I even attempting to write a young adult paranormal romance novel? In typical "me" fashion, if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it well. I think I have nailed it. I'm very happy with the end result and I can only hope the publisher is too.

So what are some of the things I did differently with Little Red Gem from what I did with The Bird With The Broken Wing and Feedback?

Point of view:
Little Red Gem is the first novel of mine (published, that is) that is solely told with one point of view. As a writer, I need to determine the best way to tell the story. In my two earlier novels, I determined that I needed to tell the story with multiple points of view. This deterred a few readers, but at the end of the day, I had to stick by my principles and write in the way that best told the story.

Because single point of view can become bogged down with "I" statements (a wonderfully helpful editor pointed this out to me in an earlier and still unpublished novel), the entire first draft was written in third person, single point of view. This allowed me to avoid too many "I" statements and add in the beautifully descriptive detail I've become known for.

Present tense:
Little Red Gem is told in present tense. Again, I had to choose the writing style that best suited the story, and (provided the publisher accepts it this way) present tense was selected for a reason that I can't tell you here. You'll have to read the novel to see why.

Because present tense didn't come naturally to me, the entire first draft was written in past tense and then converted to present tense in the first round of editing. This allowed the writing to flow and I didn't become absorbed with getting the tense right, just the content.

I did carefully consider which tense to write in and present tense won the vote. Now, some readers absolutely refuse to read anything written in present tense. I'll admit, The Hunger Games was unsettling to read at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly and found it easy to get into and follow. Same with I Am Number Four. After all, the first-person/present-tense novel is very absorbing. A reader can't help but be hooked. But this isn't why I chose it.

When writing a novel, a writer needs to give consideration to whatever is best for the story. Again, hopefully you'll see why I chose present tense when the book is released.

During my earlier novels, the backstory was usually a stop/start flashback sequence. Now, this isn't the wrong way to tell backstory, but I did it this way in both The Bird With The Broken Wing and Feeback due to my inexperience. In Little Red Gem, however, I was able to weave the backstory into the writing without the need for stop/start, and I did this by using a techinique I learned at a writing course. 

What is backstory? It's what the author knows and what the reader needs to know to make sense of the story. Backstory must be relevant. One way to know when to keep backstory in is to ask yourself: "If I didn't write this, would the reader know what's going on?"

There are many ways to tell backstory. Prologue. Flashbacks. Different fonts. Separate chapters. Paraphrasing. Briefly dropping it into the chapter using past/past tense. What I did was this. At the start of each chapter I wrote dot points of the history behind the main character's actions and this helped me to drop the breadcrumbs throughout the book because the other important part to backstory is knowing when to let the reader know it. It needs to be sprinkled throughout the manuscript otherwise it's just an info dump best suited to a prologue.

Whatever you decide to write, you'll know which style to use.

Happy reading!

D L Richardson


D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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