Back in April I looked back on what my preferred point of view was, after rereading an old post I wrote about it. A few people commented on the use of present tense in books and how they disliked it. It was something I had seen mentioned before. This got me thinking on present tense. I took to Twitter which I’ll get back to in a bit.
When I used to write fan fiction and try to write my own stories I always used past tense. I never felt like I had a good handle on present tense to write it well. When I first started coming across present tense in books it was a bit jarring for that reason. However it didn’t seem to be seen as something off putting at that time so I got used to it. I also don’t feel like I read it as often.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with using present tense as an author. However you do have to realize that with present tense comes quite a few more difficulties than with past tense. And for us readers I thought it would be good to also realize what are the benefits and downfalls of present tense. Because the more I read about it the more I realized how it can influence how I feel about a story. Not because it is present tense but because of how it is used in a story.
The Up on Present Tense
One of the biggest ups of present tense is that it is like a movie. Present tense is close to a movie script as it uses a similair narration. It is entirely in the here and now. It creates a sense of immediacy.
Adding onto that is that present tense works great with fast paced and shorter stories. It draws you deeply into the here and now of what is happening. It helps to itensify the emotions the reader experiences because it feels more like you are in the story. For that reason, present tense works extremely well with an unreliable narrator. One only sees what your narrator sees and being in the moment limits the exposure to the reader into seeing that what the narrator shares is unreliable and untrue in places.
The Down on Present Tense
One of the downs of present tense is that for most people it is very in your face. Past tense is seen as invisible. This is because we are so used to this tense as we share things about our day and recount memories. Some seem to fear using present tense as it is seen as hated by readers. I’m not sure that is entirely true.
I asked on twitter if it was a reason to put down a book and 67% said no and 23% said it depends. Now this was with only 52 votes. Even so I do think that it counts for something. Certainly I don’t think author should be discouraged to use present tense for this reason.
Another reason why present tense might not be a good option is because there are less options. Your narration becomes very limited. A lot of things like jumping through time and into different character’s heads is not often an option to present tense. Time shifts are difficult to manage and become awkward for the reader because present tense is rooted in the here and now. A time jump then is jarring.
Examples of Books with Present Tense
Sidekick Squad by C.B. Lee / The Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler / The Sixth World by Rebecca Roanhorse / The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins / The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee / The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern / David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa / The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin