A Tense Choice – Past or Present?

I recently gave my YA manuscript to my two beta readers for comment. This is the second time they have read my manuscript, but the first time they have seen it since I made a huge calculated change, a change they were unaware I was making. I switched my story from past tense to present. Yep, I kept my third-person multiple points of view but re-wrote my story, for the most part, in present tense.Present Tense Blog

I did this for a number of reasons. I didn’t want my story to sound like a history lesson, a re-telling of events. That didn’t sit well with me, especially considering its contemporary setting and the age of its targeted audience. I wanted it to read as a story happening NOW, to enhance the feel of the immediate. I wanted to up the pacing, increase the sense of anticipation and escalation. I wanted to imply that my characters’ fates and my story’s conclusion were not decided. That all will only happen by reading to the end. This is how I see this story in my head, playing out like a movie, evolving, unravelling. I’m experiencing it as I write. Present tense felt like the best way to convey this sensation.

And one more thing: many of my favorite YA books are written in present tense. I love the way they read.

Anyway, back to my beta readers…

My greatest fear was that writing in present tense might disrupt the flow of narrative for readers. Not so with Beta A, as I shall call him. He “didn’t even notice” (the best comment he could have given me, I might add).

On the other hand, Beta B did notice. And didn’t like. Flow interrupted big time for him. I learned that he prefers stories written in past tense and had difficulty getting his head around my present tense narrative.

Regardless, both beta readers gave me constructive feedback on many other aspects of my manuscript. And I will keep my story tense as is. For I don’t believe it is simply a case of “this is the right way to do things, and this is wrong”. Everything is a matter of opinion and taste, and we are all entitled to our own, including choice of tense. Until next time…

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Would love your views on writing in present tense, or past. Has anyone disagreed with you over your choice?

 

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4 thoughts on “A Tense Choice – Past or Present?

  1. *nods her head* It sounds like you made the right decision for your story, Rebecca. You have a very good reason for switching from past tense to present, especially given the contemporary setting.

    I tend to associate present tense with contemporary or futuristic settings anyways. Reading The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies (which both use present tense) may have influenced that perspective. That might also explain why I struggle with epic or more historical YA fantasies that use present tense. It seems to be happening quite a bit, and I find it jarring, just because I assume the story is taking place in the past… but the verb tense doesn’t reflect it. What do you think about that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Sara, I was influenced to switch tense by YA books I read (and loved) with contemporary settings, which used this tense to great effect. I must admit, this is the first time I have written a novel predominantly in present tense as, previously, I wanted to evoke a sense of re-telling, rather than give the impression the story was happening right now. But I love it! Saying that, I agree with your comment regarding epic and historical fantasies. Anything based on lore and legend, or set in a bygone era, comes across better (in my opinion) told in past tense, as though the storyteller and I are sitting around a campfire reminiscing what has gone before. As an aside, I wonder if the growing trend to write in present tense is linked to our culture’s increasing want for everything now?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It might be… But I tend to question letting trends influence our work too much, as opposed to what a story itself calls for. If someone suggested that I rewrite my WIP in present tense just because other popular YA fantasies use it, I wouldn’t take it – because it wouldn’t improve the story or fit its setting / time period. (There are still plenty of YA fantasies that use past tense, anyways.) But you have good reasons to use present tense in your story, so that’s why I think you made the right choice. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe the real trend-setters are those who defy (existing) trends. Myself? I tend to ignore them (I only realized there is a growing trend to write in present tense after I had made that choice myself). Thanks for your comments!

    Like

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