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  1. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    When your story wants to be told in present tense

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Lea`Brooks, Nov 20, 2016.

    Hello!!

    I don't know if this is really a thing, but I feel like my story is forcing me to write it in present tense. I'm on chapter eight, and it's been told in past tense this entire time. But every once in a while, I'll start writing in present tense. I'll get through an entire page before I even realized I've done it!

    To me, it reads just fine. But I know how many people dislike present. So what should I do? It's a YA fantasy, written in first person.

    Suggestions?
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Present tense in YA is pretty common - write the way you want to!
     
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  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I'm doing a first-person present tense fantasy too. If that's what's feeling more natural to you, maybe see if editing the first sections into present-tense would work better than editing the newest sections into past-tense?
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This isn't something that's ever happened to me personally, but I can see how it does happen. In my culture, it's very common for people to slip into a present tense play-by-play mode when recounting past events, conversations, etc. It's a cultural convention, so to speak, which I know is also a feature of other cultures. My question to you would be: Is this a thing you personally do in your normal engagement of others when speaking? If so, then it would seem intuitive that it would feel natural to do; thus, it would read naturally as well. You can write your story in any tense you like so long as you have consistency. If you feel the story is better served in present, then do thusly, but if you know that your own manner of speech is one where this slip slide takes place, I would ask myself if it's really the story, or if it's just your natural tendencies slipping through onto the page.
     
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  5. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Present tense is fine, and even so, sometime when your story stops talking to you, you might slip back to the past tense, to punish your story.

    The really clever thing is the mixing of past and present tense in one paragraph...I try that but did not always succeed, probably best to whip out my speech marks, it keeps things spicy.
     
  6. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    That's interesting. You keep inadvertently slipping from past to present tense? I presume you don't mean sentence by sentence, but you write certain scenes in a different tense? As long as you're not jumping back and forth within a paragraph or a scene, I'd say that might actually be an interesting (and totally honest) way to write. I'd just keep doing it as you are until you're all done with your story. Then let the story sit a while, then re-read it and see how those shifts sit with you. They might jump out at you as being wrong, and you'll change them so the tense is consistent throughout. Or you might decide to leave it as it is.

    I presume you want the chosen tense(s) to enhance your story, not jerk the reader around for no reason. So let it cook a while, then see how it turns out.
     
  7. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I've read a lot of YA written in present, which is why I mentioned mine is YA. It wouldn't be a totally radical idea to go with it...

    I'll definitely have to do this, at least for one chapter. I've never written in present before so the thought never occurred to me to even try it.

    Actually, I do do this. When I tell someone a story, I'll say, "So I'm sitting on the porch, right? When out of nowhere, this hummingbird flies right in my face! It was so loud, I thought a giant bee was trying to kill me!" (Never happened.... :wtf:)

    I never really realized I did that. Maybe present tense would come more naturally to me.

    Interesting.... Yes, it's scene to scene, not sentence to sentence. I'll write one part in past then switch to first then back to past. I never thought about leaving it. It'd be totally technically incorrect. But maybe it could actually work.

    Next time, I won't change it back right away and see what happens.


    Thanks everyone! :-D
     
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  8. Earp

    Earp Not Sorry Contributor

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    Lee Child has a habit of switching between present and past from chapter to chapter. Seems like it should annoy me, but he makes it work.
     
  9. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    If it works, do it. If it confuses...right. Putting the past in front of the present.
    However, some readerships don't seem to follow such niceties.
     
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    This is totally a real thing. I always have this urge to write in present tense. It can slip in if I'm not paying attention. I think both past and present tense have a place, but the majority of works published seem to be past tense.
     
  11. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    I've never experienced this in my fiction writing, but I recently had to share some really personal & traumatic experiences for court in the form of a letter—to express the import & danger of the matter at hand.

    While composing my testimony, it started in past tense while describing the scenes & incidents but inevitably converted into present tense, as the events became more real & vivid to me. I was reliving the moments as I wrote, not just sharing memories.

    I hadn't noticed that I had changed tenses until I had ceased recounting the events and went to wrap up the letter with the immediate ramifications of the court's decision. When I went to shift from past to present, I realized I had been in present for 80% of the narration already.

    I ended up leaving it as was, with a few extra sentences wrapping up the events so it would naturally slip back into past tense (just the way it had slipped into present), to separate my having unconsciously relived the events on paper and the actual present and immediate me writing.

    It could be that, to some extent or other, you start living the moment of your narrative and consequently your tense alters unconsciously reflecting this.

    In a first person, you could leave these lapses. It might be powerful to leave the changes and show the shift in scenes so long as these have strong emotional connections with the narrator-character. With tweaks & edits, it could demonstrate them entering a similar state of mind as my had been. Sometimes, no matter how long ago in the past they happened, certain incidents get branded into our memories that draw us into them, and there's no fighting it. You might have this sort of thing occur in your narration.

    Or you might just prefer the story in present tense. ƪ(˘⌣˘)ʃ
     
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  12. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    The problem I find with fiction written in present tense, is that it's usually a sloppy present tense.
    Characters will convey information they shouldn't know, because telling a story in present tense limits expression... writers, even the best of them, will slip up-- usually several times in a chapter.
     
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  13. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Hmm...
    Well I guess you have to decide on which you prefer: Past or Present.

    Don't feel bad.

    Sometimes I write in first POV randomly, when the story is in third POV.
    So I kinda know what you mean. :p
     
  14. hedda

    hedda New Member

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    This has happened to me several times and it was later pointed out by a peer. Writing in present tense (first person, MC narration) is a lot more difficult than writing in past tense (third person, outside narrator). I tend to stick with first person, past tense in my writing. It'll probably be a good idea to stick with one tense. However, that's what editing and proofreading is for. It's okay while you write, but be sure to make the corrections when you go to edit.
     
  15. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I don't think it's universal that writing in first person present tense is more difficult than writing in omniscient past tense. Personally, I don't see a difference in difficulty between writing in present and past, once I've gotten used to whatever tense I'm using. And writing in omniscient (I assume that's what you mean by "outside narrator") is so difficult I've yet to do more than play with it. Very few novels today are written in omniscient, so I assume either others find it difficult as well, or maybe it's just out of fashion.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
  16. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    The salient point is confusion. As was pointed out, do you have "present" characters possessing knowledge of things that haven't happened yet, for instance? Flashbacks, flash forwards, current phase of existing timeline all must be accounted for logically if the author wishes the reader to be certain of where they are in the story. HOWEVER (<--- big however,) it may well be the author's intent to create confusion, or at least leave it to the readers to use other clues to determine the sequence of events. It could very well be the author has characters intentionally trying to confuse the sequence in order to confuse another character, thereby confusing the issue for the reader as well.

    Yes, all this is true, and it's a mechanical function over which the author should have control. Arbitrarily jumping between two time states, however, isn't a form of control. The word "arbitrary" says it is so. Lapsing from one time perspective into another, just as lapsing from one speaking perspective into another is just that. Writing is, after all, a discipline.
     
  17. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    Writing in first person present tense is a lot like singing along to your favorite song while in your car. It's fun and sounds really good when there's no else around to point out that it actually doesn't.
     
  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'm not sure why the confusion about having characters know about things that haven't happened yet would be stronger in present tense than in past tense? I mean, in either tense you'd have to keep track of that, wouldn't you?

    And flashbacks and flashforwards seem like they'd have the same challenges in both tenses as well. I mean...

    Chronological Timeline - A, B, C happen
    Book Timeline - character tells about B, alludes to or flashes back to A, then tells about C - why would this be any more difficult in present tense rather than in past?
     

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