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  • Use of Present Tense
    by Jennifer1976 at 12:51 on 26 June 2013
    I wrote the first draft of my wip in present tense (it is a memoir), and am in the early stages of editing/re-writing. Iíve got two versions on the go at the moment Ė one in past tense and one in present tense. I can see the benefits of either for my wip and as an exercise itís making me look closer at my writing. At some point I will have to choose which one to go with, although Iím quite enjoying the procrastination of doing both at the mo!

    Obviously, I read more books written in the past tense, but I do enjoy the odd book written in present tense too. Iím aware though that itís quite limited in what it can do and that itís not everyoneís cup of tea.

    Just wondered what other peopleís thoughts are on the use of present tense in books?
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by GaiusCoffey at 13:51 on 26 June 2013
    For me, present tense suffers the same reader credulity problems of second person. I find myself wanting to scream at a certain television advert, that is both second person and present tense, "I am NOT a toddler, the world is not a new and exciting place! Stop lying to me."

    It has its place, and I have had a second person story accepted and written some things in present tense, but I would certainly be wary of using it for a memoir lest readers feel the urge to scream at your pages, "it's all in the past! Get over it already."

    Then again, I may not be your intended audience, so...

    G
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by debac at 14:43 on 26 June 2013
    I rather agree with Gaius that present can be irritating in large doses. IIWY I'd go with past. O the other hand, if you really feel present is right for your novel, then ignore us!
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by Astrea at 15:51 on 26 June 2013
    Which do you feel works best? Not passing the buck back to you, I honestly think it's that simple.

    My novel which is currently out on submission is in the present tense. Before I started submitting, I had a couple of reports done, and although they pointed out a couple of things I needed to tweak, the tense wasn't even mentioned. I've had a couple of requests for the full, and I'm hopeful for more.

    So basically, I think if it works, it works. People will only notice if it's somehow jarring, imho.

    Edited by Astrea at 15:52:00 on 26 June 2013
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by EmmaD at 16:03 on 26 June 2013
    if it works, it works. People will only notice if it's somehow jarring, imho.


    Yes, I think this is true. I know what you mean, Gaius, about whether, logically, it's credible for the reader, but in practice, in absorbing the story, I think most readers aren't fussed about it.

    That said, I do think present tense is more limited, and can actually cause some of the problems that it seems to solve - immediacy, urgency.

    More thoughts here.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by Catkin at 19:34 on 26 June 2013
    I think it can be OK for a short story - sometimes - but I can't think of any full-length book written in present that I've enjoyed. It does tend to become irritating after a while. Given the choice I would rather read past.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by GaiusCoffey at 19:52 on 26 June 2013
    whether, logically, it's credible for the reader, but in practice, in absorbing the story, I think most readers aren't fussed about it


    So basically, I think if it works, it works. People will only notice if it's somehow jarring, imho.


    So, we're saying that my real issue with that specific advert for nappies is that it is badly written?

    It's certainly supported by the observable data.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by Account Closed at 20:04 on 26 June 2013
    Nappies? Have I missed something on TV again?


    Ref present tense. I choose books written in the past tense, because that is what I write in and I like to analyse books.

    However, I've read a few present tense books and it didn't bother me. I don't recall being bored with the tense, although I am a needy reader in terms of interest.

    I'd go with whatever suits you and ignore report writers who tell you not to write in present tense. As with someone on here who got precisely that feedback from a report and then three full requests within a month, it's all subjective. If the writing is good, then great, but I like Emma's thoughts on the issues ref immediacy. Teaspoon head-tapping can be very annoying.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by Jennifer1976 at 20:18 on 26 June 2013
    Thanks for the responses.

    I see your points and I donít want to alienate any potential readers if I donít have to, especially if it is something that would be solved simply by using past tense.

    I would certainly be wary of using it for a memoir lest readers feel the urge to scream at your pages, "it's all in the past! Get over it already."

    Funnily enough Gaius, the irony of using present tense for a memoir has only just occurred to me Ė doh!

    present tense is more limited, and can actually cause some of the problems that it seems to solve - immediacy, urgency.

    Yes, I do agree. And I can foresee problems if I do decide to use it and decide that I want to refer to something that happened before the scene Iím writing about. There is no way I could do that without switching tense anyway, and I think that it would look a bit odd if I had a paragraph or two of past tense within a chapter in present tense, although I have seen it done in novels and itís never bothered me (although I quite enjoy reading present tense sometimes, so thatís probably why).

    I think if it works, it works. People will only notice if it's somehow jarring, imho.

    I do feel that my wip does sound better in present tense, but Iím not sure if thatís just my personal feeling.

    I feel that I ought to be using past tense, just because itís more conventional really, and, also I know that there is much more scope for reflection, which I admit would be useful.

    My main reason for wanting to use the present tense, I admit, is just really because I just kind of like it, really. I do feel that it works for this wip. But I think I need to figure out if thatís a valid reason.

    Hmm, plenty to think about and consider here. I think I might step away from my wip for a week or so and then come back to it with a fresh mind. Maybe Iíll figure out a way to use present tense for the odd chapter. Or maybe Iíll ditch it altogether yet.

    P.S. That nappy ad annoys me too.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by EmmaD at 20:46 on 26 June 2013
    I would certainly be wary of using it for a memoir lest readers feel the urge to scream at your pages, "it's all in the past! Get over it already."


    On the other hand, I think one way that a memoir can be built IS for it to seem made out of the fluid stuff of memory, which does have that dreamlike, un-anchored quality that present tense does so well.

    I do think that (for good and ill) present tense is so widely used now that it really has lost its original logic of "now" versus "then", and just become one more narrative technique in our armoury. It can work just as well to have flashbacks and memories in present, in what's essentially a narrative in past tense, as the apparently more logical other way round.

    One of my favourite recentish memoirs, which is entirely built like a novel (no sense of the older writer looking back) is Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight, and that's wholly present tense. Fabulous book.

    Whereas William Fiennes's The Music Room about his childhood and his older brother in particular, is past tense, and handles his adult understanding in Now, of Then, beautifully. The control of what information is made clear to the reader when is masterly.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by AlanH at 03:06 on 27 June 2013
    I do feel that my wip does sound better in present tense, but Iím not sure if thatís just my personal feeling.

    I feel that I ought to be using past tense, just because itís more conventional really, and, also I know that there is much more scope for reflection, which I admit would be useful.

    My main reason for wanting to use the present tense, I admit, is just really because I just kind of like it, really.


    I think you've answered your own question?
    I use present tense, am perfectly happy with it, and think 'being conventional when you have a good reason not to be' is really quite pointless.

    Just out of interest, I have posted passages from my old wip on IC and Whole Read-swap, had several crits, and no one questioned the use of present tense.

  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by EmmaD at 09:50 on 27 June 2013
    The interesting thing is that in some CW circles, present tense has become the convention.

    I've lost count (because I didn't want to count, because it was too depressing) of the simple-minded blog posts and books about writing which I've read, advocating it as "more immediate" by definition, when it's nothing of the kind. The same with the stupid idea that long sentences aren't as fast moving as short ones.

    David Jauss has a terrific essay on present tense in his book On Writing Fiction. The book's subtitle is "Rethinking Conventional Wisdom on The Craft of Writing Fiction", and each essay does exactly that. I keep meaning to blog about it, further to that blogpost of mine which I linked to further up.

    He takes on and wins the fight against the idea that a narrative in first-person can only stick to that character's point of view, for example, and the need/rationale for an epiphany...

    Edited by EmmaD at 09:50:00 on 27 June 2013
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by Jennifer1976 at 13:10 on 27 June 2013
    One of my favourite recentish memoirs, which is entirely built like a novel (no sense of the older writer looking back) is Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight, and that's wholly present tense.
    Yes, thatís a good example. The David Jauss book looks really interesting as well and useful for other aspects of writing too Ė might get a copy of it. Your blog post was very helpful, too Emma.

    Iíll ponder on the issues for a bit, but Iím inclined to stick with present tense for now. Iíll know if itís not working at some point and I can always change it.

    I think itís maybe time I joined one of the crit groups (probably IC) to get some feedback on my writing.
  • Re: Use of Present Tense
    by EmmaD at 14:22 on 27 June 2013
    The Jauss is a cracker - WWer MPayne put me onto it.

    If you read the Fuller, do look out for how she controls point of view as character-Alexandra grows up. It's never obtrusive, but what you experience of the world she's in (and it's quite some world) is always pitch-perfect for her age at the time: voice to some extent but much more perception and understanding.