I think this is a mistake more commonly made by the inexperienced.  I've only read four novels that were written in present tense, and this should be telling to us writers that consider using it.  Three were from the same series (Shades of Grey series by E. L. James) and the other was Matched by Allie Condie.  In the case of Shades of Grey, it was clearly a case of lack of experience.  The books were poorly written and not edited much, if at all.  The books could and should have been changed to past tense.  It would have made them easier to read and better books in general.  Matched is a little harder to analyze.  It was hard to read this book in present tense, however I can understand why Allie did it.  Using present tense changed the tone of the novel.  It made the narrator seem simpler in thinking and lacking in forethought.  With a novel that revolved around people walking around like sheep and not questioning anything around them, that advantage in tone had a distinct advantage.  Was there an advantage in using present tense?  Yes.  Could the novel have been easier to read in past tense?  Most definitely.

But, you might ask, are there reasons for using present tense in fiction?  My conclusion?  If you are reading this, if you are looking for writing tips to begin with, then hell no.  Present tense is hard to pull off in fiction.  It can impact tone and can increase the impact of an action scene (I frequently use present tense in my super short, less than 1000 word, stories where suspense or action is vital), but it is also hard, if not impossible at times, to transition back and forth between.

Primarily, I use present tense when I am writing a novel where I am trying to distinguish present from past events.  More importantly, I spend most of my time in the past.  The character is reminiscing.  It could be that the book starts out with the narrator explaining their reasons for putting their thoughts in print or at the end with the narrator detailing how the events of the book have changed things.  It could be that the narrator is verbally telling his/her story to someone in a bar and I switch back to present tense whenever the present butts in (like the narrator gets interrupted in the telling and has to interact with someone in the environment).

I don't have a degree in English or Creative Writing.  I'm a science major.  My favorite subject in the whole world is Molecular Genetics.  So, what I've learned, I learned from reading.  And, as I've said before, I read a lot.  I use a lot of what I read, and what I hear from editors and other authors, to improve my craft.  Of the likely thousands of novels I've read, I've only read four that were completely in present tense.  It's a statistical rarity, an extreme outlier.  A writer isn't on the cutting edge by using present tense, he/she is simply annoying the reader.  I liked the story of the novel by Allie Condie.  I thought it was creative and unique.  I want to know what happens next.  I will likely never read the rest of the series because I can't bear to go through another book like Matched.  I just can't do it.  The book was well written, was well edited.  Its only flaw was that it was in present tense.

In conclusion, use present tense with a great deal of caution and ask yourself if it's really worth it.  Can you write it in past tense and get whatever advantages you wanted from present tense without sacrificing readability and possibly readers?



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