Present tense not working for me

Created over 2 years ago by Bryn Hagan with 15 comments
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Picture Zack Jordan · Reader · edited over 2 years ago · 2 likes
I know this is four days old, but I’m new here and I just had to join in.

I had been working on a novel for about six months when I started reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. It was a forest that I disliked, full of trees that I couldn’t get enough of. The story bored me to tears, but each sentence was just magical.

"There’s a second or two of tromboning as he brings the paper within focusing range. The flesh of his right arm sloshes in the wineskin of his sleeve."

"At 12: 03 the sun has already punched its ticket. Sinking, it stains the cobbles and stucco of the platz in a violin-colored throb of light that you would have to be a stone not to find poignant. Landsman, a curse on his head, may be a shammes, but he is no stone."

I immediately rewrote one of my scenes in present tense, put it in a Google Doc parallel with the original, and ran it by a half dozen readers. I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in it, not having tried present before. Turns out, those readers liked the present version without anyone actually mentioning that particular difference.

I’ve since rewritten a large portion of the novel in present, so I guess I’m pretty bought in. I’m getting better at it. It’s just so, well, *present*. As a reader, I’m there! Sometimes to the point of exhaustion, in fact (which may be the downside).

Anyway, just wanted to chime in. Great to meet everybody, by the way.
14110110 Yicheng Liu · Author · added over 2 years ago
I would agree that present tense is usually not something that I see often in conventional fiction stories, but it is a treat for the skeptics when it had been successfully executed with good metaphors and little to no grammar errors. 

Heck, I had intentionally used present tense in some passages of my book to put more tension in a situation and wrap up a narrative. Though I really couldn't say I'm a master of writing, so I expect I'll have to tweak into past tense when I hand it to the editors and proofreaders. :)
Picture Thomas J. Arnold · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
I pretty much always write in present tense.  I don't know if I do it well, I prefer to let others judge for themselves.  I also think it adds an extra sense of immersion and immediacy, and enjoying reading present tense as a result but I've also always been a super-odd person.  To be perfectly honest though, I don't write in present tense to create that extra sense or for any other artistic reason.  When I'm really writing at a pace where anything gets accomplished it tends to feel like the most pagan thing possible.  Like I'm the center of my own little magic ritual that's causing scenes to flood into my head of me to the extent where I don't have time to think about stylistic concerns, I have to keep my pencil moving against that paper faster than I thought my hand could move just to make the words keep up with the reality unfolding before my mind's eye.

So yeah, I write in present tense because I'm a complete pantser, though I prefer to think of myself as Bacchanalian.  I just hope I don't have any unintended (and overlooked by countless revisions) shifts in tense which may it disconcerting.
Portrait Christopher Huang · Author · added over 2 years ago
@Joseph Terzieva But that passage is clearly the narrator describing a constant, present state of affairs--something about the setting that hasn't changed, isn't changing, and won't be changing for the foreseeable future--to the reader. It doesn't count.
Ghost G. Derek Adams · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
I love them when THEY SERVE MY DARK WILL.
162980 10150347252315626 6077063 n Joseph Terzieva · Author · added over 2 years ago
It's just that easy.

@G. Derek Adams, you love weird things, so present tense should be right up your alley.
Ghost G. Derek Adams · Author · added over 2 years ago
Ha, so we both just need to be as good a EB White? Perfect. No problem.
162980 10150347252315626 6077063 n Joseph Terzieva · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 3 likes
Some of the greatest writers used the present tense to great effect. Here is an excerpt from E. B. White found in several writing books.

"On many days, the dampness of the air pervades all life, all living. Matches refuse to strike. The towel, hung to dry, grows wetter by the hour. The newspaper, with its headlines about integration, wilts in your hand and falls limply into the coffee and the egg. Envelopes seal themselves. Postage stamps mate with one another as shamelessly as grasshoppers."

The passage is vivid. I would like to capture words as surely as he does, but many people take exception to present tense, so I feel as a new author it is wise to return the safe past and save the dangerous tenses for a day when they are necessary.

Lost Generation hops heads frequently, but as I polish to the work, I also focus each chapter's point-of-view. My goal since the end of the first Sword & Laser contest is to impress and shock my readers. They have put their faith in me, and I must deliver.
Ghost G. Derek Adams · Author · added over 2 years ago
Present tense is a finicky beast. I hardly ever use it - so of course my next big project I'm trying to force myself to write with it. It has lots of advantages, mainly immediacy especially when sitting in a first person perspective. I chose it because I want my protagonist to be in great peril, and a first person/past tense setup has a built in assumption that the protagonist survives to tell the tale. Buuuut, it feels so weird! Like i'm doing this crazy-ass tone poem, Faulkner-lite, stream of consciousness thing - I just can't get comfortable with where I put my feet.

ITS JACKING MY FLOW, is what I'm saying. I think I can find my tense-legs, but I'm honestly concerned about getting 20 pages in and realizing I need to go back and re-write the whole thing in a different tense or POV. It's making me tentative, which is no way to write.
0925161337 J. Danielle Dorn · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
Nah it's not only you. I find present tense a bit awkward and it kind of screams Rookie Writer. If the story is immersive and the characters compelling like @A.C. Weston said I stop noticing after a while.

Tense-switching is a pretty big turn-off for me though. That and head-hopping. Nothing wears out my red pen faster than tense-switching.
Close up A.C. Weston · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
I like present tense. I think it helps immerse the reader in the story. It takes getting used to, of course, but I think you'd stop noticing it after a few dozen pages. At least, I do.
Author photo Paul Robinson · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
I've always found it off putting personally, but if it's done well I can tolerate it. It's the badly written present tense you have to watch out for...
162980 10150347252315626 6077063 n Joseph Terzieva · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
Present tense is off-putting to some, but I don't think it is that strange. It depends on what kind of story you are trying to tell and how you want the flow. I started my story in past-tense, then as an experiment changed it to present tense to compare. I liked it, but I feel I will switch it back. It's all a matter of taste. Some great classic works use present tense very well.

When I wrote my draft, I often slipped into present tense when the action heated up. The switch wasn't intentional, but it pushed me to try the whole thing that way.

I think writing fiction is similar to composing music. You must pick the right tools and techniques to create your image, but you must also be considerate of the sensibilities of your audience.
Portrait Christopher Huang · Author · added over 2 years ago
Well, the present tense is a little unconventional in standard fiction, I think. I don't know if I consider it off-putting, per se; but, as with every departure from convention, when I run into it I find myself wondering why it was done at all, what effect the author was hoping to achieve. If I can't see why it was done, then I might get a little annoyed.
Userphoto6 original Bryn Hagan · Author · edited over 1 year ago
I'm new here, and don't want to come across the wrong way, but I've noticed quite a lot of writing done in the present tense. I find this quite off putting, especially when it changes from past to present quite a lot. I've seen some good stories, but I find this really off putting. Is it only me?