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May 16th, 2005, 11:43 PM
It's no secret that the vast majority of writing on a large scale is done in the past tense... Is this because it is actually easier to read, or do writers find it easier to work in the past tense?

May 17th, 2005, 12:27 AM
Speaking generally, most people find present tense distracting. Since most writing is done in the past tense, the "novelty" of present tense calls attention to itself. Part of the issue is also, that most stories we tell each other are all told in the past tense. Think about any anecdote you've ever told a friend or relative; its always in the past tense. This familiarity makes present tense stand out.

don't think its too difficult to write in past vs. present, as its primarily verb tense.

Speaking personally, I do not have too much of a problem with the present tense. However, when I do read it, it tends to have a less forceful, more passive feel. That's entirely subjective, though.


May 17th, 2005, 01:33 AM
i would add that past tense offers some tools that present doesn't, like the ability to 'layer' a story with flashbacks, narrative interjections, etc. without breaking tense, ie. without switching out of present to go to past tense to do a bit of exposition, or just to have characters speak with one another.

present is much more of a gimmick in my mind, good for shorts or even for sections of larger works, but really not suited for the 'bread and butter' of storytelling.

May 17th, 2005, 02:04 AM
I prefer to write stories in past tense. It is more difficult to write in present tense, and invariably, I make more mistakes. This may be because past tense is what I learned, it's what I'm used to. No judgement on which is better.

If you were going to write in present tense, it seems that it would work better if you were to also write in first person.--just a thought. :)


May 17th, 2005, 04:21 AM
If you were going to write in present tense, it seems that it would work better if you were to also write in first person.--just a thought. :)

And an interesting one.

Because, intuitively, I'd say that 3rd person present tense is vastly easier. Because that would entail an observer who's not too busy doing things to narrate.

How do you pull off a character who comments every (other) step he makes?

May 17th, 2005, 06:42 PM
This is actually an interesting issue for me because a good part of my current ms. is coming out in present tense. I'm finding I'm writing the action scenes in present tense, and I'm letting myself do it for the moment. I don't naturally lean toward present tense, but it seems to work for this story, which is using first person narration, to get out the character voice, use of language, description style, etc. So right now it's a messy mix, though a few who've seen early pages found it wasn't that distracting. Probably, I'm going to end up changing it all to past tense, or keep only small bits in present tense, as I'm not really looking for a present tense style, but it does seem to help creatively.

Present tense is a different rhythm, more intense, more staccato. It makes readers more aware of structure and language, which can be a boon or a hindrance. It has more of an oration feel to it, which is one reason why it can be a bit wearying to read over a long stretch. And I think what Ward said about cohesiveness re flashbacks and the like is relevent. But it's also true that some stories written in present tense have been treasured pieces. If you're doing something with a lot of language play, strong emotional content, fragments, or that sort of thing, it can be very effective. It pops up in sf/f fiction mostly in short stories, I'd say.

May 17th, 2005, 10:39 PM
I ask because I too and working on a present tense first person work... there is a lot of internal monologue/internal conflict due to the nature of the world (complicated to explain) but it seems to be the only way I can write this story, and people like what they have read, but only a very small part of the entire story is written.
I was wondering if having an entire story in this tense would wear on a reader and that is why we don't see more of it.

I started using it in short stories and there is a LOT you can do with it, and then I got this idea for a long story... Guess we will just have to see.

May 18th, 2005, 12:15 AM
Just because it's present tense doesn't make it bad. Lovecraft like to write 2nd person present tense (well, he did it a few times). Talk about weird feeling.

But pick the tense that feels right. I've never done a present tense work, but there's no reason not to.

May 18th, 2005, 01:08 AM
The only word of caution is to know your audience. I personally don't mind present tense one bit, however there are some people who are put off by it. Because it is a departure from the norm, present tense will call attention to itself. This will naturally cause people to like it (present tense? cool!) or dislike it (present tense? ugh, show off). So, there is nothing wrong with doing just know that choosing to use it may alienate some readers.

Now that being said, every choice we make will alienate certain readers. My advice would be to go for it (write it in present tense). If it doesn't sound any better, or achieve any stronger effect over past tense, consider converting back. Making an artistic choice which may alienate some readers is fine. Making a choice which produces no real artistic improvement and may alienate readers anyway is probably a bad idea.


May 22nd, 2005, 10:25 PM
It's known that some others move between the present and past tense (usually moving towards present during action sequences) but has it ever stood out to you as readers?
As writers have you ever tried to use this, and what kinds of challenges do you feel it presents?
And then I am sure there are some people out there that just hate the thought of this, what is it that makes you feel this way?
How could it be done better and flow more seamlessly?