Topic: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-edi … sent-tense
by Brian A. Klems
This piece is excerpted from On Writing Fiction by David Jauss.

Recently, I asked one of my talented undergraduate students why she wrote all of her stories in the present tense. “Isn’t that the way fiction’s supposed to be written now?” she said, then added, “The past tense makes a story seem kind of ‘19th-century,’ don’t you think?”

Present tense has become something of a fad, and we often use it even when past tense would serve the story better. Whatever the causes for the prevalence of the present tense in today’s fiction, it is important that we understand its advantages and disadvantages so we can better decide when to employ it.

Pros:
1. Present tense has more “immediacy” than past tense
2. Present tense can contribute to the characterization of a work’s protagonist
3. The present tense can reflect not only a character’s nature but a work’s theme.
4. Present tense simplifies our handling of tenses.

Cons:

1. Present tense restricts our ability to manipulate time
2. It is more difficult to create complex characters using present tense
3. The present tense can diminish suspense.
4. The use of present tense encourages us to include trivial events that serve no plot function simply because such events would actually happen in the naturalistic sequence of time.

Re: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

Nice share. Thanks. I much prefer past tense. Present tense also restricts POV even more.

Re: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

Hi,

I've read a lot of these tips online, but I still find myself losing the battle with my tenses.

How do you guys keep from slipping between them?

Re: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

I've tried using present tense in stories before and made an absolute mess of things. I am literally incapable of using present tense without going over whatever I'm writing about 18-billion times and still, I won't get it right. I have the same problem (though not as bad) with writing things in first-person.  Both of these seem to be very popular in books lately, especially Young Adult novels. As both a reader and a writer, I prefer past tense and third-person. Anything else just feels funny.

Unfortunately, I don't have any advice for you, Miss Midnight. I've avoided present tense like the plague, so slippage is a rarity for me.

Re: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

Miss Midnight wrote:

Hi,

I've read a lot of these tips online, but I still find myself losing the battle with my tenses.

How do you guys keep from slipping between them?

What is "so 19th century" about 3rd person omniscient past-tense telling is strict adherence to one person---and this applies the 1st person limited narration, too --- telling of the story which, though natural, can tend to be tedious and predictable. It is now acceptable for an author to mix it up by interjecting inner thoughts and perceptions of more characters while still in the context of author's omniscient telling. Present tense effectively gives that in-the-moment personal feel to a character's telling. This is perspective writing. For example, in my Maximilian's Achilles and Patroclus (which is an experiment in alternate perspective writing) Alec is telling the story of a meeting between Chris and him in Hammock Park as if it has already happened, but Chris is telling the story -- a different story in a different, his own, perspective from that of Alec -- in the here and now.

I stood beside Pa’s Buick in Hammock Park in Ocean Ridge waiting. I was there because the men on the other side of the cameras let me. The Intracoastal Waterway and the cameras were the barrier-island town of Ocean Ridge’s moat against Boynton Beach. [etc.]

But two chapters later ... Chris on the same event ...

There in Hammock Park I wrap my arms around Alec and hug him not from strategy but from pure destination; so he is surprised, and I am happy to have my friend back if only for that moment to remember the day when we were twelve fighting together. [etc.] 

So what I am suggesting that you try as an exercise is to write short piece from one character's POV in past tense and then the same event from another POV of a character, also part of the event, in the present tense, as if it was still going on, almost like a running commentary.

I find a whole story written in the present tense annoying, at the very least for the reasons in the article I cited -- it is limiting to absurdity, but if tense change is treated like a spice added cautiously, it can add an appealing flavor.

Re: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

@Elisheva Free
@Charles_F_Bell
Thank yo so much for the help!