1. Kester

    Kester New Member

    May 28, 2009
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    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Kester, May 31, 2009.

    What are your thoughts on present vs. past tense?
    As far as I can tell, present is perfectly workable, but next to never used. I'm curious if you think it's ill-advised or anything of that sort.

    Let's leave future out of this for now, a touch too experimental.
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    I take it you are referring to narrative voice. Tense refers more to the verbs in individual sentences, whereas voice refers to how the story is told.

    It is confusing, though, becasue the voice is described as past tense or present tense.

    Telling a story in present tense voice is invariably ill-advised:
    Note that the paragraph is in present tense voice, even though past, present, and future tense verbs are used.

    Here's the same paragraph written in a past tense voice:
    Past tense is far more flexible. The "past" can easily vary from fractions of a second to eons. Exactly how it is written conveys the approximate time span between narration and the action described.

    Present tense locks the reader to the now, which is almost nearly too restrictive. Worse, it ties the rate of the action to te rate of the reading. You lose control of pace as a result.
  3. arron89

    arron89 Banned

    Oct 10, 2008
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    Cog always gives present such a bad rap :p
    I personally think it is the most affecting tense, and when used well is at the very least as good as past tense.
    That said, these things are never as simple as "use this one, not that one"....certain stories will call for certain treatments, certain writers will have their preferred modes...just do what you feel works best for you.
    (As long as its first person present cuz its the sex)
  4. Suomyno

    Suomyno Member

    Dec 29, 2007
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    I prefer past tense, myself. Maybe I just haven't read anything good written in present tense, but reading it has always irked me and it always takes me a lot longer to get into the story when it's written in present tense.
  5. ManhattanMss

    ManhattanMss New Member

    May 14, 2009
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    I don't like all the present tense stuff I see in short fiction, because it sometimes gets awkward and sounds artificial. But there are some fine examples of present tense (Coetzee's DISGRACE is a present tense novel). I suspect the author who writes in present tense does better if he has a literary reason for using it or uses its literary effect to the benefit of his story somehow, although maybe it's a more natural choice than that. It's been a while since I read DISGRACE, and what I remember most is that it seemed quite natural and disappeared into the story, so I didn't think much about its rationale or particular effect.

    I tried it once myself to see what present tense writing "felt" like--where it would lead my own writing. I write from the writing itself, in a way, so I learned something from that experience, which turned out to be an odd little present tense "future memoir," and I really enjoyed writing it. But it does create a kind of unique sensation (in the writing, I mean), or at least it did for me.

    P.S. Don't know why I didn't think of one of my favorite books of all time (not just present tense, but also second person): Calvino's IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER

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