Monday, July 27, 2015

Tense Change Challenge #5

I originally wrote this ms in first person past tense, then switched to present tense. But I’m not sure, especially for middle grade, if present tense is a good idea. Or even first person.

TITLE: THE SECRET AT SEACHASE
GENRE: MG MYSTERY

Thirteen-year-old Ellie McCoy has just learned that some of the foreign snow cone vendors at the island’s adventure park are victims of a labor trafficking scheme. The boss has taken notice of Ellie’s meddling, and has made plans to export the undocumented workers before his crime is discovered.

FIRST PERSON PRESENT (original):

Sonia stumbles through the open door into the building. Natalia jumps up to catch Sonia before she falls.

In the doorway, Mr. Misaros’ smooth scalp glows yellow from the outside fixture. “Natalia. Good. Nobody at the apartment knew where I could find you.”

Natalia wraps an arm around Sonia and backs into me, pinning my head against the wall. My first impulse is to struggle. But then I relax. If I’m hidden, Dad won’t find out that I came here tonight.

Mr. Misaros says something to the girls. I don’t understand a word. Bulgarian, I guess. He ducks out and slams the door behind him. On the outside of the ice house, metal scrapes against metal.

“What was that about?” I whisper.

Sonia slumps against one of the snow cone carts.

“Mr. Lukas coming tonight. He take us away.” Natalia picks the pizza up off the floor and tosses it into the box.

“Why?” I ask.

“You ask too many questions.”

“No, I don’t. Where will he take you?”

“Anywhere he wants. Nobody will look for us.” Her face is more unsmiling than ever.

“I would.”

“How? You think you’ll get away?”

“I don’t work for Mr. Misaros.”

“Didn’t you hear him bolt the door? We’re locked in,” Natalia says.

I hold my hands out. “But my dad’s going to start looking for me. I have to go. I left my dog outside alone. I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Ha,” Natalia says.

THIRD PERSON PAST:

Sonia stumbled through the open door into the building. Natalia jumped up to catch Sonia before she fell.

In the doorway, Mr. Misaros’s smooth scalp glowed yellow from the outside fixture. “Natalia. Good. Nobody at the apartment knew where I could find you.”

Natalia wrapped an arm around Sonia and backed into Ellie, pinning her head against the wall. Ellie's first impulse was to struggle. But then she relaxed. If she stayed hidden, Dad wouldn’t find out that she came here tonight.

Mr. Misaros said something to the girls. Ellie didn't understand a word. Bulgarian, she guessed. He ducked out and slammed the door behind him. On the outside of the ice house, metal scraped against metal.

“What was that about?” Ellie whispered.

Sonia slumped against one of the snow cone carts.

“Mr. Lukas coming tonight. He take us away.” Natalia picked the pizza up off the floor and tossed it into the box.

“Why?” I asked.

“You ask too many questions.”

“No, I don’t. Where will he take you?”

“Anywhere he wants. Nobody will look for us.” Her face was more unsmiling than ever.

“I would.”

“How? You think you’ll get away?”

“I don’t work for Mr. Misaros.”

“Didn’t you hear him bolt the door? We’re locked in,” Natalia said.

Ellie held her hands out. “But my dad’s going to start looking for me. I have to go. I left my dog outside alone. I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Ha,” Natalia said.

9 comments:

  1. Hmm . . . this is an interesting one. I like your premise a lot and I think both samples work. My advice is that if the story mainly focuses on Ellie, first-person works. As a reader, we feel very close to her and her perspective. However, if the foreign students are also a large part of the story and we learn more about them and therefore grow to identify with them as well, you might consider third-person as we'll feel a stronger connection to all characters and not just Ellie. Good luck!

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  2. I like first person better but since I don't write MG, I'm not sure which one readers would prefer.

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  3. This one is hard for me to judge.

    I think I prefer first person, here. The way the narrative is structured, third sounds very omniscient, and I had a difficult time pinpointing the main character. First, at least, lets me know Ellie is the POV character.

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  4. I'm confused, in the third person past tense version, wouldn't the use of the dialogue tag "I ask" be considered first person present? An the use of "I held out my hands" be considered first person past?

    Aside from that, I prefer the Third Person Past version because the prose has a smoother rhythm and flow. The First Person Present version, to me, felt more like stage directions in a screenplay.

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    1. Oops -- fixed those. Thank you, Debbie! :)

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  6. I prefer the past tense version. Though I sometimes use present tense, too, I can't help but feel like it's a fad that will eventually pass out of favor, and I think MG books are some of the most timeless stories out there. No need to date them unnecessarily:)

    I have less of an opinion on the perspective. In this particular scene, the first person helps, just because we have so many characters to keep track of (and most of them are shes). That said, I did find it odd that the first-person narrator didn't mention herself until the third paragraph, though that could just be a side effect of having to pull an excerpt out of an established scene.

    Good luck!

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  7. My vote is for third person, past. I think it works better for MG.

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  8. Thank you all for adding to the discussion!

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