1. Terrie000
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    Terrie000 Member

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    Story tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Terrie000, Jul 8, 2016.

    Ok... I decided to write my story with present tense. I hope I won't get massive disapproval over this. I just think writing in present tense will make my story more presence as it is happening at the current time as the reader... more intimate this way.

    Anyway, I already wrote it in present tense. Just want to know if people will think this is totally unacceptable or is it something other writers do as well? (I know that telling story is supposed to be past tense traditionally, but I'm stubbornly going against that, and my novel is fantasy/fiction).
     
  2. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    I know there are many people on this forum that don't like present tense - in fact some hate it with a passion. I personally don't much care for it but I think you'll find there are plenty that don't mind it all. I don't think it's unacceptable at all, you write in whatever tense you like. It's your story after all (I think I've used the word 'all' too many times now!!). If you put your story in the workshop people will critique it whether they like present tense or not, it really doesn't matter - it's the writing quality that counts. Past or present is really just a personal choice, so go for it :)
     
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  3. SweetOrbMace
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    SweetOrbMace Member

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    I wouldn't dismiss a story based on its tense alone. And I hope no one would... but hey. One of my favourite books (albeit little known - Ghost Writer by Gregory Norminton) was written in alternating present tense and past tense to highlight the different periods of the story. It created an appropriate atmosphere for the book's themes. So if it fits your story and you do it well, go for it.
     
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  4. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    People do present tense. You see it in stories with journal/diary/log kind of stuff going on, for example. It's normally done for particular reasons. But doing simply because you like the effect is fine. If it works, it works.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Plenty of books are written in present tense (The Hunger Games anyone?) and do well.

    I'm one of the people who hate it, but I can still read books in it if they're really, really good.

    Just so you know...
    This is why I don't like the tense. It doesn't feel more intimate and tense. It sucks tension out of a piece, and it's awkward to read unless it's done really well (which I've rarely seen).
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2016
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  6. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    I write in present tense, and so do many others. I think it's a lot harder to do satisfactorily, that's one of the things about breaking a standard, but it's completely doable.
    It makes me sad when I see that people dismiss stories on tense, but it also motivates me to write it so well that they like it anyway. It's a nice challenge.

    Beware, Tenderiser; I've got my eye on breaking you.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Present tense is fine and done quite a bit.
     
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  8. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    Yep. The tense really bugged me when I read The Hunger Games at first, and then at some point I just got used to it. I stopped paying attention to it. In fact my brain adapted to it in such a way that I found present-tense bleeding into my own writing from time to time, which was annoying. So no, I don't love present tense, but I can deal with it. If you feel good about it, then go for it. It's a huge pain to go in and change the tense after it's all written anyway.
     
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  9. Terrie000
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    Terrie000 Member

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    Thanks for all that replied. I am a novice writer (actually not even considered myself a writer, I haven't really wrote anything worth showing yet), and I am not a reader (that's why I don't know others have written books in present tense, I'm surprised at that fact!!!).
     
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  10. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    It's pretty common nowadays. You're not breaking new ground at all, which is good. Any tense is fine as long as the story is engaging.
     
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  11. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    If you really want to be a writer, you need to read and read a lot. Without reading I don't think it is possible for anyone to be a very good writer. Why would you not want to see how the pros do it? Tense is not your problem. Your problem is that you're not reading.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Plenty of books, though still very much a minority, are written in present tense.

    I don't find present-tense more in-the-moment or intimate. I find that it distracts me and breaks suspension of disbelief, because if this is happening Right Now, how am I reading about it? If you're being attacked by a lizard-headed zombie, how do you have time to write those carefully crafted sentences about it?

    I'd guess that if I read more present tense I could regain suspension of disbelief--it's not different from the question of, "If that happened when you were six, how do you remember what everybody said so precisely?" But I see present tense as an obstacle that the writer has to overcome, not an advantage that is working for them.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    What do you do if you're reading a past tense novel that couldn't possibly have been committed to writing (for example, a POV character dies before there being any possibility of writing down what happened)? I guess what I'm asking is whether it makes sense to assume a novel is a character's actual narrative of past events*, any more than it makes sense to assume that in a movie the characters had someone walking around behind them with a video camera while everything was happening.

    *Excepting, of course, situations where the author explicitly sets it up as an account of past events.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Neither of them make sense. I suppose that's my point, even though I'm approaching it backwards. The present tense isn't real to the reader, either in the sense of making the action feel more immediate, or in the sense of it breaking suspension of disbelief. And the past tense is no more real. I think that humans more naturally tell stories in past tense and that they have for hundreds of years, but I have no actual evidence to prove that. (I could probably prove that more novels are in the past tense, easily, but "more naturally tell stories" should also include spoken stories, and there I have nothing.)
     
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  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think that's true. I think we began telling stories of things that actually happened, or at least were meant to have actually happened, as a way of passing down knowledge. And I think that many more novels use past tense than present tense. But in terms of the average novel in which there is never any implication that the events ever really happened (and instead quite the contrary), I don't see it as making much difference. That's from a theoretical standpoint only - I understand that from the standpoint of preference, some people are going to like present tense and some people aren't, just like with any other aspect of style.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe--based on no evidence whatsoever--that it's more than preference, that our brains and language have evolved to tell and hear stories in the past tense, and that therefore the preference is in our wiring. If I had another lifetime and the tuition, I might try to research and write a PhD thesis on the subject. But until then, that's purely my theory.
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I honestly think the preference comes from just whatever we're used to reading. If someone reads ten books in a row in present tense, by the eleventh book I don't think it will be jarring at all. I used to find it annoying, then I got used to it, and now I couldn't tell you what tense most of the books I read are in.

    That said, I also don't think it will enhance the reading. I think tense, like the difference between first person and third person, is a red herring. Immediate, gripping writing is immediate and gripping for reasons other than tense (or POV).
     
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  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. I've spent quite a lot of idle time musing about my intense dislike of the tense and I came to the same conclusion--it's jarring because we naturally tell stories in the past tense.

    I also have no evidence, just anecdata from a sample size of 1. :)
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep yep. One anecdotal piece of evidence against the admittedly-logical "it's what you're used to" is the fact that I despised the present tense in Babar when I was a very very small child who had so far been exposed to very few books.
     
  20. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    I take issue with the 'naturally'. Convention is not nature, not at all.
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You do realise what 'naturally' means in this context, don't you? It doesn't mean originating from nature and it's hardly an exotic use of the word. :meh:
     
  22. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    I'm reading it as a statement that when humans as a whole tell a story, they default to past tense. We do, in the western world, but all humans? I doubt that.
    That's without saying that present comes naturally to me.
     
  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And it reads very unnaturally to me. Perhaps I'm sensing a defensiveness that isn't there (hard to tell in forum posts) but I'm not making a judgement about the quality of anyone's work. I just don't like to read it, any more than I like to read medieval fantasy books. There are plenty of readers out there, so nobody needs my custom. ;)
     
  24. BayView
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    I'm not even sure we do it consistently in the Western world. There's a casual style of story telling that's definitely present tense - "So we're at the mall, right? And we're just walking along, minding our own business, when all of a sudden he shows up, and he's all chummy and sweet to Amanda but he doesn't say a single word to me. etc." And I've certainly heard people recount their dreams in present tense, especially if it's a recurring dream.

    Good ol' nature vs. nurture. Who knows?
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    But plenty of people like present tense just fine. I know some who prefer it. We all share the same biological ancestry, so it seems to me that convention is the more likely explanation, albeit a convention with a sound historical basis.
     
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