Back to the Future, Back to the Present (Tense)

My copy editor emailed me on Friday: I’m wondering why you chose to tell most of the story in past tense — I know it’s a flashback, but you could easily tell it in present tense while still maintaining it as a flashback. I favor present tense as it’s more “alive” and keeps the reader in the action. Have you thought about this? No, I hadn’t.  I had thought about writing it in the present tense but not as a flashback in the present tense.  When I read her response I knew her suggestion would make the story stronger.  Fifty Shades of Grey was written in the present tense.  Hot and in the moment.  Say what you want about Fifty Shades but I learned many things about writing from the trilogy.  Good for the author for the overall character arcs of both Anna and Christian, good for her for writing erotica that is actually erotic AND remains part of the plot/story, and good for her selling so many copies and making outrageous amounts of money for herself and her publisher.  There’s more positive things I could say, and perhaps at another time. I emailed my copy editor back: Brilliant idea, but to be honest, right now, keeping the story as a flashback but writing it in the present sounds like your speaking Chinese. I had to be honest.  This sounded like a really good idea and yet my brain could not wrap itself around how to do this.  You see, I come from a screenwriting background.  That is all present tense.  I kinda thought it was either present tense or past tense. I made a request:

What I think would really assist me is if you would copy and paste (perhaps from the Word document) the first two pages of the second chapter and change the tense for me as an example.  Maybe you could underline or bold or change the color of the words you change.  I’m a pretty smart guy and I believe I can get how to do the rest of the book from this example.

She responded back: If you can wait until Monday, I can give you what I’ve done so far on paper– about 20 or 30 pages, and I did start to make corrections to tense but then stopped. It will also give you an idea of how it would sound, etc. I responded back: Fantastic. I told a friend that I am going to be chaining the story from past tense to present tense. She said, “That sounds like a lot of work.” I’ll be honest, this thought occurred to me but it took up residency for only a brief AirBNB moment.  I was amazed how quickly I shifted to:  this will make the story better, do it now before it’s online.  And, with all the work you put into the writing so far, what’s another 2 or 3 days? So…I’m sitting on the couch as I write this.  My laptop truly being a laptop.  It’s Saturday morning at 6:20 am.  The wife, kids, and dog are all sleeping.  The fish may be sleeping too but its eyes are open and its moving around so I can’t really tell. I’ve got two days before I receive the pages back from my copy editor so I can “understand” how to do the present tense thing as a flashback.  This is good timing.  Here’s how my next three days look: Today (Saturday): laundry, day job (I’m turning around a couple of rooms for an event – the upside is I’ll have fun with my assistant who is a good friend, connect with other fun people, and the free lunch will be great), and later tonight I’ve got a friends Birthday Party. Sunday: This is going to be my first big Book Promo Day.  My neighborhood is having a block part.  I will be wearing a tux and passing out postcard sized flyers with a picture of the Space Spiders on Prom Day book cover (see image inserted below in this blog).  On the top of the card, it will read, “Shop Local.  Eat Local.  Read Local.”  Witty, eh? On the card I’ll introduce the book and myself as a neighbor.  I’ll invite everyone to visit this blog and my Space Spiders on Prom Day Facebook page.  You’re invited too. https://www.facebook.com/SpaceSpidersonPromDay I’ll write about the block party and share some stories with you.

SSOPM cover smaller