Living in Two Tents

I wrote my novel in past tense/ third person limited, and I’m pleased with the results.  However, I’ve lately toyed with the idea of trying present tense, both as a challenge to myself and a tool for bringing more immediacy to the narrative.  Here’s an example:

Past tense:

A peal of thunder boomed, ripping Toney Tuesday from a rather pleasant dream about kissing Jillian Forber, the hottest girl in grade six at Orson Middle School.  His eyes flew open, his heart turned a back flip in his chest, and he may have screamed just a little.

# # #

Present tense:

Thunder booms, ripping Toney Tuesday from a rather pleasant dream about kissing Jillian Forber, the hottest girl in grade six at Orson Middle School.  His eyes fly open, his heart turns a back flip in his chest, and maybe he screams just a little.

—-

Before anyone sends me an email or post, I’m aware that the first sentence is passive.  Toney is asleep at the time, so he can’t know what made the thunder.  I’ll let it stand.

Anyway, I find that I like the past tense better.  I’ve read only one series that uses present tense in a way that holds my interest (you rock, Suzanne Collins).  As a reader, I find that first person wears me out.  I can stand it for a few pages, maybe even a chapter or two, but sooner or later I grow tired of all that immediacy authors are supposed to strive for, and I’ll put the book down.

The same is true in my writing.  Even this tiny exercise is enough to inform me I don’t like writing in present tense.  Past gives me the leeway to ebb and flow,  moving in and out of full speed action (or exposition for that matter) with ease.  In present, I feel like everything is happening NOW.  I suppose that’s the attraction for some authors, but it’s too much of a good thing for me.

— david j.

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One Comment

  1. I concur with your assessment.

    For short pieces, first person is fine. For novels, I prefer to be told the story as it unfolded, rather than as it unfolds.

    Reply

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