Daughter of Smoke and Bone: A Study on Using Tense

currently playing on my iPod: Cold Dust Girl by Hey Champ

So I’m reading Daughter of Smoke and Boneby Laini Taylor and I’ve already seen some cool uses of tense. Things I’ve never seen in the YA genre.

The book is written in past tense, but there are times when Ms. Taylor brings in present. In the excerpt below, she works with present to set the scene and then switches to past for the ongoing action. (And, no, I don’t think this will spoil anything if you’ve not read it.)

Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. The river captures all the lights and teases them out, long and wavering, and the side-slashing rain blurs it all to a dream.

This was Akiva’s first sight of Prague; he hadn’t been the one to…

I’ll not go any further so you can enjoy the story without spoilers.

As you can see, Ms. Taylor uses present so that the scene of Prague feels like it has always been there. Like Prague is a beautiful backdrop to the play between Akiva and Karou (the MC).

I enjoyed this writing quirk of hers because she did it well and refrained from overusing the technique. She writes in past tense for the majority of the story–I’m so glad because I find present tense distracting–and highlights certain passages, set ups, with the present tense which results in a richer read.

If you are not a writer and/or editor, you may never notice tense as you enjoy a book. If you’re reading good/great novels, you shouldn’t. It should be seamless. Smooth. And Laini Taylor’s work is just that. Smooth and lovely.

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