Writing a novel in the present tense

I teach students that verbs are the way they create a relationship for the reader to time, and function a little like the way a horizon line might in a picture. As Laura Miller notes in that same coverage, William Gass wrote in on what seemed to him to be the alarming increase in the Present Tense suggesting it was in some way related to the increase in women writers. And, yes, of course, writing programs. Reading the Gass essay is like finding the source code for so many contemporary complaints about literature dating, yes, to 28 years ago.

Writing a novel in the present tense

It meant I wanted to make a movie. I could come closer by writing it in my own book than by attempting to get through to Hollywood. Present Tense Lends Itself Well To Unreliable Narrators Since the narrative is so close to the action in present tense stories, it lends well to unreliable narrators.

Since present tense draws you even closer to the narrator, it makes that reversal even more dramatic.

writing a novel in the present tense

Here are five reasons to choose past tense over present tense: What I dislike about the present-tense narrative is its limited range of expressiveness. I feel claustrophobic, always pressed up against the immediate. Past tense is a much safer choice.

I want all the young present-tense storytellers the old ones have won prizes and are incorrigible to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective. I want them to feel able to say what happened, what usually happened, what sometimes happened, what had happened before something else happened, what might happen later, what actually did happen later, and so on: For more flexibility when it comes to navigating time, choose past tense.

Let me say that present tense is not a reason I categorically reject a novel submission. But it often becomes a contributing reason, because successful present tense novel writing is much, much more difficult to execute than past tense novel writing.

In Defense of the Present Tense | Literary Hub

Most writers, no matter how good they are, are not quite up to the task. I think a lot of writers choose the present tense as a form of cowardice.

They think the present tense is really entirely about the present moment, as though the past and future do not actually exist. But a good present tense is really about texture, not time, and should be as rich and complicated and full of possibilities as the past tense.

Writers have many more narrative tricks available to them than filmmakers.

Past or present tense for fiction?

Writers can enter the heads of their characters, jump freely through time, speak directly to the reader, and more. As Emma Darwin says: To get the widest range of options in your narrative, use past tense.

However, with past tense, you have access to all twelve verb tenses English contains. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends. As with theater, novels have broken the fourth wall for hundreds of years, addressing the reader directly and doing so in present tense.

I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

As you can see present tense has its advantages and disadvantages. Which tense do you prefer, past or present tense? Let us know in the comments section. More Present and Past Tense Resources:I did not choose to write the novel in present tense, the tense chose me.

Naturally I prefer writing in third person, past tense, but it simply will not work for this novel. Some of the flaws with present tense that I have read about, I can overcome fairly easily. The past tense is by far the most common tense used in novel writing today, at least if you exclude the kind of literary fiction that doesn’t sell in meaningful numbers.

Come to think of it, you see past tense everywhere – in non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, the broadcast media, you name it.

When to Avoid Present Tense

“I thought that writing an historical novel in the present tense gave The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet a strange paradox. This already happened a long time ago, yet it’s happening now.

But it often becomes a contributing reason, because successful present tense novel writing is much, much more difficult to execute than past tense novel writing.

writing a novel in the present tense

Most writers, no matter how good they are, are not quite up to the task. It is easier to write a story in the past, because there are much more forms of the past tense than the present tense.

Using past tense, we can describe a wide range of people and their pasts creating a vast scope for spectacular irony and conception. 32 thoughts on “ The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense ” Redheaded Beauty June 5, at pm As a reader I can’t stand present tense, it feels so constricted and gives the novel a voice that just screams amateur.

Writing Advice…Past Tense or Present Tense? : Women Writers, Women's Books