past tense

Should Historical Fiction Be Written in Past Tense?

Dear Editor…

I want to ask you if my middle grade historical fiction should be written in past tense, or is it acceptable/marketable to write in historical present? It is currently written in historical present, but I am open to revising to past tense if you feel it will be better received upon submission.

Writing It Like It Was

Dear Writing It Like It Was…

Present tense is a valid choice for middle grade historical fiction. In fact, there’s a school of thought that says the sense of immediacy injected into a narrative by present tense is extra honey for young people too often lured away from books by non-literary activities. There aren’t any rules dictating the tense for MG historical fiction, and I suspect most agents and editors would say the tense choice depends on each story. If one did have a preferred tense for middle grade fiction, it’d probably be present tense because of that “immediacy” thing. Here’s what’s most important to this editor: Present tense organically flowed out of your pen for this story. Stories have a way of telling us what they need, and I believe in listening to them, at least for the first draft. Unless there’s a story-related reason to switch tenses, I recommend you stick with present. Definitely don’t root yourself at your window, peering through the blinds, to see if the Tense Police are coming. If they do show up, let their knocks and shouts go unanswered—you have a WIP to finish. 

Happy writing!
The Editor

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services.