Thursday, February 13, 2014

Past, Present or Future Tense

Hi everyone! Lisa speaking. Let's chat about tense - past or present.

Which do you prefer to write in? Which do you prefer to read in? Have you ever written a tense out of your comfort zone?

Caitlin: I tried writing my first book in present tense to be trendy and had a terrible time with it. I ended up writing it in journal format, which mixed past and present. In the end, my writers' group and a few agents didn't think the diary format worked and when I revisit it in the future, I'll probably change that.

For my second book, I tried the present tense again, and I'm not sure if I grew as a writer or if the story made more sense or what happened, but it just FLOWED. So, I loved that! 

I am in the midst of two other projects now, both past tense (one first person, one third person.) I think it's fun to vary things up.

Karlie: I prefer to write in past tense - it's just more comfortable for me. I have written one present tense novel. It was fun and different, but not something I intend on doing very much. I do agree with Lisa's views on present tense, I'm just not very good at pulling it off. 
As for reading, I don't really have a preference. I'll read either one as long as it's well-written and an enjoyable story. 

Lisa: My preference is to write in the present tense. In the past tense, an author is  telling the reader, "I shaped this story; I wrote this." In the present tense, there seemingly isn't an author, just a point-of-view character. With the character's actions in a present tense novel, the reader traverses this life. In a past tense novel, the reader is told about this life. I like to compare this phenomenon to reality t.v. 

For me, writing in the present tense if done right, will leave readers feeling like they are reading the messiness of a possible real life. Much like reality t.v. shows that rope people in, it's real and it can get messy. And it's current. In reality t.v., the watcher feels like they're watching the action as it's going down. Whereas in a constructed television show, the watcher is conscious these series of events are shaped, edited and portrayed by actors. And none of it's real.

Of course, many believe (including me) that reality t.v. is almost as constructed; however, to the regular watcher tuning in, they don't believe it. Or else they don't care because it feels real. After all  it is real. Snooki does get drunk; Brent does actually have a huge fight with Jennifer. And in present tense books, the characters are fighting, eating, barfing--right then and there. There's no waiting, there's no being told about it after the fact.
I wish there were studies done on how often people put a present tense novel down vs. past tense novel. In my opinion, more people would continuously read a present tense book without pausing because they have the uncomfortable feeling it would continue on without them. They might miss something with the story that they are in. But in a past tense novel, there's always that division line - "I am being told a story. I can take a walk then pick this back up when I come back."

With that said, some of my favorite novels are in past tense, but it's because they're classics. Who's to say I wouldn't love them better if they were written in present tense? There's also my love for Harry Potter that totally bellies everything I said above too.

What tense do you prefer to write in? Which tense do you prefer to read? Or does it completely depend upon the story?


  1. I used to prefer past, and it was all I'd write in. Then with Chase I stepped out of my comfort zone by writing action AND in present tense. It took a while to gt used to, but now I love it and it's all I want to write in.
    Reading wise...doesn't really matter. I like both past and present novels. As long as the book is good I'm happy.


  2. Hi, Goth. It's definitely good to keep your options open. A closed mind will hinder valuable experiences. I never would've thought I'd like future tense, but I recently read an unpublished short story written in future, second person. Loved it.