Tense - There's no time like the present. Or is there?

This morning I read an interesting article by Phillip Pullman regarding writing in present tense. Personally, I love reading present tense. It makes me feel up close and personal with the MC. In fact, my WiP, This Too Shall Pass (and other phrases that I hate) is IN present tense.

So I honestly thought I'd be annoyed, think the man was crazy, and move on to the next article on my list as I clicked on the link. Phillip Pullman Calls Time on the Present Tense? Puh-leese.

But you know what? He made some good points. This one was my favorite:

"It's an abdication of narrative responsibility, in my view. The storyteller, in film or novel, should take charge of the story and not feel shifty about it. Put the camera in the place from which it can see the action most clearly. Make a decision about where that place is. Put it on something steady to stop that incessant jiggling about. Say what happened, and let the reader know when it happened and what caused it and what the consequences were, and tell me where the characters were and who else was present – and while you're at it, I'd like to know what they looked like and whether it was raining."

Have I changed my mind, decided never to write in present tense again? No. I will, however, bookmark this article and refer to it often as a reminder not to sound like this:

"We were there when these things happened. They were real. We didn't have time to adjust the focus on that shot or swing round in time to see who said those words or keep the camera steady. It was all happening there right in front of us. It was all urgent and real."

How about you? Do you read present tense? Write it? Which tense do you prefer in writing or reading?

13 comments:

Simon C. Larter said...

Pfft. It's Pullman's preference, is all. You can easily get away with writing present tense, and tell a wonderful story doing it.

He's very well reasoned in his opinion, but it's still just his opinion. He can't, and doesn't speak for the book-buying public.

But he does make good points.

Bethany Mattingly said...

I do not write in present, but occasionally read it. Neither do I have a preference. I really look to subject matter and quality of work. I considered tense more of a characteristic of a story rather than the one thing that makes me say yes or no to a novel. This was super awesome post though that has made me think about it more.

Linda G. said...

As with anything in writing, it's more a matter of how well you do it than what you're doing. You can break any "rule" -- as long as you get away with it. ;)

I'm reading more present tense now than I used to, and really, as long as the story is good, it makes no difference to me. I don't write in present tense--yet, anyway--because that's not how it comes to me. Who knows, though? One of my future protags may well speak to me that way. I'm open. :)

Lydia Sharp said...

Some of my very favorite books are written in present tense, and I just recently started writing it (not easy!).

Present tense is not the devil. I honestly don't understand why it attracts so much hate in writerly circles.

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

I LOVE present tense. I write in present tense. But you know, if a book is well written, and hooks you into the story, who's going to even notice what tense it's in?

Jolene Perry said...

I like both - it depends on the story. Some stories I want you to experience with the MC, others can be "told" by them.
Same with reading. The only time I don't like the past tense is when people like to use a lot of general statements in the middle of the text - those are written in present tense and it takes me out of the story.

Robyn Bavati said...

I think it's harder to write well in the present tense, and it takes a skillful writer to sustain it for the duration of an entire novel without the book becoming plodding or tiresome. However, it certainly can be done successfully, and often is.

Janet Johnson said...

Hunger Games was my first present tense read. It really threw me at first, but I got used to it. 3rd person past is my preference. But every reader/author is different. You have to do what works for you. Good luck with yours!

Melissa said...

I don't have a preference. As long as the story grabs me, I can read any tense.

I never thought about present tense bothering some people, though. My WIP is written that way and one of my former CPs had a hard time reading it.

coffeelvnmom said...

It's nice to hear so many of you enjoy present tense, too. And I think Jessica Bell pretty much summarized the way a lot of us feel when she said - "...If a book is well written, and hooks you into the story, who's going to even notice what tense it's in?"

Jessica =)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

LOVE present tense. My WiP is also in present tense. It just seemed to come out that way. I agree with Jessica Bell, too. Some books, I'm half-way through before I realize it's in present tense. But I guess that shows it's written well. :)

Great post, Jessica!

Amy

Regina said...

I personally read all tenses but mainly write first and third. I really have no preference when reading as long as it is well written. :)

Eric W. Trant said...

I'll do posts in present-tense, or tell anecdotes in present-tense, or in 1st POV, but when I write, it is almost exclusively in 3rd Past POV.

I say ~almost~ because surely there's another POV, probably 1st Past, but certainly no 1st Present.

The 1st Present seems to be popular with YAs these days.

Really, so long as it's clearly written, I could care less what tense it is, though 1st person sorta throws me (my least favorite because I'm stuck in one person's head the whole frigging time).

- Eric