The Quandary of Present Tense


I’ve spent some time playing with first person present on my current work in progress. I love it. My main character is a jerk, not that he means to be, but his circumstances throw him into a position of self-defense and that translates into his treating another student at his high school unkindly. “But no one is that mean.” That’s the comment of one of my beta-readers. My son, who was a sophomore at the time turned to his father and said, “Oh, yes they are.”

Which brings me back to my work in progress, written in first person present. I love being inside Jake’s head. I love that everything unfolds right here and now. I only get to hear his thoughts, his reactions, his feelings—and it’s all pretty knee jerk for him.

When I first started reading books written in first person present, it jarred me a little. But now that I’ve spent some time writing in it, I find that I love it.

Susanne Collins wrote in first person present in her novel Hunger Games, a book I really loved. Collins not only tells a gripping story, but does it in such a way that I felt like I was right there, and I’m sure that was because the story unfolded as if I was Katniss. I felt her inner struggles, her love for her sister, her horrors, her triumph. That I owe to the present tense of Collins’s storytelling.

Here’s the problem. Editors, for the most part, hate it.

When I pitched The Penny Project, my current work in process about Jake the jerk to my editor, she loves the story and wants to publish it. The problem is the present tense. She hates it. So do I abandon my notion of writing in present tense so that my publishing company will take the book, or do I risk not getting published at all because I love first person present for this story? I’m afraid to say that I will probably wimp out and change the whole novel to past tense. What would you do?