Writing Tips & Advice
Here are two arguments for choosing present tense.
- Present tense narrative can be effective because itʾs different—some readers will be drawn to that.
- Some readers relate more to the characters and the events if the story is taking place right now. This is especially true for
mysteries—present tense allows the reader to unfold the mystery the same time as the main character.
Past tense is far more widely used in fiction than present tense. Here are three arguments for choosing past tense for your story.
- Since past tense is familiar to readers, many have come to expect it, and may actually be annoyed by present tense. With past
tense, they don’t have to adjust to something different when they begin reading the story.
- This may be a stretch, but some readers are more likely to believe a story where the events have already taken place, as
opposed to events that are happening as theyʾre reading it. After all, the events must have taken place in order for the author to
have written about them.
- It's easier to write in past tense.
Whichever narrative tense you choose, be consistent—don’t switch between past and present. It will confuse readers and alienate
One of the first decisions to make before you start writing your novel is whether to use past or present tense
verbs for the action in the story.
Do you want the narrator and characters to see actions and events as if they are happening right now?
Grace races to the finish line.
Or do you want them to see them as if they happened in the past?
Grace raced to the finish line.
This is called the narrative tense of your story.
Using inconsistent narrative tense can be incredibly distracting.
Is this happening now?
Is this a flashback?
There is no right or wrong choice, as long as you stick to one. Most editors and readers do not care which tense
is used, as long as it is used properly and consistently.
Cʾmon, you didnʾt think it was going to be as easy as that, did you? Even after you choose the narrative tense,
you will find it necessary at times to use tenses other than simple present or past to show the reader the
sequence of events throughout the story.
Here are examples of all the simple verb tenses.
Present Grace runs
Past Grace ran
Future Grace will run
Present perfect Grace has run
Past perfect Grace had run
Future perfect Grace will have run
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