How to Choose the RIGHT Tense for Your Novel
If you’re writing a novel or a short story, you must choose between past tense and present tense. Future tense is technically possible, but it’s rarely used in fiction, so we’ll skip it here.
What’s the Difference Between Present and Past Tense?
In fiction, a story told in the past tense is about events that occurred in the past, whereas a story told in the present tense is about events that occurred in the present. This is a simple example, but what do you think? How do they differ? Which version do you prefer?
Choose Between Past and Present Tense BEFORE You Start Writing Your Novel
Switching back and forth between past and present tense is a common mistake made by new writers, and it’s one of the most common errors they make when writing their first novel.
Both Past Tense and Present Tense Are Fine
Whether you’re writing a fictional novel or a nonfiction newspaper article, past tense is by far the most common tense. Some readers won’t read past the first few pages if your book is written in present tense. There’s nothing wrong with using past tense, even if it annoys some readers.
The Hunger Games and Other Examples of Present Tense Novels
The Hunger Games is one of the most well-known examples of a present-tense novel, and The Bleak House is the first novel written entirely in it, first serialized in 1852.
Other Notable Novels
Comic books, which use dialogue bubbles and descriptions in characters’ voices, are another example of popular present-tense writing.
5 Advantages of Present Tense
Here are five reasons why you might want to use the present tense in your writing, as well as how it might help you in the long run.
1. Present Tense Feels Like a Movie
The present tense was originally intended to be an equivalent of the cinematic mode of narration in John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, and Christopher Bram credits film for his use of present tense because it is the tense of screenplays.
2. Present Tense Intensifies the Emotions
Use the present tense to pull the reader into the story as much as possible and to heighten the novel’s suspense. Present tense gives the reader the feeling of “We are all in this together,” rather than “Just one person knows what is going on.”
3. Present Tense Works Well With Deep Point of View
Deep point of view, or deep POV, is a popular narrative style right now that’s similar to first-person narrative but written in third person. According to some estimates, deep POV accounts for 50% of adult novels and 70% of YA novels.
4. Present Tense Works Best In Short-Time-Frame Stories With Constant Action
Because everything is told in real time, present tense works well in stories told in a very short time frame, such as 24 hours, because it’s difficult to make too many transitions and time jumps when telling a story in present tense.
5. Present Tense Lends Itself Well To Unreliable Narrators
Because present tense draws you closer to the narrator, it creates dramatic reversals in the story when they reveal their lies. An unreliable narrator is a storyteller who tells a story incorrectly or leaves out key details.
5 Drawbacks of Present Tense
When used correctly, present tense can be beneficial, but it can also be detrimental.
1. Some Readers Hate Present Tense
He claims that past tense is a safer option because it allows for more freedom of expression. WARNING: If you write in past tense, some readers will throw your book down in disgust.
2. Present Tense Less Flexible, Time Shifts Can Be Awkward
Because you’re so focused on events as they happen in present tense, it can be difficult to disengage from the ever-pressing moment. Because you’re locked into the present, you’re limited in your ability to move through time freely. Choose past tense for more flexibility when it comes to navigating time.
3. Present Tense Harder to Pull Off
Present tense is much more difficult to write in than past tense, and most writers, no matter how good, are not up to the task. A good present tense is all about texture, not time; if you want to write in an easier tense, go with past tense.
4. No or Little Narration
Present tense is frequently used by writers to mimic film, but it can be more of a disadvantage than an advantage because writers have far more narrative tricks at their disposal than filmmakers. Use past tense rather than present tense to get the most variety in your narrative.
5. Present Tense Is More Limited
When you use present tense, you only have access to four verb tenses: simple present, present progressing, simple future, and occasionally simple past, whereas when you use past tense, you have access to all twelve verb tenses English has to offer. When you use present tense, you limit yourself to one-third of your options.
How to Combine Present and Past Tense Correctly
While switching tenses within the narrative should be avoided, there is one situation in which present tense and past tense can be combined within a novel, as seen in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
What tense Should books be written in?
Whether you’re writing a fictional novel or a nonfiction newspaper article, past tense is by far the most common tense. If you can’t decide which tense to use in your novel, you should probably write it in past tense. There are several reasons why past tense is the standard for novels.
Are books written in present tense?
The English language is full of great novels written in the present tense, from Charles Dickens’ nineteenth-century work Bleak House to modern classics like the Divergent series. If you’re working on your first book or novel, writing in the present tense can be a great way to hook readers and create suspense.
Are stories written in past tense?
The past is the most common convention in the use of tense in fiction writing, making it the most familiar narrative tense for readers. This familiarity can work against authors who choose to compose their narrative in the present tense, as some readers will dismiss those texts outright.
How do you write the past tense of a book?
If you’re writing a novel in the past tense, stick with it. Changing the tense will not only jar the reader, but it will also make the novel’s timeline confusing. The only exceptions are dialogue (which should be italicized) and inner thoughts (which should be italicized).
What person should I write in?
Here are some pointers:
- Choose first person if you want to write the entire story in unique, quirky language. Choose first person if you want your POV character to engage in lengthy ruminations. Choose first person or close third if you want your reader to feel strong identification with your POV character.
What is the easiest tense to write in?
Which verb tense is best for your story? Once again, the best option is the one that feels most natural for you to write. It’s worth noting, however, that past-tense is by far the most common option; first-person is far less common, and readers may find it jarring.
How do you start off a book?
How to Write a Great Hook and Get Your Novel Off to a Flying Start!
- Begin at a life-changing moment.
- Create intrigue about the characters.
- Use a setting as the inciting incident.
- Increase the stakes within the first few pages.
- Introduce something ominous right away.
- Set the mood.
How do you write thoughts in first person?
Everything you write in a first-person narrative comes straight from the main character’s mind, so there’s no need to italicize or qualify the character’s thoughts with an “I thought” tag.
Is write present tense?
You can write in the present tense by simply using the root form of the word; however, you must add -s, -ies, or -es if you’re writing in the third person singular. First person singular: I go swimming every day. Third person singular: She goes swimming every day.
Why do writers use past tense?
Because of this, and the prevalence of past tense literature, it tends to be slightly more enjoyable for the reader. It’s easier to make a non-linear story when you’re writing about past events without the use of flashbacks when you’re writing about past events without the use of flashbacks.
Can you use both past and present tense in a story?
When a story is told in the past tense, the main character has had time to reflect and possibly understand what happened on a deeper level. Basically, if something is still true in your character’s present, you can write it in the present tense even if your story is in the past tense.
Is present tense or past tense?
The past, present, and future tenses are used to describe events that have already occurred (e.g., earlier in the day, yesterday, last week, three years ago). The present tense is used to describe events that are currently occurring or that are ongoing.
What tense is used in writing minutes?
Minutes must be written in the third person and in the past tense.
What is example of past perfect tense?
The following sentences use the past perfect tense: had met: She had met him before the party; had left: The plane had left by the time I arrived at the airport; had written: I had written the email before he apologized.
Is past perfect tense?
The past perfect tense refers to a time before now, and it is used to indicate that one event occurred before another in the past. It makes no difference which event is mentioned first; the tense indicates which one occurred first.