Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Love For The Present?

Since I made the switch from screenwriting to novels, I've discovered that some people don't care for present tense. In fact some people have violent hate for present tense prose. I find this curious. I rarely notice tense when I'm reading and the times I do, it's usually because a book written in past tense has suddenly confused me as to when something is happening/has happened. (That whole, "I'm saying it in the past tense but it's really happening right now" thing hurts my brain.)

I tend to naturally write in present tense. I used to think this was because of screenwriting - scripts are written in present tense. But then one day I was flipping through my old journals and I discovered I've always written in present tense. And that made me think about the way people tell stories. I think in our daily lives, we use present tense much more often than you might think.

I'm sure you've had a conversation that went something like this:

"You won't believe what happened to me today!"


"So, I'm in the store and this guy comes up and is like, did it hurt? And I go, um, what? And he gives me this big cheesy grin and says, when you fell out of heaven? And I was like seriously??"

(Okay, hopefully you don't have conversations like this, but you get the point.) The story was told naturally in present tense because she's sort of reliving it. It makes the moment more immediate. So with this in mind, I am really curious what it is that those of you that hate present tense find so awful about it. I've read terms like "jarring" and "annoying" and I wonder what about it gives you those feelings.


  1. Unfortunately I'm not fond of it. It is really hard to pull off and I think that's a lot of the issue most people have with it. It won't deter me from buying a book that has been recommended to me though. I have loved several present tense novels so I'm not dead set against it. It just has to be done really well or otherwise I feel distanced from the character.

  2. This is so interesting to me because I feel no difference between the two in first person. What about it makes it feels distancing to you?

  3. I don't have any issues with first person present. In fact, in my last ms, I would slip into present tense, and kept forcing myself back into past tense for the reasons you mention. Maybe I'll let myself go next time around. :)

  4. That happens to me every time I try to write in past tense! I start out okay and then slip into present tense, sometimes I don't notice for a long time. So annoying. I think I should just stick to present in the future!

  5. I *heart* present tense too. The only present tense that took me a minute to get into, was third person present. And only because I don't see that often.


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