Past or Present Tense



Another decision writers have to make when beginning a story is whether to use past or present tense. I move back and forth between both. The decision is solely based on how the story needs to be told rather than any logical method.

Of course, there is an allegedly hard and fast rule. That is all stories must be told in third person, past tense. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The way a story is told is entirely dependent on how the author presents it well.

It is true that third person, past tense books are more prolific. It’s an easy way to write, but you, as the author, need to ask yourself if your story can be presented in a better way.

Past tense works well for some genres, such as romance, fantasy, and science fiction, although there are exceptions even there. But the choice to make is something that no one can clearly say for any book, unless they are the creator.

In my experience, young adult books work very well in first person, present tense. The story flows in the here and now. Teens can relate to this, as it’s like it’s happening in the here and now.

Past tense, first person is also good for teen books. I’ve used this in historical novels with great effect.

First person, past tense is difficult to maintain. The urge to tell rather than show becomes too much to handle and the author can sometimes become preachy—something we all want to avoid.

Third person, past tense is what the great majority of authors use. It’s relatively easy to write in this mode and the story flow is great. But there are limitations to this type of story, even though multiple viewpoints are easier to do. The loss of the sense of the here and now is one of this issues. Another is that you’re writing the same way as almost everyone else and that gives the reader the sense they’ve been there and done that.

The choice of which tense to use is entirely up to you, the author. But it’s always a good idea to play around and see how your story works in many different ways.


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