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Thread: Tenses: Present or Past

  1. #1
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    Default Tenses: Present or Past

    Which tense suits you more? Present Tense or Past Tense? Is Present Tense harder to write since it doesn't have the right types of words? Or is Past Tense non-suitable because you want to cut to the chase. But for one of the tenses, what do you like more and why?

    For me, it's past. I mean, past is more easier to write and it doesn't give frustration.


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  2. #2
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    Generally, I prefer past tense, but I sometimes write in present tense when I want to experiment. But whenever I try to write in present tense, I actually switch it to past partway through...


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    There is no right or wrong type of verb; let me just put it out there. It's really dependent on what you need for a story. Sometimes, present tense is better than past tense because you want to convey a sense of "happening now" -- as in, you want to make the reader feel as if the events of your story are happening as they read. That can sometimes heighten suspense, especially if you pair it with vivid imagery, because think about it. If a story is written in past tense, it already happened, so past tense by default implies that whatever happened, at least the narrator got through it somewhat okay (which is why "the narrator is dead" twist endings tend to be pretty heavy if done well). Present tense doesn't have that implication; you have no guarantees for the future of the characters.

    That isn't to say that past tense isn't a good one to write in either. Sometimes, a story is better off in past tense too, either because of the aforementioned twist endings or because you want to convey the feeling that someone is telling this story to you. It evokes a lot of old-time feelings by making the reader feel, on a level, like they're sitting in front of a storyteller the way people used to do in the old days. Present tense can do this too, but past tends to do it more readily.

    And for the record, yes, it's possible to tell a story in future tense too. Most commonly, this is coupled with second person POV because future tense generally evokes a sense of being talked to (as in, a sense that the narrator is directly telling you what will happen to the characters), but it happens. Creepypasta sometimes does this. Dr. Seuss has done it too. I'm honestly tempted to write something in future tense for funsies myself, but I haven't really developed a story that would need it.

    However, because I'm used to writing in past tense, it's what I generally do, but I have a lot of fun writing in present tense too. I don't prefer one over the other for the above reasons, though, meaning I think it's rather silly to say that one is better than the other when not all stories are the same. Not to be blunt about it or anything.

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    I prefer past tense, since that comes more naturally to me. I have experimented with present tense before, and far as I know, they've turned out alright, but I guess it's because the narrative itself will throw me off over and over again if I did it present tense. In which case, first-person point-of-view I feel is the best for me to do present tense. But as I rarely do first-person, I don't do it often (the last time I wrote first-person was almost a year ago for the Higurashi fandom). And even then I have to make sure to watch my tenses.

    I've seen people pull off first-person well-enough, though, that it's become part of the signature writing. Like I've noticed Laurie Halse Anderson for the Wild at Heart books, or Vet Volunteers as they're called (yeah, remember those from American Girl?) wrote in present tense, though they were in first-person. I don't know if she wrote all her books like this, but that's the best example I can think of in the last decade. It seemed to work for her pretty well.

    So it's more-or-less dependent on the person's tastes, interests, or the type of story they wish to tell. It doesn't hurt to experiment outside of your comfort zone here and there.

    Now I wonder if anyone's actually written, professional and amateur, in future tense...

    EDIT: Dang it, Jax, you sneaky ninja, you XP. Though I hadn't noticed Dr. Seuss wrote in future tense once, though it's so obvious now that I see the title of the book...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quilava42 View Post
    Is Present Tense harder to write since it doesn't have the right types of words? Or is Past Tense non-suitable because you want to cut to the chase.
    I don't think either of these reasons make a lot of sense, to be honest. Present tense has exactly the same words past tense does, just different forms of them, and you can cut to the chase just as easily in past tense as present tense, because just because things are implied to have taken place in the past somehow doesn't mean you have to spend any more of the story's time getting to the point.

    Mostly, present tense gives a sense of immediacy that past tense lacks, which is useful for some stories - you're a bit closer to what's going on. At least to me, stories automatically feel more character-focused when they're in present tense, perhaps because it feels more like you're following the characters as they make decisions, as opposed to hearing somebody tell you about what happened, which automatically becomes more about the things that happened (i.e. the plot). This doesn't have to be universal, but it's something of a clue about when each is appropriate.

    Another thing is that present tense has an easier time with relating things that happened before the main story. When you're writing in past tense, any time the narration wants to relate something that happened in the more distant past than the past in which the story is happening, it will have to either go into all-out flashback mode or use the past perfect (he had done x), whereas present tense can use the simple past. For some stories, especially ones that heavily involve reminiscence, this makes using the present as the main tense considerably smoother.

    Personally, I've used both and like them both for their different strengths. Just be very, very careful not to mix them up. It's somewhat more common for people who are trying to write present tense to slip into the past than the opposite, probably because more books are written in the past so the past tense comes more readily to mind, so if you're having difficulty keeping to one tense, you're probably better off trying to stick with the past. If you want to try out the present, you just need to be very careful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dragonfree View Post
    I don't think either of these reasons make a lot of sense, to be honest. Present tense has exactly the same words past tense does, just different forms of them, and you can cut to the chase just as easily in past tense as present tense, because just because things are implied to have taken place in the past somehow doesn't mean you have to spend any more of the story's time getting to the point.

    Mostly, present tense gives a sense of immediacy that past tense lacks, which is useful for some stories - you're a bit closer to what's going on. At least to me, stories automatically feel more character-focused when they're in present tense, perhaps because it feels more like you're following the characters as they make decisions, as opposed to hearing somebody tell you about what happened, which automatically becomes more about the things that happened (i.e. the plot). This doesn't have to be universal, but it's something of a clue about when each is appropriate.

    Another thing is that present tense has an easier time with relating things that happened before the main story. When you're writing in past tense, any time the narration wants to relate something that happened in the more distant past than the past in which the story is happening, it will have to either go into all-out flashback mode or use the past perfect (he had done x), whereas present tense can use the simple past. For some stories, especially ones that heavily involve reminiscence, this makes using the present as the main tense considerably smoother.

    Personally, I've used both and like them both for their different strengths. Just be very, very careful not to mix them up. It's somewhat more common for people who are trying to write present tense to slip into the past than the opposite, probably because more books are written in the past so the past tense comes more readily to mind, so if you're having difficulty keeping to one tense, you're probably better off trying to stick with the past. If you want to try out the present, you just need to be very careful.
    This I agree. It is one of the lessons I have to recall greatly in writing stories. One of the CORE rules perhaps.

    I like first person most since my novel and my poke stories are oriented towards the characters themselves.

    But I have to say you CAN mix past and present IF it is a conversation, NOT an action event happening.

    Let's say Character A's conversation and action event happening are both present tense.
    Then this time, character B's action event happening is present. BUT its conversation is past tense.

    The above there is my current understanding. You see, writing the conversation and the actions and background are not always the same.

    Its all about being careful with present tense usage IF YOU ARE DOING 1ST POV.
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  8. #8
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    Well, of course; what tense characters use while talking about things depends on when the things they're talking about happened and has nothing to do with the tense of the narration. That's not mixing tenses. Every time people talk about narrative tense, they're referring only to the tense of the narration - it wouldn't make any sense if you started to change the tense of the dialogue according to the narration, because the characters use tenses depending on when what they're talking about happened relative to them. As far as they're concerned, they're living in present tense no matter whether the narration is in the present or past. But that only applies to what's inside quotation marks. Outside the quotation marks, even in a scene of dialogue, you'll need to use a consistent tense (minus, obviously, when what you're writing is actually happening in a different time than the main story).

    Not sure what you're getting at regarding first person; tenses and narrative POV are wholly separate issues. You can write any combination of past and present tense or first and third person (although I tend to find second person sounds better in present tense unless there's also an explicit first person narrator speaking to the main character).

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