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On grammar: is a story's atmosphere more tense in the past thanit is in the present?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Thom, Mar 13, 2013.

  1. Thom

    Thom Acolyte

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    Hiya, I'm new here. Dutch, so English is technically not my native tongue, though I did watch a lot of Cartoon Network when I was a kid. Too much perhaps.

    Anyway, getting to the point of this thread: I prefer to write in the present tense, but throughout my consuming-fantasy career I have noticed that most authors of fantasy seem to prefer the use of the past tense. Is there any genre-specific, technical reason for this?
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Present tense is becoming more common, particularly among YA/teen novels, in my experience. There is a fair amount of it out there in adult novels as well (see Caitlin R. Kiernan, for example). I'm of the view that you can write the same story in a perfectly engaging manner using either past or present tense, and so it should be left to your artistic judgment. If you want to use present tense, then use it. I don't have a problem with it as a reader.
     
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I think past tense is generally more accepted because that's the way our brains have been trained to relate with stories. When your friend tells you a story, he's rarely relaying as it occurs. He's telling you after the fact.

    As Steerpike said though, there has been an increase in present tense writing. Still, the vast majority utilizes past tense.
     
  4. Thom

    Thom Acolyte

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    What would you say is the main difference in e/affect between past and present tense?

    I, for one, prefer present tense because a story written in the past tense is less able to pull me in. I would say that the past tense maintains a distance between the reader and the fiction.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think many people view the present tense as more 'immediate,' and therefore more engaging. For me, as a reader, it doesn't make a bit of difference so long as the story is well-written.
     
  6. Nihal

    Nihal Vala

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    It's probably personal bias, but I don't like reading stories written in present tense. It feels like if the author is trying to artificially bring the story closer to me. It just doesn't go well with me, I end noticing the tense too much and getting distracted by it, what makes the whole thing backfire.

    I do like, although, when the author use some present tense phrases in a work written mostly in past tense. Since it's rare it brings a sweet sense of urgency.
     
  7. Thom

    Thom Acolyte

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    Personal bias indeed. Yours is (almost) the exact reverse of mine, as the past tense affects me similarly to how you describe the present affecting you. It feels like the tense is there to convince me that this story has actually happened. Which distracts me - I notice it because I know it to be false. Whereas the present tense sounds in tune with the idea with which I start reading: that this story will only be happening now, as I read.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The Dragon's Egg must be secretly killing you :)
     
  9. Nihal

    Nihal Vala

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    I guess the fact that the most stories I've read since I was a child were written in past is to blame.


    Haha, more or less. It was hard to get used, but if it helps, at least we are directly engaged, it's not pure storytelling. So, sounds less artificial.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2013
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I can't tell you how many times I've switched unconsciously to first-person in my other third-person text RPs, or accidentally almost used third person in DE. It's hilariously confusing at times. XD
     
  11. Sheriff Woody

    Sheriff Woody Troubadour

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    I feel the opposite.

    I don't like present tense. It makes me feel like the character is under control and able to react to what is happening around them, and thus escape danger and avoid conflicts easier, where as past tense feels inescapable. 'This is what happened and there's nothing you can do about it' kind of thing.
     
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