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Happy Monday Everyone! Are you staying cool enough in all this heat?

Today I'm excited to have debut author Margot Harrison her to share about her YA thriller THE KILLER IN ME. It sounds like a real page turner.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She’s intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims’ bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert.

Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico.

But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she’s had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief?

Now here's Margot!

How I Learned to Love First-Person Present Tense

“Stay away from present tense,” an agent once warned me. “You can’t pull it off.” Several adult readers—including a librarian—have told me they won’t read first-person present tense: it “bothers” them. I’ve seen the format disparaged on writing forums as a “gimmick,” and called out in online reviews as a novelty.

Yet, in young adult fiction, first-person present tense isn’t new—or rare. Of the 40-plus YA debuts I’ve read this year, across all subgenres, I’d guess slightly more than half are FPPT. My debut novel, The Killer in Me, is one of them.

It wasn’t easy for me to dive into FPPT after years as a fan of third-person past. It just seemed so raw and personal—I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that close to my characters.

Then I started getting editor rejections that pegged my manuscript as lacking “immediacy.” While a
more traditional narrative style works for many YA writers, it clearly wasn’t working for me. I needed to shake things up.

I soon realized that writing in FPPT wasn’t as simple as changing the tenses: the new style nudged me to write in new ways. Here are some things I learned along the way:

1. FPPT narration always wants to become an interior monologue.

Don’t let anyone tell you FPPT is a new gimmick inspired by the eternal “now” of the Internet. The form goes back (at least) to the dawn of the twentieth century.

In college, I studied the Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler, who pioneered the “interior monologue”
in his novellas “Lieutenant Gustl” (1901) and “Fräulein Else” (1924). Both are FPPT narratives told from the point of view of a young person experiencing emotional crisis—just like many YA novels. Schnitzler cut the filtering words and presented each narrator’s stream of consciousness—to powerful effect.

You can do the same—write what the character would be thinking and feeling in the moment, not how she might summarize it later. In a suspenseful scene, “Who’s that behind me?” grabs us more than “I think I sense someone behind me.”

Just remember to edit aggressively and stay focused; present tense isn’t an excuse for rambling (as we often do in our real-life internal monologues).

2. Because FPPT imitates the immediacy of a play or movie, it’s best for zeroing in on “real-time” scenes and vignettes.

Some readers find present tense jarring when it describes a time-span longer than a single scene (Example: “It takes me nearly a week to figure out how wrong I am.”). Such summarizing, they claim, implies the narrator is looking backward, and should therefore be using past tense.

It’s true that some of the most effective FPPT novels consist of brief, vivid, you-are-there scenes with little or no exposition or summary connecting them. (One great example is Tess Sharpe’s Far From You.)

But I don’t think writers should absolutely forbid themselves from using exposition and summary in FPPT. Sure, past tense might seem more logical, but every narrative form fudges the truth. Plus, we can make FPPT exposition less awkward by presenting past time in a “montage,” or a series of distinct moments that progress toward some conclusion. (Example: “On Thursday, waking from uneasy dreams, I start to think I may be wrong. On Friday, when I see her in her red dress, I know I am.”)

3. Watch all your tenses.

When your dominant tense is present, other tenses change, too. You generally won’t need pluperfect to refer to the past. AWKWARD: “I’m petrified of snakes because one had bitten me last summer.” SMOOTH: “I’m petrified of snakes because one bit me last summer.”

Are we entering a world where present-tense narratives will dominate? Hard to say. But one thing’s for sure: Far from just a gimmick, FPPT is a powerful tool you can use to bring your characters closer to the reader. I’m glad I dived in.

You can find Margot at:



Margot generously offered a copy of THE KILLER IN ME for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through August t6h. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This is an international giveaway.

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I will be off for a week as my mom and uncle are coming to town for a few days.

The Monday after that I'm interviewing debut author Bridget Hodder with a giveaway of her MG Cinderella retelling THE RAT PRINCE.

The following Monday I will be doing another Summer Fun Book Giveaway--my last for the summer.

The following Monday I plan to take off.

The final Monday in August I have a guest post by Hannah West and a giveaway of her YA fantasy KINGDOM OF ASHES AND BRIARS.

Hope to see you in two weeks!


S.P. Bowers said...

Present tense isn't new, though it is very trendy right now. Like genres it has in seasons and out seasons. I'm one of the ones that can't stand it.

Bish Denham said...

If done well, FPPT is very immediate and up close and personal. I've read more YA in FPPT than anything else.

Bish Denham said...

Oh, and I've tweeted!

Bish Denham said...

Oh, and I've tweeted!

Bish Denham said...

If done well, FPPT is very immediate and up close and personal. I've read more YA in FPPT than anything else.

Karen Lange said...

It's great to meet Margot. This info on FPPT is interesting. One of my teen writing students wrote all her flash fiction this way, but she had challenges keeping the tenses consistent. I may pass this info along to her.

Thanks for hosting, Natalie. I'll pass on the giveaway this time around. Have a great week!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Some people might criticize it, but FPPT is difficult and should be applauded when done right.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm still glad I didn't have to write any of my stories in first person. I definitely didn't want to be that close to any of my characters.

cleemckenzie said...

The description is fabulous. Love it when the character has to completely change her mind about something--in this case the thief--and reevaluate what to do next. I like FPPT sometimes. I know teens do. They've told me so.

Greg Pattridge said...

This looks like one to read when every light is on. Very compelling story line. I also like FPPT and have tried it in my own writing. You actually have to become that character instead of looking at the action from overhead. I'll pass on the drawing as a shadow is growing from my stack of books to read.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

I'm intrigued by the synopsis and "what if there is no thief?" Very cool premise.

Since I'm currently writing a novel in FPPT (most verse novels are), Margot's guest post is especially helpful. Thanks!

Beth said...

Wow - that book sounds like a great read! Congratulations, Margot!
No need to enter me in the contest.

Jenni said...

I've never written in FPPT, but this was really intriguing to read. I can see how it would work well for a thriller. Count me out of the contest. Congratulations, Margot!

Tammy Theriault said...

Congrats, Margot! Love the premise. I've tried other POV's but first has been the easiest for me.

abnormalalien said...

Thanks for this excellent post. The first book I remember reading in (I think) fppt was Ellen Foster. I remember it was jarring at first. But I loved the sense of immediacy and closeness to the character.

When I started my first manuscript, fppt was the only thing that worked for me. I tried reworking the whole thing into past tense but it felt wrong.

I definitely agree it's a hard beast to tame. It's easy to write bad fppt; but I guess it's also easy to write bad in any POV.

Rosi said...

I do love thrillers and this one sounds really good. Interesting interview with lots to think about. Thanks for the post.

Mary Preston said...

FPPT can be very exciting to read.


Caitlin said...

I loved what you wrote about FPPT. It's something I haven't given much consideration before and it was really really interesting.

Caitlin said...


Unknown said...

Thanks for the fascinating post. LiterallyLynneMarie@gmail.com

Roland Clarke said...

Fascinating post and love that blurb.

Although I write mainly in Third past, I did a series of linked SF shorts in a mix of 3rd and 1st present, which got me closer to my characters and their motivations.

Danielle H. said...

I haven't tried writing in present tense. Excellent post here. I shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/758023503979380736

Carl Scott said...

This sounds like a wonderfully scary psychological thriller, just the kind of reading I need to get through the summer. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.
I follow by email: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

Anonymous said...

Looks like a fantastic read.

I enjoyed reading about FPPT. I like to both read and write it.

mshatch said...

Ooh, this sounds like a fun read! And I like present tense, though it's a bit of a challenge after you've been writing third person. Congrats to Margot :)

finnthefearless said...

Fantastic post - I enjoy writing in FPPT, in fact, I've struggled to shift back to third person past tense. Can't wait to read your book! finnthefearless(at)gmail(dot)com

Nicola said...

A great post. Tenses can be challenging and yet a lot of fun once you grasp how to use them properly.

Dawn Simon said...

My current WIP is in FPPT. I think it's important to try to figure out what works best for each story. You make excellent points, especially #2! Thanks for the great post!

Unknown said...

I agree, FPPT can be very useful. You just need to watch your tenses and the storyline becomes more alive.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarah said...

This is timely. My latest query rejection was very kind, saying the story piqued her interest, but she just couldn't connect to the voice, which I have written in first person. I've had a few others say something along those lines, and I wonder if it's because I'm writing middle grade. If third person is more perfered. but, I'm just going to keep trying, and once I've exhausted agents, I'll try them again with a different (third person!) book and see how it goes!

I love the premise of The killer In Me, I'm awfully curious about it!! I follow, so would love to win.

Unknown said...

The nice thing about POV and tense is you're not tied to them. I know plenty of authors (including me) who've written in first to get the voice right, and then later changed it to third to add more concrete description. And if one works better than the other for a certain project, you can change to that one. It's all good! Wishing you success with your book!

Tamara Narayan said...

I've done first person past, but first person present? That would be different. There is something about first person that enhances the voice of the character, but not being able to write things from other characters point of view can be tricky.

tamara (dot) narayan (at) gmail (dot) com

Dihiwi said...

Watching my "tenses" makes me very tense! That's an area in which I struggle with my writing. I tend to switch tenses now and then. Interesting viewpoint for writers - thanks for sharing the pros and cons of FPPT. I found your blog through the Celebrate the Small Things blog post. Have a good weekend! www.dianeweidenbenner.com

DMS said...

This sounds like an intriguing story. I am definitely curious about what happens and I am actually scared for the main character already! It was great to hear from Margot. Wishing her all the best! :)

Anonymous said...

First person present is always an adventure to work with. I'm excited to read this book!

Liz Brooks said...

This was great! I love write in FPPT--I have for years. And I tend to forget that not everyone loves to read/write it, which makes me sad. These are all great pointers, and it's really nice to be reminded, so thank you!

Also, The Killer in Me sounds really intriguing. I'll definitely have to add it to my TBR pile. :)

Crystal Collier said...

The dreaded first person present... YES! It's a perspective I steer away from, but I have one character who will only talk to me if I write her story that way. So frustrating. I keep asking her how I'm going to blend her perspective with everyone else's in her story. She laughs at me. She doesn't want to blend in. So frustrating.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like an intense book! :)

Natasha said...

Sounds like a great read!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com