I’m writing this current manuscript in first person, present tense (I walk). I’ve never written the majority of a novel in present tense before—although the hospital scenes in Red Audrey are in present tense—and for the scholars among you, there’s a dirty tense trick in the last hospital scene.
The weirdest, and most fascinating of my grad school professors railed against present tense as a dangerous fad. He argued that past tense is designed for writing: “Jim biked up the hill. He was biking slowly. He had biked earlier and injured his leg. He had been biking on an injured leg for weeks.” And that readers have learned to recognize shifts in past tense to indicate flashbacks and time shifts. He felt that present tense required distracting tense constructions to indicate time shifts. “I bike up the hill. I am biking slowly. I have biked earlier and injured my leg. I have been biking on an injured leg for weeks.”
Over a page, a chapter, a book, the difference might be more remarkable, but I do think that in present tense, I have to be more conscious about shifting into a past episode so that the reader realizes we’re in the past, and doesn’t read past tense as the present experience of the book out of reader-habit. (Also, I avoid present perfect—“I have biked earlier and injured my leg”—because it’s too jarring, and sounds ugly.)
2 thoughts on “Tense”
What about the new manuscript begged for this tense choice?
I am intrigued by that decision. I hope you update on the process.
A number of things. Teenagers are present tense—clueless about the future, consequences, time. I remember thinking that a month was a huge expanse of time. Also, they’re like planets: everything changes depending on their unique perspective. This story screamed for present tense.
If I were writing in past tense, though, I’d shift time more: jumping into the future at will. That’d make for a different story, and appeals to me because of added flexibility. I’m reluctant to experiment with tense at this stage, but it’s early days yet—22,000 words.