1. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Past vs. Present Tense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cybrxkhan, Sep 21, 2012.

    This is a bit of a dilemma I've been having in my current project (other than the POV issue, but I've temporarily settled on close 3rd person POV) - whether to have the story in past tense or present tense. I notice that I naturally write in both tenses, at least for this story. That is, for instance, when I write one chapter, I'll automatically write present tense even though I intended to originally write in past tense; in the next one, I might try to write present tense to stay consistent with the previous one, but then I find myself naturally switching to past tense.

    I suppose my question here is what are your opinions on the effects of either tense, and which tenses do you prefer in which situations and why? I'd like to see what you folks think, and perhaps that can help me figure out maybe which tense is suited for this project. (If it helps, the project is basically a heavily character-driven slice-of-life, more or less)
     
  2. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I very much want advice on this too.
     
  3. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    To be completely honest, I don't really know...

    What baffles me is how all the 'best sellers' or popular fiction books at least in this modern age are all written in past tense. But, when I take professional writing courses at university, it's all about simplicity... writing short story after short story with no guidelines. Yet instructors use shorts stories written in PRESENT tense to guide us students. Before writing a few short stories in present tense, I never used it. I always stuck with past tense. But after trying it out, I really like present tense.

    I may be wrong, but I think it comes down to the conventions of literature at this time... As in, publishers prefer past tense because it sells better... maybe because we live in a time where MOST popular works are written in past tense, and therefore the consensus may be at least in the professional/business world that past sells better because people enjoy it over present...

    I could be off the ball completely.
     
  4. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Write one of your favorite pages in every tense. See which represents the feeling you want the most. Which feels right?

    For my genre Dark Fantasy / Quest novel would do 3rd Person Omnisc and swap to Limited to narrow the view and cause fear or highest tension, then jump back to Omnisc for speed again. You have to know your story, what your purpose is. If you are doing a mystery or Drama > First person past tense is super fun for the reader and fast paced. If you are doing Fantasy 3rd person allows narrative interjection and you can play with the reader using commentary - Rowling does this with her fun made up stuff. 3rd Present feels weird to me.

    I personally do 3rd person past only, but plan on doing a 1rst person past. I tend to get annoyed with present tense. Feels too limited.

    If you have lots of flashbacks like the TV series LOST or Once Upon a Time. 3rd Present may be better because writing past in the past tense is ugly looking Saying things like She had had to run.. etc.

    Tenses I'm going to do fast examples so they may be a little off, but you get the idea--after Ill talk about it:

    3rd Past Limited: She ran as fast as she could, "stop!" she yelled.
    3rd Past Omnisc: She ran faster than she ever had. Everyone behind her was watching in awe. "Stop!" she yelled.
    3rd Past | Flash Back: She had ran as fast as she could have, "stop!" she had yelled.
    3rd Present: She runs as fast as she can. "Stop!" she yells.
    1rst Past: I ran. I ran faster than I ever have. "Stop!" I yelled.


    ---

    First your Genre sometimes leans toward one or the other. Next you may have a preference and there's nothing wrong with that, its your authorial voice.


    1rst Past: Drama Mystery
    Pro:Can be engrossing, very fast passed. Dramatic. Can add dangerous feeling. You can get to know the character well, but can be limited.
    Con: Very hard to swap perspectives, hard to get broad views across, your stuck with one limited view.
    3rst Past: Favorite of Fantasy, Quest, Historical
    Pro: Can switch from omnisc to limited and back easily. Trusted narrator, unless you state otherwise in the narrative. Very broad easy to move story view.
    Con: Tends to get new authors to Tell and not show too much, Not as personal
    Not a fan of the Present tenses.
     
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Past tense tends to be the more used, and possibly (I could be wrong) preferred, style of writing for fiction. I know how teachers like to teach the present tense, because that's how they teach English as a whole, but it may, or may not, be the most acceptable form.

    Once again, it boils down to individual writer's style.
     
  6. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I write in 3rd person past tense, or try to - like you I tend to jump to past and present tense in my writing. I find I prefer to be the narrator in my stories. I did read recently that 3rd person past tense flows better and is easier to read which is an added bonus for anyone who wants their work to be more readable.

    The effect of past and present tense; present its happening now, past has already happened. Doh! I hear you say. It depends, if you the story teller (past) or the participant in the action. (present) From whose perspective is the story from? 3rd person present tense is a hard one and I've never been able to pull it off myself without the text seeming jarred or jerky.

    In your story are you jumping from past and present because you have flash backs? that would makes sense if you were jumping tenses, other wise I think you should stick to one tense throughout.

    Does that make sense?
     
  7. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Thanks all for your advice and suggestions. My preference in the past couple of years has been both first and third person present tense, as I felt there was always something immediate and, therefore, in a way, intimate about it - for me, at least. Previously I did only third person past tense since it was, well, the standard. Now I'm starting to see that third person might be good, too, so I'm just conflicted.

    @SRCroft: I should have thought of that, re-writing a scene or chapter in different tenses! I came across that exercise in one of my how to write books, and I thought it was cool, but I've rarely used it for whatever reason. I just when push to shove if I can't decide it's best to just write it all out and see what fits where or something.


    Oh no, these aren't flashbacks. I'm just writing random chapters here and there, but every time I start a different chapter it's as if I don't remember whether it's third or first person. Or, well, it's like I just flip between them, unsure of which one really works for this story - or, perhaps even, for my writing style.


    Thanks all again for the advice and suggestions.
     

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