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Past/Present tense - Ed's journal
Past/Present tense
Most books I've encountered are third person and past tense.
Some are first person.
The odd few are second person (Fighting fantasy style books).

After reading a post by jonnynexus (and if you recognise that name, it'll be from Critical Miss.) I thought I'd pose the question.

In your opinion does present tense work for the writing of a story?

On one hand, we have the fact that present tense is more immediate eg.
James the mighty warrior walks into the darkened room. A shadow flits across before him. Out of the darkness comes a huge scorpion, its claws clattering on the cobblestones.

James calls out "Hold and face my mighty blade"

James the mighty warrior walked into the darkened room. He saw a shadow flit across before him. Suddenly, out of the darkness came a huge scorpion, its claws clattering on the cobblestones.

James called out "hold and face my mighty blade"

Now leaving aside the quality of my writing, do you think a book can work if written all in the present tense?

I can see brief shifts in tense to alter pace, but I don't think I could cope with a book written entirely in the present tense. (In fact I know I can't, there was one a while back, called hotwired or something, that I got as far as page 10 before the stream of conciousness style of 3rd person, present tense annoyed me enough to stop reading. One of the few)
6 comments or Leave a comment
mrph From: mrph Date: March 23rd, 2004 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think present tense can work with first person, depending on just how your narrator is going to spin his tale. Puts a very definite style on things, though.

So I walk into the darkened room and call out "Hold and face my mighty blade". Maybe not the smartest thing I've ever done, as it turns out there's a dozen of them and they all look unpleasantly competent.

Past tense definitely works well with third person, though. I agree it's less immediate, there's usually scope to sweep that under the carpet so that the reader doesn't really notice - putting the all the actions at the very start of a sentence (and the dialogue at the start of a paragraph) seems to be a favourite of many authors.
ryuumeiko From: ryuumeiko Date: March 24th, 2004 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Actions at start of sentence, dialogue at start of paragraph is a 'convention' that irritates me... I try and mix stuff around to where it'd naturally be... If you'd notice the speech first, or the action's after the speech, then speech first, otherwise,
Maze smiled, "'pretty' is not a word I thought I'd ever hear you use!"
is fine in my book... Having speech then action gets incrediably boring to read...

Or have I misunderstood totally?

mrph From: mrph Date: March 24th, 2004 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)
It think if it's consistent throughout then yes, it gets boring. But as an (arguably lazy) trick for the bits where immediacy is a concern, it does see a lot of use... and works to some extent.
ryuumeiko From: ryuumeiko Date: March 24th, 2004 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Woot, a post I can reply to... :P

I write fanfic and original fic (as you may or may not know!) and I think I've only /ever/ written one 1st person present... Everything else is past 3rd... Actually, the Card Captor Sakura ficlet is 1st person, present I think...

IMO past 1st looks, wrong, it doesn't work, and a /lot/ of bad fic I've seen is present 3rd...

Present 1st can be irritating if not done very well (yes, I'm arrogant enough to think I'm good enough to pull it off) Past 3rd is standard, past 1st can work if careful, and present 3rd is just, eugh...

Cairo watches as the sun set over the horizen, dreaming of better, happier days. He turns to Maze, watching the breeze as it plays with his hair, his own copper strands flying through the air. "Pretty, isn't it?"

"'Pretty' is not a word I imagined you using," Maze retorts, but smiles, "It is rather nice though." He takes a long swallow from the flask next to him, the hot tea warming him as he leans back on his elbows.

That was really awkward to write, it just felt wrong...


the_wood_gnome From: the_wood_gnome Date: March 24th, 2004 07:36 am (UTC) (Link)
one of my problems when writing is holding the same tense, but I have read books in many types.

One problem I came to when writing a collaborative fiction thing with Jenna was she was writing in present tense, I was writing in past. she ended up having to translate all my stuff so it matched.

I think if written well, it doesn't matter which tense/person it is in, first person can give a good sense of being there, third person allows for more varied persons experience. I find it easier to write if not read past tense than present, for desciptions and such.

crashbarrier From: crashbarrier Date: March 24th, 2004 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
okay from a non literative type but who reads many many books..

fromt he set up your in the now.. so you should really use the "Out of the darkness comes a huge scorpion". although it sounds a little odd it doesn't spoilt the outcome of the fight.

If you put "out of the darkness came a huge scorpion" you are tlaking past tense .. if your talking past tense then especially with the set up afterwards your implying that the scorpion is no more.. At leats it does to me. of course its entirely subjective to the reader.. i mean J.K. Rowling does this in the first Harry Potter book uses a past tense somewhere in the book and its kinda spoilt the overall ending of the series for me.. I'm hoping that it is just a slip and isn't but you never know:)
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