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Using "now" as a word in a past tense tale...

S J Lee

ok gurus -

What is YOUR take on stories using the word "now" when the tale is in the past tense?

---> "The demons stood still, not sure where Zardox stood. The invisibiity won't last much longer. As if faded, Zardox drew the magic wand he had enchanted earlier. He pointed it at the demon horde now charging him." --> NOW feels odd.... but THEN charging him is worse? I could say "charging him" but it's not what I mean. "Who started to charge" seems wordy. "Who began to charge him / beginning to charge...?" no, I hate it. "He began to eat" is usually worse than "he ate..."

or ---> "When he had been a boy, he had been sure of God's existence. Now he had doubts..."

Do you think this is fine, OR do you think the word "now" is odd?

EG compare with --> "He drew the knife he had sharpened yesterday" ---> feels ODD. "The day before" sounds better.... so how can we justify "now" in a past tense tale? Yet it somehow feels...ok?
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I think using now is fine. Though the whole sentence simply feels clunky to me and it took me two re-reads to make out what was happening. For me reversing the order to match what happens chronologically feels better: The demon horde charged him and he pointed the wand at them. But the second example is fine for me.

Then again "He drew the knife he had sharpened yesterday" is also fine for me. I don't really see the issue with relating something to an event which happened yesterday. But it's up to you.

As for "He began to eat" vs "he ate", to me they have a different and distinct meaning. And you should use the version which fits the meaning you're looking for. He began to eat focusses on the beginning of the action, while he ate is simply the action itself happening. To make the distinction relevant, say the food was poisoned. Then the scene changes a lot when you go from:
- Jake ran at him as he began to eat. "The food is poisoned."
- Jake ran at him as he ate. "The food is poisoned."

One has a bigger chance of resulting in a dead character then the other...


Article Team
It's fine. Take it from someone who's been there, don't over think things like this. You'll twist your brain into knots, Usually, to deal with stuff like this, I take a breath, and describe what's happening as simply and clearly as I can. Then, I move on. If there's something wrong with the sentence or if it can be improved on, I'll catch it on the second draft. For me, it's usually much to do about nothing.


There are two key things to understand:

1) "Narration" is its own kind of reality, cut from actual actions and events in our reality — it doesn't matter if you tell a story in the past tense or the present tense, it doesn't actually impliy that the story happened in our past or is happening in our present; you can have a science-fiction story set in the far future told in the past tense, or a fantasy story set in a mythical past told in the present tense. Narrative tenses are conventions, not actual indications of "when" the story is happening relative to the reader.

2) In a narration, "now" refers to the present moment as experienced by the characters/narrator; it's not the "now" of the reader. So yes, it is perfectly fine and normal to use "now" in a past tense narration in reference to the moment the characters are in.

It's also important to understand that the sentence "the demon horde now charging him" is short for "the demon horde who was now charging him". From this you can see more clearly that the "now" is clearly embedded in a past tense verb, and refers to the present of that action from the point of view of the character.

"the demon horde then charging him" would refer to an event that would have taken place earlier, not something the character was witnessing at the moment of the narration.


Yeah, you're fine. Just don't use "presently" instead of "now"; I'm currently reading an older book that does that and it comes off as really weird.
SJ, when a sentence isn't feeling right, I'll often look at the entire line or paragraph around it and see if I can reword or restructure a bit to get rid of what's bothering me. It's sometimes easier than trying to eliminate/replace a single, odd-feeling word as you've settle on above.

I didn't feel your use of now was a problem in your example, but I understand why it bothers you. So if it were me, I might opt for a shake up of the whole thing, maybe something like:

Uncertain where Zardox stood, the demons stilled. The invisibility won't last much longer.

When, moments later, the spell weakened, the demons charged. Zardox drew the wand he'd enchanted earlier and pointed it at the horde.

I swapped the first bit around because, as I read it above, without context of what comes before this, I had to think twice about who was actually thinking the line about invisibility, the demons or Zardox. Also, I'd want to remove the doubled use of stood being so close together. And, of course, I'm assuming invisibility is a spell of sorts. :)

Best of luck!

R. R. Hunter

How about a change of wording?

He pointed it at the demon horde <that charged toward him> <that charged him> <that charged his position>
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