1. morphghost

    morphghost New Member

    Feb 9, 2013
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    Preferences when using tenses?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by morphghost, Mar 11, 2016.

    I finally started a short story today, one that I like. When I started writing this, the preference of present tense came to mind because the action currently happening would seem much more interesting than past tense. A problem arose when the writing tenses became inconsistent. My guess as to why is that I have read countless stories that use past tense. For example:

    Lightning flashed across the sky, creating an intricate web that sizzled in the cloudy darkness like cracks on a black-painted glass-pane window.
    Take that sentence and use present tense:

    Lightning flashes across the sky, creating an intricate web that sizzles like an omelet on a skillet, almost as if the black-painted glass-pane window is cracking.
    This is only an example not from my story; one can read that the present tense carries much more weight to it than the past. The action is currently happening as the reader is reading. After some research on the subject, I found that using present tense in writing - especially fiction writing - is frowned upon. What? I thought using present tense, as that is my preference, would be a wonderful way to breathe rather than talk about it as if the action was a thing of distant past.

    What are your opinions on this? Is using present tense, despite being considered as taboo, better than using past tense?
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    You're saying that the present tense is more interesting and carries more weight than the past, as if that's a fact. But it's a matter of taste. I find the present tense to have much less weight and less interest. I could argue a bunch of reasons for this, but I don't think that the reasons on either side have any real weight; they're both matters of taste.

    Also, the past tense isn't the "distant" past. It can be moments ago. People use the past tense in speech all the time. When someone comes back from the mini-mart with your drink, you don't ask them, "Are you getting me my Slurpee?", you ask them, "Did you get me my Slurpee?" That question is in past tense, but it doesn't mean that the Slurpee was created in ancient times.
    VynniL likes this.
  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

    Aug 12, 2015
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    London, UK
    I used to find present tense less appealing than past. I now actively hate it and avoid books using it. I feel like it SHOULD create more tension but it doesn't - as @ChickenFreak says, it's less interesting. It feels flat. It sucks the tension out of everything. It reminds me that I'm reading a book, when I want to be immersed in the story.

    The only time it works is when I don't notice that it's present tense. That happens very rarely, for me.
  4. Wayjor Frippery

    Wayjor Frippery Contributor Contributor

    Feb 24, 2016
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    Tranquility Base
    As @ChickenFreak and @Tenderiser have said above, I think it's a matter of personal taste. It's definitely a matter of style. As for my opinion, I'm not aware that using present tense in a work of fiction is taboo, but it's certainly not the most common tense to use. When we tell stories in our day-to-day lives we tend to use the past tense most naturally -- Yeah, I went to this great party last Friday, etc -- so I think it's only natural that it should be the most common tense in fiction as well.

    I do think that using the present tense can have impact if it's used sparingly and subtly, but as @Tenderiser said, that's usually when you don't notice it.

    Is using present tense better than using past tense? I don't think any tense is inherently better than any other -- it depends on the effect you're trying to achieve -- although past tense is demonstrably the most common tense in fiction and therefore, the most invisible when telling a story.

    I think that's the point. You can use any tense you like if it helps you tell your story. But unless you're writing is intentionally experimental, you should avoid drawing attention to the fact that it is writing. You want your readers to forget that they're reading words and simply experience your story.
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    I think preference is mostly what you're used to, so if you're planning to publish, you may want to take some time to consider what your audience is used to. For example, there is a LOT of present tense in YA, so if you're writing YA it shouldn't be a problem at all. If you're writing, say, cosy mysteries, you probably want to reconsider.

    As a reader, tense doesn't matter much to me - I think it's because I read a lot from most genres and none of them feel jarring to me - I barely notice the tense.
    ChickenFreak and VynniL like this.
  6. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

    Jan 7, 2015
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    The middle of the UK
    I like present tense, and I write in naturally, but this example is pretty bad. I prefer the past version here unequivocally, if only because the image in the present version is flat out absurd.
  7. Jeni

    Jeni Member

    Mar 4, 2016
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    The past tense reads smoothly but I also like:

    Lightning flashes across the sky in an intricate web that sizzles like an omelet on a skillet culminating in the illusion that the black painted glass-pane window is cracking.

    or something like this.....I think I just have trouble mouthing the present tense version you gave as an example

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