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  1. #1
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    First Person Present tense vs Third Person Past

    I've rewritten this children's historical chapter book several times. Finally, I thought, I had the way to make it more "present" by being Beatrix as she goes about her funny escapades. But then I read in some publisher's preferences that they didn't like present tense books. So I tried out doing it past tense third person, yet using what I'd written in present tense. Which do you think "works" ? Thank you for any comments.

    Present tense first person:

    Chapter One
    The Day I Tried to Sell the Baby
    I am Beatrix Pipkin and I live in the state of Alabama, out in cotton farm country. It is 1910, the year Halley's Comet is scheduled to come by the earth out there in space. Some say the world will end when the comet's tail hits us, but I don't think so, since Pop doesn't think so, and he probably knows. But if the world did end, at least I wouldn't have to haul water anymore.

    My chores are all hard, but the hardest of all is this one, hauling water from the creek to the house for cooking and washing. I like being down at the creek, though, sitting on the rock above the water. I like watching the water bugs flit across the surface of the quiet pool by the stream edge. I can see the pretty pebbles lining the bed of the pool. Sometimes I bend over and pick one up, if it's extra colorful, and I wish I could tie it up with a cord to make a necklace for my older sister, Pauline.

    Pauline's chores are easy compared to mine because all she has to do is take care of our baby brother Curtis. I think Mom loves Pauline and Curtis more than she does me, you might as well know. My sister is beautiful and kind, and she was sick when she was as little a baby as Curtis is now, and that's made her weak, even now when she is 12, almost 13. So Pauline can't do hard work, Mom says, not like I have to do. Even though she can't help me, Pauline is always, almost always, nice to me. It's Mom who can't stand me, seems like to me. And Aunt Luelle. Ugh, Aunt Luelle. I guess she'll be coming over soon to help cook for the men coming home from the plowing.

    A mockingbird always follows me down the path to the creek and then sits on a branch in the tree and sings to me. I'm glad spring is here and the flowers are blooming, the violets with the purple petals that hide in the ferns under the trees. If I didn't have to haul this giant bucket of water, I'd pick flowers. They are so sweet in smell and so sweet in looks, you just want to hug them to you like hugging sweet baby Curtis. Oh, well, down goes the bucket into the water, but it is so heavy I can hardly drag it up.

    The creek bank is earthy and wet, and I always slip in the mud. I guess I'm used to it, and at first it feels good, all that cool mud on my hot bare legs, and mud squishing up through my bare toes. But now I've fallen right over on my hands and knees trying to get the bucket up with clean water in it, and the flies are attacking my sticky face, so I've got to scratch my nose with my muddy hands. This chore is hard all right. Pauline couldn't do this even though she is two years older than I am. It takes someone tough, like me.

    My question is: why didn't they build the house closer to the creek? I have to carry this bucket a long way and it always slops water on my pinafore apron that I wear over my dress. I'm lucky if I get most of the water safely to the kitchen because if more than half spills, Mom might send me for another pail full right away.

    The path winds between the quiet old trees that seem to watch me pass, looking down on me from high in the sky with their leafy branches that rustle when the breeze blows. There's the privy outhouse practically covered by a honeysuckle vine alongside the pathway, and I figure to stop there most times, just to dawdle, if not in real need to relieve myself. Inside the rickety door that's nearly blocked by blossoms of honeysuckle is the two-seater toilet over the deeply dug hole where the waste goes. Sometimes Pauline and I come down here in the morning together. There's the pile of newspapers to wipe with, just tear off a page and clean up. Such a smelly place, a sort of damp and sharp odor, yet mixed in with the sweetness of the flowers in blooming times -- somehow the privy is comforting, even though each and every time we come out here we have to make sure no spiders have taken up household in the holes we sit on to go.

    I don't understand why I can take the privy, but I can hardly bear to even glance at the Storm Pit. The Storm Pit is closer along the path to the house, just in case we all need to shelter there during a tornado. Pop says it is a safe place, that as soon as the thunder clouds gather and the winds begin to howl, we all should drop whatever we're doing and take ourselves and baby Curtis out here to this Pit, open up the door on the ground and crawl into the dark earthen hole so we won't blow away with the house.

    “I'm sure there are spiders in that Pit,” I told Pauline one day. I'm not scared of spiders if they are out where a person can see them and watch their little lives, watch them making their glistening webs and catching the pesky flies. I like spiders that live in the open, in the garden or in the wild bushes, but the ones that sneak into dark places and wait, those are the spiders that scare me. I'm sure the Pit is full of them. But it is more than just spiders that scare me about the place, or I'd be scared of the privy. I told Pauline once, “Even if a tornado comes, I don't plan on going inside the Storm Pit ever.”

    “It's just a hole in the ground with a trapdoor on top,” Pauline told me, “and you'll be glad to go inside if a tornado heads our way. The Pit will keep us safe. You'll go in it someday, you'll see.”

    “No, never,” I told her. “I'll never go in that hole.”


    Versus Third Person Past Tense:

    Chapter One
    The Day Beatrix Tried to Sell the Baby

    Beatrix Pipkin lived in the state of Alabama, out in cotton farm country. The year was 1910, the year Halley's Comet was scheduled to come by the earth out in space. Some said the world would end when the comet's tail hit the atmosphere, but Beatrix didn’t think so, since Pop didn’t think so, and he probably knew. But if the world did end, Beatrix thought, at least I wouldn't have to haul water anymore.

    Her chores were hard, but the hardest of all was hauling water from the creek to the house for cooking and washing. Sometimes she rested on a flat rock by the creek and watched the water bugs flit across the surface of the quiet pool. She could see the pretty pebbles under the water, and she bent over and picked one up. She wished she could tie it up with a cord to make a necklace for her older sister, Pauline.

    Pauline's chores are easy compared to mine, Beatrix thought, because all she has to do is take care of baby brother Curtis. Beatrix frowned. Mom loves Pauline and Curtis more than she does me, you might as well accept it, she thought. Pauline is beautiful and kind, and she was sick when she was as little a baby as Curtis is now, and that's made her weak, even now when she is 12, almost 13. So Pauline can't do hard work, Mom says, not like I have to do. But, Beatrix told herself, even though she can't help me, Pauline is always, almost always, nice to me. It's Mom who can't stand me, seems like to me. And Aunt Luelle. Ugh, Aunt Luelle. I guess she'll be coming over soon to help cook for the men coming home from the plowing.

    Down went the bucket into the creek to draw up the clean water, but it was so heavy Beatrix could hardly drag it up. As she pulled, she suddenly slipped in the mud of the bank. The mud felt good on her hot bare legs and squishing up through her bare toes, but what a mess. Then flies attacked her sticky face, too, so she had to scratch her nose with her muddy hands.

    The path back to the kitchen wound between the quiet old trees with their leafy branches that rustled as the breeze blew. She passed the privy outhouse that was nearly covered by a honeysuckle vine. She paused there to rest, even though not in real need to relieve herself. Inside the rickety door half blocked by blossoms of honeysuckle was the two-seater toilet over the deeply dug hole where the waste went. Sometimes Beatrix and Pauline came down in the morning together, and every time, they had use a twig to swish around to make sure no spiders had taken up household in the holes they sat on to go.

    I don't understand why I can take the privy, but I can hardly bear to even glance at the Storm Pit, Beatrix thought. The Storm Pit was closer along the path to the house, in case the family needed to shelter there during a tornado. Pop said it was a safe place, that as soon as the thunder clouds gathered and the winds began to howl, everyone should drop whatever they're doing and take themselves and baby Curtis out to this Pit, open up the door on the ground and crawl into the dark earthen hole so they wouldn’t be blown away.

    “I'm sure there are spiders in that Pit,” Beatrix had told Pauline one day. She wasn’t scared of spiders if they were out where a person could see them and watch their little lives as they made their glistening webs and caught the pesky flies. The ones that sneaked into dark places and waited, those were the spiders that scared Beatrix. She was sure the Pit was full of them. But, she thought now, it is more than just spiders that scare me about the place, or I'd be scared of the privy. She remembered how she had told Pauline, “Even if a tornado comes, I don't plan on going inside the Storm Pit ever.”

    “It's just a hole in the ground with a trapdoor on top,” Pauline had said, “and you'll be glad to go inside if a tornado heads our way. The Pit will keep us safe. You'll go in it someday, you'll see.”

    “No, never,” Beatrix had said, firmly. “I'll never go in that hole.”



  2. #2
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I like third person better. I think you should cut down on Beatrix's first person thoughts or maybe even eliminate them completely and make it all third person. A single sentence first person thought here and there is not bad, but an extended paragraph like you have starts clashing pretty quick.

    I think your writing is fat and contains unnecessary detail. Compare these two paragraphs:

    The path back to the kitchen wound between the quiet old trees with their leafy branches that rustled as the breeze blew. She passed the privy outhouse that was nearly covered by a honeysuckle vine. She paused there to rest, even though not in real need to relieve herself. Inside the rickety door half blocked by blossoms of honeysuckle was the two-seater toilet over the deeply dug hole where the waste went. Sometimes Beatrix and Pauline came down in the morning together, and every time, they had use a twig to swish around to make sure no spiders had taken up household in the holes they sat on to go.

    The path back to the kitchen wound between quiet old trees with leafy branches rustling in the breeze. Just past the privy nearly covered by a honeysuckle vine, she stopped to rest. Inside the rickety door, half blocked by honeysuckle blossoms, was the two-seater toilet. Sometimes Beatrix and Pauline came down in the morning, and they always swished a twig around the holes to make sure no spiders were there before they sat.


    If I can cut your writing by a third with no loss of meaning, and it reads better, then you need to do some cutting.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 08-28-2012 at 08:44 AM.

  3. #3
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    Thanks John. I see where you're coming from. I'd have to argue that your version is terribly stark, though. Isn't the sentence Sometimes Beatrix and Pauline came down in the morning together, and every time, they had use a twig to swish around to make sure no spiders had taken up household in the holes they sat on to go. more lovely than Sometimes Beatrix and Pauline came down in the morning, and they always swished a twig around the holes to make sure no spiders were there before they sat. I like the taken up household phrase, in other words. But I know you are probably right about slimming it down some.

  4. #4
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Sure...you put it in your own words, not mine. My point is that there's a lot of dead wood to eliminate with no ill effect. People don't need to read the holes are where the waste goes, they already know it.

    The reason there's so much dead wood is that you first wrote it in first person. First person is almost 100% certain to add dead wood to the writing of beginning writers, because they haven't yet developed the mental discipline of storytelling. They're all interested in "being" the character and exploring all the rabbit trails the creation of a character brings forth. The story takes a back seat to the character. That's why I usually tell beginners to write in third person to give themselves mental distance from the character and give the story more prominence in their minds.

  5. #5
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    Yes, I see. Another thought -- I did debate whether to put that in about the waste. I could say it a different way, but I guess I was teaching the reader who may never have heard of a privy or an outhouse (children age 8-9-10).

  6. #6
    Senior Member Lea Zalas's Avatar
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    Third person is much better. But you do need editing. Remember, children get bored very quickly and you have to get the story across quickly. As for 'waste,' I doubt that 8 to 10 year olds will know what you're talking about with that word either. I would just leave it out. Talk about sitting on the holes and using newspaper, and I think they'll get the idea.

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    Thanks for reading and commenting; it really helps me.

  8. #8
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    You have the words "toilet" and "sat". I think just about any 8-10 year old will grasp that concept.

  9. #9
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    I like this. But I preferred the first person. I liked her voice. I agree with the others that you need to cut some-- the spider paragraph is a good example of way too much. Also in that paragraph, the word "glistening" stood out to me as not the kind of word she'd use. Also "I don't understand why I can "take" the privy" is too modern a usage, IMO. And not to be a contrarian, but I don't see any problem with "waste," esp. for that age group.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Lea Zalas's Avatar
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    It's not that there's a problem with the word itself, but I don't think that 8-10 year olds think of it as 'waste.' Like John said, sitting on the toilet will convey everything. Also, I do believe that kids that age will know what an outhouse is.

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