1. Fife
    Offline

    Fife Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2012
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    US

    Your Thoughts on Present-Tense and Past-Tense?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fife, Oct 26, 2012.

    I've been thinking about the strengths (and weaknesses) of writing--namely fiction--in present- or past-tense. My initial feeling is that a lot of books I have read in the past traditionally use past-tense; a lot of popular authors (today) use present-tense still. I wonder if this is for the sake of using what is familiar to the reader? Or is it to complement the storytelling?

    For those of you that possibly are not aware of what I'm talking about, past-tense is like the following:

    He walked to the car and slammed the door shut.

    On the other hand, present-tense would be like the following:

    He walks to the car and slams the door shut.

    I already have a few biases, but I want to hear your thoughts to get, perhaps, a different perspective. Thanks for your time.



    TL
     
  2. MeganHeld
    Offline

    MeganHeld Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2010
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    I think certain tenses are used because of the writer and the book. Each writer is comfortable with one tense over the other. I prefer past tense, while I know many writers that prefer present tense.

    Also, some books do not make sense using present tense; such as novels about the past, historical, sci-fi, etc (I don't know what other genres use it).

    To me, tenses are not a big deal unless they are used improperly.
     
  3. Selbbin
    Online

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia
    I like present tense. But then again, I'm more experienced in writing screenplays.
     
  4. Tassu
    Offline

    Tassu New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2012
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    New Zealand
    My personal preference is past tense. To me the the present tense is distracting to the point where I won't read a book written in present tense.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,967
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Present tense has always annoyed me, even back to picture book age. (I still remember trying to read Babar and being so annoyed that I had to give up.)
     
  6. robertpri007
    Offline

    robertpri007 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2012
    Messages:
    77
    Likes Received:
    3
    To me, scripts should be present tense for the obvious reason, but fiction should be past tense. Depends on the writer, of course.
     
  7. JackElliott
    Offline

    JackElliott Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2011
    Messages:
    155
    Likes Received:
    12
    Sure, and music should be in 4/4 time.

    Thankfully many different tenses and viewpoints exist, and certain writers are daring enough to use them, because what a boring place fiction would be without them.
     
  8. Michelle7
    Offline

    Michelle7 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2012
    Messages:
    27
    Likes Received:
    0
    I prefer past tense. But personally I haven't read anything in present tense lol.
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Some will disagree with me (and have), but I have seen very few novels written in present tense that I didn't feel would have been much better in past tense.

    Patricia Cornwell has written novels in both tenses, and the ones written in present tense are not her best work, in my opinion. Other readers I know who have read the same novels also tend to dislike her present tense novels, although they don't always identify that as the difference.

    Granted, that is not proof. All it really says is that she writes better in past tense. But as a general observation, I overwhelmingly prefer past tense.

    And now, I predict that certain people will be unable to resist arguing in favor of present tense. :)
     
  10. Pheonix
    Offline

    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2012
    Messages:
    5,716
    Likes Received:
    401
    Location:
    The Windy City
    I really don't like reading present tense. Writing it is fun, but those are the stories that end up hidden in the deepest corners of my hard drive. Reading it is disorienting and I never feel like I'm getting the whole picture of what's happening, since it seems like everything is happening at once. So, yeah, I don't like present tense. Past is way easier to understand what's happening.
     
  11. Fife
    Offline

    Fife Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2012
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    US
    Thanks for your comments. It really helps out a lot.
     
  12. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    present annoys the bleep outa me... i was a big fan of cornwell's since her first novel, but when she descends into present tense, she loses me...

    as for scripts, they MUST be in present tense, since they are not intended for reading enjoyment, but as a blueprint to be followed in shooting the film... write one in any other tense and it will be tossed at first sight...
     
  13. JQJohnson
    Offline

    JQJohnson Member

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2012
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Kentucky, USA
    To me it's a bit more complicated. I find third person present tense extremely annoying, and I also find first person past tense equally annoying. I find the first person present tense in Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas series delightful, for example.
    But my question is: Is it past tense that we're talking about?
    In this excerpt from Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys:

    Fat charlie closed the door. He slipped off the safety chain and opened the door all the way. The man was still there.

    That isn't really past tense at all. It's third person. There's a big difference.
    And with the example given by the op, sometimes I prefer "Walking to the car door, he slammed it shut."
     
  14. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,967
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I'm confused. It is third person, yes, and it's also past tense. Third person and past tense aren't mutually exclusive. Third person present tense would be:

    Fat charlie closes the door. He slips off the safety chain and opens the door all the way. The man is still there.

    Your last example is also past tense.
     
  15. Selbbin
    Online

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia
    This thread scares me.

    My current work is primarily in present tense and the blacklash against it has me concerned. Perhaps something for the workshop once I get the ability to post.
     
  16. JQJohnson
    Offline

    JQJohnson Member

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2012
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Kentucky, USA
    The whole third person past tense is vague territory for me, I admit. We the readers follow the action along as if the story is happening right now in our minds, and yet it's past tense, as if it happened centuries ago. I suppose I just think that there should be a difference. My mind is a murky place full of oddities.

    Be not afraid. Unless it is third person present tense. Even then you can make a case for it. Different stories seem to require different styles. My present book did not work at all in third person past. When I bravely and perhaps foolishly changed it to first person present, it just clicked. In this case, it completely changed the story for the better. With a different story, I'll probably go back to third person.
     
  17. Selbbin
    Online

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia
    What I have is 1st person present tense. For example (this not a sample):

    I am standing on the edge of the abyss, waiting for a hand to slip into mine and hold me back.
     
  18. JQJohnson
    Offline

    JQJohnson Member

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2012
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Kentucky, USA
    I myself am fond of reading first person present, when it's done well. As I said earlier, I really like Koontz' Odd Thomas series, and I don't think it would have been nearly as good without the first person present tense. So I say go for it.
     
  19. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    "Walking to the car door, he slammed it shut."

    ...makes no sense, since he can't be slamming the door shut, while he's still walking to it...
     
  20. B93
    Offline

    B93 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    32
    Present tense is much less common in fiction than past tense, and I think it is for the good reasons that it is both harder to make work well, and less familiar. I have read only a few things in present tense, and of those only one seemed to work well for me.
     
  21. robertpri007
    Offline

    robertpri007 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2012
    Messages:
    77
    Likes Received:
    3
    I prefaced my post with, "to me", so it was IMHO. That said, I can't recall reading a good present tense novel. Or course, they exist, but certainly not common.
     
  22. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    I don't notice if something is written in the past or present tense - I just read. As long as the grammar is correct and the tense remains the same or accurate within context, I don't notice at all and will read both quite happily. The tense doesn't affect the story much for me at all.

    As for writing, that's different - I find myself switching to 1st person unconsciously when I get into a story, but I tend to stay in the past tense. On occasions I have slipped into the present tense before though. I find the past tense easier to write, probably because I also read in the past tense most of the time. I find some sentences awkward to write in the present tense, but I have no problem reading them :)
     
  23. Gilborn
    Offline

    Gilborn Member

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2011
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Austin, TX


    Building upon this prediction I'll say that either are acceptable and it should come down to how the narrator is communicating the story to the reader. By using past tense the work is give bias and filter through the narrator and becomes a story. However, by using the present tense the work is presented as live news and the narrator is unable to offer a bias. If you follow the concept of postmodernism where the narrator is able to lie to the audience then this will make more sense. My main point is that past tense is a relationship between the narrator and the reader and present tense is a relationship between story and the reader.
     
  24. SeverinR
    Offline

    SeverinR Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2011
    Messages:
    477
    Likes Received:
    7
    Location:
    New Madison Ohio
    In this form, that would be two actions, thus two senteces? or change the sentence:
    "Upon reaching the car door, he slammed it shut."
    He made it to the door so he could close it, the other he is walking to the door, but not there yet.
     
  25. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    I'm another one who utterly hates present tense for a main narrative (the occasional bit of historical present in narrative is fine). If I'm browsing a book store looking for something interesting to read on a journey, anything in present-tense narrative goes straight back on the shelf. I find it unpleasant to read, and it seems amateurish to me (even though some practitioners are far from amateurs).
     

Share This Page