1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Why would an author choose to write in the present tense?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Nathan J. Lauffer, Nov 15, 2012.

  1. Nathan J. Lauffer

    Nathan J. Lauffer Staff Leadership

    25
    1
    1
    I read a lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and never really thought about whether it was written in the past or present tense. It turns out that it's almost always been written in the past tense. Recently, I started reading a book called The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor for a post I'll be doing for Mythic Scribes. And, to be honest, while I like the story and the characters reading it has been a huge adjustment for me. It's written in present tense. I was wondering if someone could tell me why an author chooses to write in present tense, and why it seems that so few do. Perhaps that's just my experience, though. I'm not sure. I did notice that one of the authors of this book usually writes in the horror genre. This might be the first book I've read that can be classified in that genre. Is it common for horror to be written in the present tense? My theory is that it could increase the fear response by giving the impression that the events are happening now.
     
  2. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    351
    69
    28
    Well, the real thing here is that present tense is really difficult to write if you don't do it well. We are so used to, as a society, telling our stories in a past tense to relate it is a story instead of an actual event.

    I classify it the same way I would when someone writes second person point of view. They are looking to be different and stand out against the storm of stories in the sea of writers. However, it is used to disguise the fact they don't actually have a story. It's unique and cute, but it also makes me want to find the closest baby seal and punch it in the face.

    Then again, it is a taste thing for genre, writer, and reader. I don't approve, but someone else thinks it is fantastic. Who am I to judge? Other than hitting seals, I'll let things be.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,111
    3,470
    413
    Present tense is on the rise. I've read quite a few books written in this tense in the past few years. My current novels opening chapter has been writing on present and past. I'm still trying to decide which I prefer. It is purely a stylistic choice, in my view. I don't care which an authors chooses. Generalizing from it as to whether an author can tell a story or has a story makes no sense to me. I've read very good present tense work, and very good second person work for that matter. It is a question of taste. Some readers will not want to leave their comfort zone of third person limited, past tense.
     
  4. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    1,201
    287
    83
    While I agreee with Lief that sometimes an author, especially an aspiring author, select present tense to stand out and be a bit different, often it is the best route (or format) to relay or tell the story.

    Present tense is more difficult to write than past tense. Often it becomes clunky or sounds (reads) like play-by-play. The best way to avoid this is to read and study how successful authors have accomplished writing present tense novels. Paying attention to structure, wording, dialogue, action sequences, etc. and then applying what is learned to the writing style and writing project is the best way to do it I think.

    For many readers, first person present tense just isn't for them, and they'll avoid it. As has been stated, past tense is more common, and is possibly an easier route to publication.
     
  5. Twook00

    Twook00 Sage

    320
    86
    28
    I have something present tense in the Showcase forum right now... lol. :(

    [​IMG]

    I don't read much present tense, and I really don't care for it. That said, The Road by Cormac McCarthy is written in present tense (well, a lot of it is) and reading it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had with a book. At first, it was jarring and strange, but 20 or so pages in something clicked in my mind and it became very surreal. I was the character, I felt the cold, I sensed the danger, and the book haunted me for weeks after.

    I occasionally write in present tense, not because I think it's cute or engaging or even effective, but because it seems to open up a different part of my brain. I get a lot of different ideas when writing in present tense. Also, I think it shuts up my internal editor, because he's just gawking at the words going... Uhhhhh? Ahhh? Ummm?
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2012
  6. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    2,057
    634
    113
    My fiance writes present tense second person, but then he writes greentext "Anon in Equestria" mlp fanfic on 4chan so it's standard for the type of story he's writing. I obviously read what he writes (unless he tells me I wouldn't like it) but it still feels weird. Not like a proper story.
     
  7. I have a serial I'm publishing where everything is written in present tense. The reason I do this is because I'm trying to emulate, through prose, the feel of a "comic book story," and present tense gives you a sense of immediacy that is similar to looking at pictures.

    Present tense is very difficult to do--I find myself slipping into past a lot, and have to be careful during my edits to make sure I catch and fix it. Some people are better at it than others. By and large I prefer writing (and reading) in past tense, but some writers use present tense extraordinarily well.
     
  8. Kit

    Kit Maester

    603
    97
    28
    I've seen it used well in a few books which had teenage POV protagonists, because that's sort of the way they really talk these days. "She comes over and says to me..." Etc
     
  9. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    351
    69
    28
    Yep, that's a baby seal waiting for me to punch.

    Actually, there are sometimes present tense can work, but it is much like 2nd person: Use it sparingly. A few paragraphs for "flavor" make more ripples than an entire book.
     
  10. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    578
    113
    I've seen it theorized that present tense first person can create a bit more tension than past tense first person, because if someone's telling you what happened to them in the past, you can take it for granted that they survived to tell the tale. I'm not sure if that's really true, though--I haven't seen many people surprised by first-person past-tense stories in which the narrator died in the end.

    P.S. One of my backburner projects, You and Me and We, concerns conversations between characters labeled "I" and "you". I wrote these in present tense in an attempt to create the feeling that 'you' and 'I' are having a conversation as you read. I've yet to determine how well it works.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2012
  11. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    846
    121
    43
    I've used present tense when writing travel articles. The reason is to place the reader in my shoes. So if I'm jumping off a cliff or listening to wolves howling in the Canadian wilderness, I want the reader to 'experience it with me' as though it's happening 'now'. I suspect it can be the same for fiction?

    However, I dislike it in fiction. I will read it and won't necessarily avoid it if I want to read the story, but it's not my preference. Perhaps it's because I'm too used to past tense fiction.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2012
  12. Nathan J. Lauffer

    Nathan J. Lauffer Staff Leadership

    25
    1
    1
    It's interesting that you mention that you are trying to emulate a "comic book feel", Christopher. The Walking Dead is a comic book series. Rise of the Governor is the first non-graphic novel in the series. I theorized that it might be in present tense due to the fact that stories in comic books are often told in a present tense.
     
  13. danr62

    danr62 Sage

    254
    46
    28
    The Hunger Games is written in present tense as well. It was an adjustment but I got used to it. The massive popularity of that series may have sparked a new trend in POV.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,111
    3,470
    413
    I think it was trending in YA even before Hunger Games. Unless I am remembering incorrectly. I know Neal Stephenson uses it in popular non-YA works going back quite a ways. Chuck Palahniuk has done some work in this tense. It seems like I've read a lot more of it over the last decade than before.

    It is interesting, and also somewhat bizarre, to me that readers, and particularly fellow writers, let something like POV or tense bother them. It seems to me to be valuable to take a more open-minded and inclusive approach to any art form, and that is certainly what fiction is. If someone can't seem to read an otherwise fantastic book because it is in a certain POV or tense, that seems to me to say far more about the reader than the author who chose that POV or tense.
     
    Dreamhand likes this.
  15. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    351
    69
    28
    You know, it dawned on me when I thought about another subject all together which might explain the concept and confusion a bit more. Is it possible that people confuse ACTIVE words with PRESENT tense? Instead of dumping words that make the work passive, they confuse fixing it with the PRESENT tense instead?

    If that's the case, there might be baby seal massacre here soon...
     
  16. I don't see how that would be.

    Past tense:

    He walked to the store, thinking about the things he had to do that day. Suddenly a car screeched around the corner, flipped over, and crashed into a mailbox. Letters flew through the air like confetti.

    Present tense:

    He walks to the store, thinking about the things he has to do today. Suddenly a car screeches around the corner, flips over, and crashes into a mailbox. Letters fly through the air like confetti.

    It's a pretty simple and distinctive difference.
     
  17. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    351
    69
    28
    You might think this, but the art of writing a story is becoming lost in the mistranslations of critiques and the market. Due to the lack of knowledge, people might take PASSIVE for PAST. It isn't uncommon in this day and age.

    You'd be surprised by what people DON'T know in this information age.
     
  18. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    846
    121
    43
    -blink-

    People are allowed to have preferences, Steerpike. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some people don't like historical romance. Some people hate fantasy. Some prefer present or past tense. What's so bizarre about that? One can dislike it as a personal, individual preference, but one can still appreciate it as an art form.
     
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,111
    3,470
    413
    The analogy to genre is a poor one, as we're dealing with a more fundamental level of writing here. Stories in any genre can be written using any tense of POV. It's more like, rather than someone saying they don't like impressionism, saying they don't like anything done in oils. I would find that a rather limiting opinion given the wide range of artistic styles that can be achieved with oils. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, and I'm equally entitled to mine. In my view, refusing to read something because of the tense is a sadly narrow-minded viewpoint, particularly for people who are not only readers but also writers and should be able to achieve a wider appreciation of the art form. I'm afraid blinking won't deter me ;)
     
  20. I actually agree with Little Storm Cloud here. An author can choose to write anything he or she likes--I'll always defend that--but no reader has an obligation to like anything, for any reason. A reader is allowed to be picky and unreasonable and inconsistent and irrational about what they love and hate, because it's all about reading the stuff you want. There is no moral imperative to deciding what to like when you're reading for fun.

    Now as soon as someone makes the argument that "if you're writing a story, you shouldn't..." watch me turn on them with all the viciousness of a deranged wolverine hopped up on crystal meth....
     
Loading...

Share This Page