Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal part 7

Present Tense – or Past Tense

One of the important considerations I have encountered while writing my novel is that of tense.  Stories and novels are written in either past tense or present tense. (As an aside, there is also future tense but very little fiction is written this way because of the inherent technical difficulties it presents.)

I most often write in the past tense. Much fiction is written in this way.  Past tense is probably the easiest – and safest – tense in which to write a story or novel.

Example: Frank walked casually along the path and rang the door bell.

I also use present tense in my writing. Many other writers also use this tense. This tense is more challenging to write, but it can bring to the story an immediacy and an urgency which heightens the tension or adds to the dramatic effect.

Example: Frank walks casually along the path and rings the door bell.

I started my novel in the past tense, third person (see my article on point of view here). On the suggestion of one of my lecturers and a fellow student, I rewrote the entire first chapter in the first person, changing it also to the present tense. I was quite pleased with the result – but not convinced that this is the way I will go for the whole novel.

In fact, subsequent chapters have been written in the third person, past tense. I keep telling myself that it would not be a huge job to rewrite the whole story in another tense or point-of-view.  If I did decide to go down this track, however, I would have to guard against accidental changes in POV or tense. Whatever path I choose, I must be consistent. That’s where meticulous editing will come into play.

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Good writing.


2 Responses to “Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal part 7”

  1. Snail says:

    Tricky one. I can only handle reading third person present tense for short passages. An entire novel written that way would drive me nuts! First person is more accessible but would it be sustainable? Only one way to find out …

  2. Trevor says:

    You should try writing an entire short story in the SECOND person!

    You will undoubtedly become just a little crazy like the author of this blog did last year. You will fully appreciate his attempt at being different, purely for the heck of fulfilling the requirements of a writing assignment.

    If you succeed – like he did – you will then be over the moon in achieving a distinction for the exercise. You will be inclined to celebrate uncontrollably. As you will surely see, writing from the second person point of view, while challenging for the writer, will be even more so for you, the reader.

    After even a few paragraphs, you will surely wish to tear up the book in a fit of pique or even rage. But, you, dear reader, will demonstrate a far more refined character. You will not stoop so far. You will resolve, indeed, you will solemnly vow, never to read another work by the said author.

    Even more – you will certainly be offended in the extreme, and you will crawl under your bed, and sob uncontrollably.

    Please – will you put down that very sharp knife?