I Will Be Tense. I Am Tense. I Was Tense.

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Game of Jenga with mostly just middle blocks left.

Jenga @ The Roundhouse by whatleydude CC 3.0 flickr.com/photos/whatleydude/6619343251

In my last post, I told you how I was procrastinating by writing a children’s book…’cause, you know, that’d be easy.

Aside from the concern over illustrations (before the book was written), I pondered presentation (again, before the book was actually written) and wasted an afternoon educated myself on book binding thanks to YouTube. These things look hard…and make the writing seem easy.

Seriously though, writing for a reader who is not me is difficult. I don’t know the vocabulary or how much detail is too much or how much foreshadowing is needed.

What surprised me as being even harder than vocab and foreshadowing was tense. From the outset, I wrote in present tense. It felt like the natural thing to do, but I have no idea why. Everything else I’ve ever written has been in past tense.

I’ve heard that present tense is the new thing for novels. Here’s an article from Philip Pullman of the Guardian and another from Grammar Girl.

I found it hard to stay in the present while writing a 650 word book…I can’t imagine stay present for 65,000.

However, I’ve noticed that when I’m stuck on a story and plot things out, I do so in present tense.

John Doe comes in the restaurant and says, “There’s gonna be trouble.” Then there’s a fight. Rosario slips out the back and somehow finds Pete. They run to safety.

In my head, I do see the action like a movie, so I get the screen direction aspect that Grammar Girl mentions.

While this is an apparent new fad, I couldn’t remember ever reading a present tense book. The list on Grammar Girl names The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I have read. Hmm, it didn’t jump out at me as being in present tense. So, I guess I missed Philip Pullman’s point of present tense as expressive device. I suppose it worked for me in that story, so I never noticed.

I’m not making a bad fad/wave of the future point…in fact, I’m really not making much of a point at all.

While it was interesting to veer into a different tense for a bit, I will probably stick to my tried and true past tense.

What about you? What tense do you write in? Have you noticed any tense when you’ve read? Are you thinking of switching?

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8 thoughts on “I Will Be Tense. I Am Tense. I Was Tense.

  1. bethfinke

    The senior citizens in the memoir-writing classes I lead use present tense from time to time, and if they stick with it for the entire essay (I ask them to write 500 words) it can be effective at getting the reader into the moment. The seniors seem to find this especially helpful when they are recalling a difficult time from their childhood. “I sit in my room. Grandma is gone. I don’t know why.” That sort of thing.
    The first time I remember noticing a book was in present tense was when I was reading “Angela’s Ashes.” Since then I’ve noticed quite a few memoirs are written in present tense, I suppose it helps put you right in the head of the person writing it?
    One last thing: when I eavesdrop on conversations on the street I notice a lot of people using present tense. “So I’m there with John, and he’s really being annoying. So I’m like, “suck it up,” and he looks at me like, “what’s your problem?”, And I’m like, really?”

  2. Kim

    “The Hunger Games” was written in present tense. My book club read it. It was awkward and annoying– the story and the tense.

  3. I write in the past tense, at least so far. The appeal of present tense, I can see, but I can also see Pullman’s point. It should be part of one’s toolbox, but not the only tool.

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