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November 4, 2012


Replies: 12

Past-tense narrative VS present tense?

claescc Nov 4, 2012  Hobbyist Writer

What is your preferred writing style?

A narrative is easier to read in the past tense. However some authors still use present tense.

I think it's confusing because everything seems to stand still in time.

A mix of the two is necessary for conversations however not the entire book.

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Devious Comments

Past tense allows for the feeling that the story is known to someone already, whereas present suggests that it's up for grabs. That tends to make me tense, though a good author can make anything work in any voice or tense -- if they use it sparingly...
raspil Nov 5, 2012   Writer
i prefer past. it just makes more sense to me. present makes me, oddly, tense.
I write my stories in past tense. I find that present tense novels feel rushed and forced.

If I really wanted to increase the pace of the novel, I'd do a lot of other things before writing in the present tense. Stripping description, cutting exposition, shortening dialogue beats, and writing briefer scenes in general can all help control pacing.

The perspective might be the most important factor when it comes to the feel of the story, right along with authorial voice. Choosing a perspective is all about what works for the story. If you're confident that a present-tense will strengthen and enhance the narrative, then go for it, but pick a perspective for a reason, not for the sake of it.
thelanyi Nov 5, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I swap between the two depending on what my story lends itself to.
That said, I find past tense easier to write.

When I'm reading I tend to enjoy narratives in past tense more than those in present tense.
I don't know why. It might just be because past tense narratives are much more common and I've grown used to that style.
It depends. I feel like I can step into the characters' shoes more easily and see things the way they do in present tense, as it is 'still happening'; it doesn't feel like something I've missed. However, I also like to be 'told' a story, so long as it's technically and conceptually interesting. Past tense comes in nicely there. I find that stories that involve suspense and action work better in present tense.
AircatSkylion Nov 5, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Both have their good points. I think it's really what you find easiest and best for the story. if 'I say' sounds better in your head than 'I said' then go with Say.
The Hunger Games is written in the present tense, whereas Harry Potter in the past, but both are very successful. So go with what feels right!
HaveTales-WillTell Nov 4, 2012  Professional Writer
Writing in past tense feels natural to the reader, as if they're listening to one of their friends telling them a story. Within that framework, you usually indicate prior events with the past perfect tense (the word 'had').

Present tense is an available writing trick to provide a sense of immediacy, urgency or immersion in the mind of the reader; comedians, for example, often use present tense when telling a long joke, to keep their listeners involved in the plot.

There are other cases in which to consider the present tense, as well; but the rule of thumb is that unless you have a reason to use it, don't; relating a story in the past tense sounds much more natural.
neurotype Nov 5, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Not in French :p
HaveTales-WillTell Nov 5, 2012  Professional Writer
This sounds familiar; I believe we've had this discussion before.
neurotype Nov 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
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