1. neuropsychopharm
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    neuropsychopharm Active Member

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    Present Tense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by neuropsychopharm, Jan 21, 2013.

    I wasn't sure where to post this, so I hope it's okay to go here.

    I've noticed only recently my past few pieces have been written in the present tense, first person POV, and some people seem to have a problem with this. It's just my style, I guess. I'm trying to get into someone's head, and I feel the present tense conveys inner thought in a better way for me. Do you think present tense is detrimental to the story telling?
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I wrote one story in present tense but I found it really hard to keep up. All action had to
    be immediate, in the now. That's hard it's like saying - I'm sneezing. An action so brief
    that even as your saying it, it could already be over. To me, I sneezed sounds more natural.

    I don't think it's detrimental to story telling. But I also find that without a firm
    handle on it - it can breed more mistakes than any other tense. Maybe, I'm
    wrong about this but that's what I felt when I was working on my story. With other
    tenses, I feel more freedom to mix - I sneezed, before climbing on my bike.
     
  3. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    I normally like past tense better for some reason. However, I wrote my first, first person story and posted it here and for some reason, it was in present tense. All in all, if it's well written and captures the reader, as long as the tense is consistent I don't think it'll matter.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I think present tense has lots of limitations in storytelling, as opposed to past or mixed tense. Also I don't think you should consider it to be "your style" just because you wrote a few recent pieces using that format. We all experiment with writing and in my opinion, it is only after we mastered writing in all tenses and points of view, when we feel confident that we have ability to tell any story we wish, that we start using appropriate skills to tell the story rather than try to fit a story into the form wr feel most comfortable in.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Detrimental? No. Does it personally annoy me? Kinda. But I suppose it can be written right, like anything else. I've written something one time in present 1st person and I liked it a lot. So it's not detrimental. For me, it just tends to remind me that I am reading a story, instead of allowing me to get lost in the world of the story. Not always, but to me, it happens more often with this tense. But if it's what you excel at writing in, do it.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'd avoid anything written in first/present, at it's very annoying to me... as it is to many other readers... plus, next to no one does it well... especially not new writers...

    if you don't have an extremely good reason for doing so, i'd strongly advise against it...
     
  7. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with it. Some people won't like it, but your writing's never going to please everyone. It is, I think, trickier to do well than using past tense, but the only way you'll get better is to practice.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    No. I've read a lot of good novels/stories written in present tense. I don't think I've ever read anything written in first person and present tense, however. A lot of people seem to dismiss it right away, but I'm of the opinion that no style of writing is inherently good or bad.
     
  9. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I've written one short story in first person present tense. I liked it the best out of all the stories I have written. Interestingly, though, other people have preferred other stories. I think it gives an intensity and and urgency, that other tenses don't. Most stories (these days) are written 3rd person, past tense, so that is what people are used to reading. But we are capable of adaptation. I remember when I first started reading Trainspotting (written with no inverted commas for dialogue, and everything written in Glaswegian) I struggled for a couple of pages and then got into it: if the story and writing is good enough, anything goes.

    I agree with Jazzabel, though: experiment with different tenses and POV's.
     
  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @thirdwind: I agree, "detriment" is not the right word, it's "limitation" but when you say that you read "a lot" of these novels/stories in present tense, how many books exactly can you remember reading that were written all in present tense? I'm an avid reader, from classic to contemporary, and I don't know any excellent books written exclusively in present tense.

    Present tense is a limitation as compared to past tense or mixed tense, and just because occasionally a short story may sound cool when written in that way, it remains an unpopular choice with most writers because it simply makes it difficult to write any kind of complex narrative.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I know a few off the top of my head.

    If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
    The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Rabbit, Run by John Updike
    Room by Emma Donoghue
    C by Tom McCarthy
    Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (I'm pretty sure there's another book by him written in present tense)
    Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    I've also read a lot of short stories in various magazines that use present tense that I thought were good.

    Several of Jose Saramago's novels have long passages of present tense. He switches a lot between tenses. Bleak House by Charles Dickens also has lots of present tense. But neither are written exclusively in present tense.

    I disagree. Present tense gives a sense of immediacy that past tense doesn't. Each tense has its limitations. I think most readers are just not used to seeing present tense a lot, so they have difficulty adjusting to it.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am pretty sure that a few of those are in mixed tense, including both present and past. I also agree about the immediacy of the present tense which is why it is very useful in writing in general, but an entire novel written only in present tense would feel too much "in your face" and it would be difficult to follow. Short stories I am sure would be fine, but I was referring to novels.

    Novels written exclusively or predominantly in present tense are only a small proportion, and there is a good reason for that. I think they are always a bit of an experiment, which sometimes produces awesome results. But not often, which is a limitation.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of that for me...
     

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