1. Maxtina
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    Maxtina Banned

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    Present Tense Style

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Maxtina, Sep 5, 2009.

    Hi guys!
    I have this style of writing my stories in "present" tense (like summarizing a movie...) and I wonder if that's right...
    Do you think I shouldn't do that? I mean, it's kind of my style and I like it, but is that wrong?
     
  2. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does it sound "right" for the story you're working on? That's what you should focus on since there's no right or wrong answer. The tense and point of view used should be ones that seem to work best--in your opinion--for your story.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's not 'wrong' but it sure isn't easy to read... or to write well enough to get away with it, either... and doesn't make any sense to me...

    why don't you try past tense?... don't you find that most of the novels and stories you read are written that way?

    if you're writing just for your own amusement, then it won't matter... but if you hope to sell your work, it does...
     
  4. Maxtina
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    Maxtina Banned

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    So it's not "wrong"... Good!:)
    I think after awhile when I post a few parts for you guys to review, you see what I'm talking about!
    So I guess you should see for yourselves my friends. then if you felt like doesn't make any sense or it doesn't sound right for the story, I WILL change this habit!
     
  5. bethany123
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    bethany123 New Member

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    Personally I like stories written in present tense because it gives a feel of being there and of time passing. However it can be very tricky to get right and it is easy to just summarise. So I would say it depends on whether you can pull present tense off successfully, and it may be easier to write in past tense to begin with.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It isn't "wrong", but is seldom a really good choice. You essentially lock the pace of the story to the reader's reading rate, because you synchronize the passage of time with every present tense verb in narration. A locked, unvarying pace is rarely desirable. Modulating the pace is a key tool in telling a good story.

    Any decent writer can create a good sense of immediacy writing in past tense. "Past" cane ranges from milliseconds ago to eons in the past. It's all under the writer's control. Present tense lacks that fine control.
     
  7. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, and just to see an example where the present tense was a good choice and one that wasn't, check out these books:

    The Hunger Games by Collins: good--I didn't even notice that it was in present tense; it seemed completely natural

    Willow by Hoban: bad--it read very awkward and I kept instinctively revising the sentences into past tense
     
  8. Syne
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    Syne Member

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    I've seen the present tense used to powerful effect in in the prologue and certain intermissions in Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. The author indeed managed to instill a sense of immediacy in these short narratives, in which he describes the city the novel takes place in. These narratives have left a very powerful impression on me.

    I can't recall any novel written entirely in the present tense, but it sounds doable. I've been writing snippets using the tense myself recently, and have been satisfied by the result (though whether it would satisfy others, I have no idea).
     
  9. daturaonfire
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    daturaonfire Senior Member

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    Murakami's 'After Dark' is a novella written entirely in present tense; even when the narrator refers to themselves and talks about themselves I remained rooted in the story. That would be a great novel to study if you want to see it in action successfully.
     
  10. Maxtina
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    Maxtina Banned

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    You know, it's like telling the story in the time you're in. Like, I use past tense when I want to explain something that happened before "now" that I'm telling you about it.

    Here's a sample. It's not a part of the story or anything, just something I'll make up right now and write here for example. I don't have time to revise and I'll just write it directly. Sorry guys,but forget about the mistakes since this is not the right place to review and I respect the laws! Just notice the way it's told:

    incident: Jane went out last week and she ran into an old 'intimate' family friend, Rick there. Now she wants to talk to her husband, John about it.

    -->
    Jane sits behind the dinner table watching her husband grabbing the glass of water. For a moment, she remains silent. She has no idea how to tell John about Rick. It's not that simple because if she begins talking about Rick, then he's gonna ask questions that she can't answer; Rick is the only ex that Jane excluded from the list of things she told her husband. "We weren't even close" was her response to whether this family friend was involved with Jane or not. On the other hand, she has to tell him because the urge to talk about it is just too unbearable and well... she has no one else to talk to.
    Why did it have to be Rick? Seeing old friends always makes Jane happy but... God, couldn't he at least act normal?! Why did he take her hand like that, walking next to her too close that she could smell his breath... oh his smell!
    All those shiny times flashes right in front of her eyes by only thinking of his smell. She can't dare thinking of other things about Rick; his smile, his moves...
    "Jane?"
    Why should the one person she loved most look into her eyes again? Maybe God's trying to put her in some kind of a test, Jane wonders.
    "Jane?"
    It's not a test, it's a torture for Christ's sake! Is she supposed to just call him and say hi? Or just ignore the fact that they did meet again? He gave her his number... He saw her wedding ring, she did tell him that she's married now. So why did he act like that? How come he's not married anyway? No, it can't be because he still... loves her?!
    "JANE?!"
    "WHAT?!" Jane yells back. She's waken up now! Still sitting behind the table. John is looking at her, concerned.
    "Are you OK?!" he asks in a low tune.
    "Of course I am! Why?!"
    John looks below. Jane follows John's look to... her own hands to see the bread torn to little pieces. Jane remains silent, looking down still. She can feel the heavy look of John hammering her down. She has to get out now. So, she suddenly stands up.
    "I'm gonna take a walk outside," she says, grabbing her coat in a hurry. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Just wanna smoke a cigarette"
    Jane shuts the door behind her, leaving John pinned to the chair in wonder. taking a deep breath, he gets up to clean up the table, but sees something on the floor: Jane's cigarette pack. He picks it up and runs to the door, but the moment he opens it, the elevator's door closes.
    By the time she gets out of the building, Jane has made up her mind. She stands still for a moment, closes her eyes, feeling the cold wind refreshing her skin. Then puts her hand into her packet looking for something; not the cigarettes, the paper with Rick's number on it, so that she could throw it away. She has a great life, a good career and a good husband; why would she want to destroy it all just to feel that young days feeling again? she's not young anymore!
    She wants to do it as long as she can, as long as she's reasonable. But she can't find the paper... where is it?!
    John wants to put the pack on the table when it falls down. he bends to pick it but spots something sticking out of the pack... a little piece of paper.
    Jane is hysterical; where is the damned paper?! In the elevator, She keeps hitting the button like it would make it faster. The door opens and she runs towards her apartment. The moment she gets to the door, she takes a deep breath and tries to act normal, just find the paper if it's in there. But when she gets in, she sees John sitting behind the table with something in his hand: Rick's number.
    Suddenly she feels so cold. It's like her heart just stopped beating. John is looking right at her, not really sure what should his assumptions or reactions be. He shakes the paper,
    "Do you wanna talk a bout this? Where you ever gonna tell me about this?!"


    Thanks dear!:)

    Thanks...
    I looked for that story but didn't find it on the web... such a shame!
    :)

    yeah, to be honest, for me writing present is much easier than past! I know it's weird but I've been like this all my life: Doing the easy thing hard and doing the hard thing easier! I'm weird, no?!
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Easier isn't always best, though. Something unfamiliar always seems harder at first, but the benefits are often worthwhile.

    You asked a question, remember? And received several opinions in response.
     
  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read your example, and while the use of present tense seems useful to seperate her flashback thoughts, it does feel like reading a screenplay. In a screenplay the story is explained, rather than told, and it's usually always in present tense. Halfway through your example I began to feel like you were explaining the story rather than telling it, which made it a bit tiresome to read. I'm not 100% sure, but I think it's because of the present tense itself.
     
  13. Doreen Cusack
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    Doreen Cusack New Member

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    Imagine after you've finished your novel, a publisher wishes to buy it, but they say, "You have to rewrite this in the past tense, because we feel that is what readers want."

    Great you made a sale. Now all you have to do is rewrite the whole damn novel, and it will not be so easy, especially if you are not used to writing in the past tense.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Far more likely that you'll hear either nothing from the publisher, or a polite rejection letter.

    If you've written it in present tense, chances are you'll turn the publisher off from the beginning, and he or she will quickly move on to the next manuscript in the gargantuan slush pile.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Present tense style.... should be avoided at all costs.

    It's a rookie mistake. It's fine to do as an exercise for yourself. Stretch the old writing muscles if your feeling a bit cramped, but honestly, think about it. Rummage through the novels you have read and pull out all the present tense style novels you have read.

    The pile you will create is known in mathematics as the empty set.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    horus...
    i hope you'll forgive me for correcting this bit, but as i mentor aspiring screenwriters, i feel it's important to not give the wrong impression about how a script is written and why, which could confuse newbies who don't know better yet...

    not really 'explained'... action details are laid out simply, as a blueprint for the cast and crew to follow... the descriptions are kept simple, to allow the technicians to bring them to life with their expertise... the story is 'disclosed' through all of that and the dialog...

    and a script is always written in present tense, not just 'usually always'... the reason, of course, being that all is actually done 'in the flesh' and in real time, by real people and not just reported on, as one does in prose...
     
  17. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're picking at details in my wording. Saying that a screenplay "explains the story rather than telling it" is just a briefer way of pointing out the difference between that, and a novel.
    Obviosuly, the "telling" is left to the director, crew and cast.
     
  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I recently read "The First Council" by Brad Meltzer, which was in present tense.

    Excellent book, and highly recommended!

    That said, I do not think that I, personally, would write a book in present tense, nor do I think it would be "easier" -- to the contrary, I think it would be harder.

    Charlie
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it certainly might be easier for some... the hard part is doing it well!
     
  20. VillaDonna
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    VillaDonna New Member

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    I must say that I like the tens you are writing in. The story seems more alive and the reader feels like part of it.
    There is no reason to change the way you write.
     
  21. Robert
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    Robert Banned

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    Hi Maxtina,

    There's nothing wrong with using present tense. It's not as common as past tense, but it's perfectly respectable and some excellent stories have been written using it. But I'm going to be honest with you, having read the sample you posted - and I know it's not polished yet - I think there are still many other issues for you to address with your writing. So, don't worry too much about which tense you're using. Experiment with present, and with past too, if you wish to, and see how you get on. By the time you're ready, who knows, it may no longer be an issue for you anyhow.

    Good luck with your writing.

    Cheers,
    Rob
     

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