Saturday, March 13, 2010

Present tense

I've thought a lot about present tense lately. Mainly because I've been completely immersed in editing my WIP--which finally has a permanent title: SO DEAD (thanks to brainstorming from super awesome Michelle)--and it's written in present tense. I'm currently reading WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson, which is in present tense. Not to mention recent beta reads, and other books I've read since the start of the year.

But what spurred me to actually want to blog about it was keeping a loose eye on some of the entries in this month's Secret Agent contest on Miss Snark's First Victim. Just because I'm a curious stalker like that. Anyway, I noticed some comments that deemed a particular passage unlikeable for the pure fact that it was written in present tense. And it's not like it's the first time I've seen that attitude toward present tense. Honestly, I used to think I didn't like present tense, although this attitude went promptly out the window when I started actually reading things in present tense.

What I saw, though, that interested me was this questioning as to why a person 'needs' to write something in present tense. I've seen this question come up on Absolute Write, too. And it's a strange question, to me, for writers to be asking. Like asking why it 'needs' to be in past tense, or first person, or third person. It is what it is. But just for the sake of it, here is why I decided to write in present tense:

I actually started this WIP in past tense. I really never envisioned myself being able to write present tense very well. Figured I would just confuse the hell out of myself. The first chapter was in past tense, but something just wasn't quite right. So I thought, what the hell, I may as well try it, and switched over, and it just...worked.

With present tense, there's sort of an immediacy that the story really needed. I'm not saying you can't create an immediacy with past tense, because you can. But present tense is Happening Right Now, and sometimes a story is just meant to be told that way.

So I guess my hope is that people will consider the merits of a particular style, even if they, personally, aren't into it. Not just because I wrote a present tense story and want people to like it (which, obviously, I do) but because if you write off present tense as a whole, you are missing a TON of amazing stories.


Annie McElfresh said...

I looooooove present tense because I feel like I'm in the moment. I've written my last two WIPS that way and don't plan on changing that style. :) Power to the present tense!!! Lol

Chanelley said...

I don't the dislike either. I don't love present, and I don't hate it. Just like how I feel with past. I think if it suits the story, go for it.

Michelle Schusterman said...

To be honest, I think the majority of the books I read last year were in present. It wasn't a conscious choice or anything! I'm the same - I always thought I'd only stick to past, but I ended up trying present and I like it a lot.

And for So Dead (w00t-title!) present is totally appropriate, for spoilerish reasons I will not state here. :)

Anonymous said...

I used to write only in past tense, but then I switched over to present tense. I love how the action pops out due to the immediacy. That's just for my writing. I read both past and present tense books.

La-La-La-Laurie said...

I love present tense. The more of it I see, the more I like it. I think present and past both work really well to do different things, but I've been on a present-tense reading kick and I'm all over it right now. said...

Hi, Kaitlin! A wonderful blog post!

Adults tend to weary of present tense. Kids love it.

The strength - immediacy and instant immersion - is just what a lot of kids require to read anything.

It's also a possible trap for the writer and can be very trick. Because it is so immediate, buying a postage stamp becomes an event. Getting in and out of a car in present tense eventually becomes tiresome.

And it is easy for a writer to overlook things like story relevance as the writer herself gets caught up in the moment.

Emilia Plater said...

Great post :) It's weird to me that people still refuse to read present. It's just SO ingrained in my head, haha. Love that you've written in present tense now! It's so fun.

Tahereh said...

i LOVE present tense. almost all of my work is done in present -- with the exception of one -- which, um, oddly enough, is the one i landed an agent for. i don't think the two are related though.

but i remember hearing a lot of people complain about present tense, too. i think it's something we're going to grow out of though - i think it's something the YA world will embrace. even HUNGER GAMES was written in present tense.

and um, obviously, HUNGER GAMES, is/was/forever will be INCREDIBLE.

great post!!

V said...

Great post! I just recently fell in love with present tense for a lot of the reasons that you listed. Immediacy FTW.

Oh, and also, I have something for you here

V.M.Pettingill said...

Well, I've received a lot of criticism for using present tense. The funny thing is that only one person whose read more than one chapter of my story has ever commented on it negatively. yet, when they read just a few paragraphs people don't like it.

I don't feel that writing one of my characters in present tense was much of a choice for me. I tried to write her in past and I kept slipping into present, so I thought why the heck not... ok no I antagonized about it forever and asked for the advice of like 3577834657 people, and then decided that I would do it that way.