Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Keeping Your Eyes Wide Open: Using Past, Present Tense, or Both

As many of you know I have a publishing business. Editing is one of the services provided, and this includes line by line as well as plot, characterization and so forth. It may even include whether you should be using past or present tense as an author.

Because I am open to doing what works, I often use present tense. Present tense is more immediate, while past tense is sort of reflection oriented, like getting a hold of an old journal and finally reading its contents. Some writers mix the tenses, and this works for them, especially if they're writing in present tense and want to share something that happened in the past.

But what about writing in past tense, and talking about something that is happening now?

Photo by: skampy, courtesy of Flickr
A tough cookie.

I like what Tabitha Olson has to say on her blog, "Writer Musings."

"When a story is told in past tense, the main character has had some time to reflect and perhaps understand what happened on a deeper level. Sometimes it changes the way she currently thinks, and sometimes it doesn’t. And it’s perfectly fine to include her current feelings on things that happened in her story.

Basically, you can follow this rule of thumb: if it’s still true in your character’s present, then you can write it in present tense even if your story is in past tense."

I think, as writers, we need to be open to what works for our style of writing as well as the tone we want to convey.

If we begin our fantasy story in present tense, for example, believing that the story will be more immediate to our readers and closer to their hearts, we may feel a need to change it later on simply because we find the present tense stunting the flow of our words. We may find, that in this particular case, past tense gives readers more of the old-time feel that we were really searching for.

And that's great, because until our book is published, we're still working on fine tuning it to GREAT, right?


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