Past Tense or Present Tense: Which is Best?
When writing a novel, how much time should you spend in the past tense versus the present tense? Take my advice and stick with the past. Why do I say that?
1. Past Tense Is Invisible
The past tense is by far the most common tense used in novel writing today, but choosing a less common tense just to be different doesn’t make you a stylish writer.
Stick with the present tense if you don’t have a good reason to use the past tense. The second version isn’t bad; it’s just a littleu2026 weirder, right? It takes a little more getting used to, but it’s hardly fatal.
Make Life Easy for the Readers
Using the past tense is “invisible” to readers, so it isn’t an issue; they won’t even notice it because it’s what they expect, so they can focus on the important things: the characters, the story, and the writer’s skill.
The Paradox of Past Tense
When we’re immersed in a past tense scene, it feels as if the action is taking place right now; a dramatized account elicits our five senses, allowing us to hear the character’s thoughts, feel their pain, and so on.
2. Past Tense Is More Flexible
Showing and telling work in the past tense because you show the reader the exciting parts and skip over the rest; however, in the present tense, you must give the impression that events are unfolding in real time for present tense writing to be convincing.
Confused? I’ll Try to Make Things Clearer…
Allow events to unfold in real time, skip chunks of time, or fast-forward through time in a novel. In the past tense, you can use all three techniques, from real time to skipping time entirely. You could design your novel as a series of real-time chapters, with the “dull bits” omitted in between. You can use flashbacks, as in the eponymous novel.
So When Is Present Tense the Best Choice?
The most common tense is past tense, which became the tense of choice in literary fiction because it was unique. If you’re writing literary fiction, your target audience won’t mind using present tense. Here’s another reason to use present tense.
It Gives Novels a Cinematic Feel
In a past tense novel, you could fast-forward through that missing chunk of time; in a present tense novel, there’s no way to film something like that in a movie, except perhaps with a sequence of vignettes.
Choose present tense if you don’t want any novelesque narration in between scenes, or if present tense is perfectly suited to your character. It’s the most flexible and, nine times out of ten, it’s a no-brainer.
One Last Thought on Tenses…
Choosing between past and present tense isn’t always an either/or decision; in a dual timeframe story, using both would be an option. The obvious choice is to use present tense for scenes set in the present day; however, doing it the other way around is more effective.
Should I write a book in present or past tense?
Use the present tense when writing about writers or artists as they express themselves in their work. The Basic Rule: When discussing historical events, use the past tense, and when discussing fictional events, use the literary present.
How do you write a novel in past tense?
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).
Why do authors 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.
Which POV is right for book?
Some guidelines: 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; and choose first person or close third if you want your reader to feel strong identification with your POV character.
Can you write a book in present tense?
If you can’t decide which tense to use in your novel, go with past tense. There are many reasons why past tense is the standard for novels. That said, present tense is perfectly acceptable from a technical standpoint; there’s nothing wrong with it, even if it annoys some readers.
Is Harry Potter written in present tense?
Is Harry Potter written in the present tense? Harry Potter is written in the third person limited tense, which means that we only get to hear Harry’s thoughts and feelings (with a few exceptions in the Harry Potter novels).
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 write in 3rd person?
When writing in the third person, the story is about other people, not about you or the reader, so use the character’s name or pronouns like ‘he’ or’she’.
How do you write future tense?
You can write or speak in simple future tense by simply adding the helping verbs ‘will’ or’shall,’ or by using a form of ‘be’ plus ‘going to.’
What tense is most fiction written in?
The present tense is frequently associated with literary fiction, short stories, students in writing programs and workshops, and first novels, whereas the past tense is used in most genre novels, and readers are not required to adjust when reading a story written in the past tense.
What tense should a story be written in?
For fiction writers, the past is the most common tense convention, making it the most familiar narrative tense for readers.
Why are so many books written in present tense?
It creates a sense of immediacy: Writing in the present tense gives the impression that the novel’s events are unfolding in real time, which can help the reader feel an immediate connection to a first-person narrator because we see the POV character’s life events and emotional transformations as they occur.
Is Harry Potter written in first person?
Most popular fiction uses some type of third person narrator, but the specifics can vary. A close third person, as in Harry Potter, sticks with one character; other third-person options include objective and omniscient.
What are the 4 types of point of view?
The Four Different Kinds of Points of View
- First person point of view.
- Second person point of view.
- Third person point of view.
- Third person point of view, limited.
- Third person point of view, omniscient.
Is Percy Jackson written in first person?
Because readers are aware that this story is about twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, they can assume that the narrator is Percy Jackson himself. Authors frequently use the first-person point of view to help readers better understand the main character.