Is present tense ever okay?

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Is present tense ever okay?

Post by danielle10 » May 11th, 2010, 1:16 pm

I am working on a story that begins in the present tense. Then I find myself switching to past tense. I realize the importance of staying in one tense, but is it ever okay? Are there any published works out there written in the present tense? If so, what are they?

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by Serzen » May 11th, 2010, 1:47 pm

A number of novels are written in the present tense: Rabbit, Run; Fight Club; Choke; House of Sand and Fog; Time Traveler's Wife; The Sound of My Voice; Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. (Interestingly, the last two are written in the second person, so BROKEN MIRROR isn't alone. Hooray for me!)

I'm sure there's a lot more, and likely quite a few genre books that do it as well. I've never found it to be a deal breaker when I'm reading.

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by daringnovelist » May 11th, 2010, 2:52 pm

The thing I don't like about present tense is that it feels like a synopsis. It's kind of like using second person - instead of actually being in the story, you end up hearing the voice of the narrator telling you the story. It can work, but it's better in very short or experimental works, IMHO.


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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by Em! » May 11th, 2010, 3:17 pm

This question had me trying to remember what was the last novel using present tense I'd read.

Googling, I found references to all of these books being in present tense:
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
  • The Night Lawyer by Michelle Spring
  • Dull Boy by Sarah Cross
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  • Independence Day by Richard Ford
  • A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  • The Pacific Between by Raymond K. Wong
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (odd-numbered chapters) by Italo Calvino
  • Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  • The Fall by Albert Camus
  • After Dark by Haruki Murakami
(I left out the ones Serzen already listed.)

None of these were the novel I was trying to remember, though, so I'm left to stew on that...
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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by BlancheKing » May 11th, 2010, 3:41 pm

I find it works for thoughts that sound awkward in the past tense.

For example:
"You need help." has a different connotation than "You needed help."
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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by wilderness » May 11th, 2010, 4:22 pm

Yes, a lot of chick lit is written in first person present tense (for example Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series). I've read plenty of YA in present tense too. I like it. Just be consistent and stay in one tense, of course.

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by polymath » May 11th, 2010, 4:55 pm

Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter saga, four novels, transitions purposely back and forth between present tense and past tense.
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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by BransfordGroupie » May 11th, 2010, 7:29 pm

If you are after Ya, the The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson is written in first person present tense. It starts in past tense, then moves into present tense within about 10 pages.

Hope that helps.
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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by otherside89girl » May 11th, 2010, 8:50 pm

Of course present tense is okay, as illustrated by the examples everyone just gave you. But for me, as a reader, present tense is usually a deal breaker. I can't say exactly why, but it doesn't read as well as past tense. It seems a little amateur to me. The only book I remember actually finishing that was in present tense was Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.

But if that feels more natural to you as a writer then that's totally fine.

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by jkmcdonnell » May 12th, 2010, 1:40 am

I recently read Lisa McMann's WAKE and FADE, both of which were written in the present tense. It was a little difficult to get into at first, but after a while of reading the books, I found myself wanting to write and even think in this tense. Like anything, present tense is absolutely workable if the writing is strong. However, as some posters have pointed out, some readers are more agreeable to it than others; it just comes down to what people prefer. Use whatever tense services your story better.

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by Quill » May 12th, 2010, 10:30 am

A Certain Strain of Peculiar by Gigi Amateau is written in first person present. You can click the link to read the opening pages. It's a YA book I picked up at the library recently and thought I might like, but gave up half way through, as there wasn't enough happening. I think I found the perspective a little claustrophobic, too. I'm basically a third person past tense type of person.

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by heather_hangs_it » May 12th, 2010, 5:51 pm

I tend to gravitate toward writing in third person, and I like to read third person, too. I think writing in the present tense would be tricky, but might be intriguing if you can pull it off. I'd check it out!


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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by Robin » May 12th, 2010, 8:43 pm

I'm reading Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and it is in first person. I actually didnt realize it was in first person until I was half way through and then it hit me...
I think its the story and writing that is what counts most, not if its written in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc...

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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by poptart » May 14th, 2010, 6:24 am

Why not? The question is, can you pull it off?

Present tense gives a disjointed, in-the-moment feel. It can be useful to heighten tension, but sustaining it for a whole book is a tough gig.

Interesting article about this here: ... sent_tense
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Re: Is present tense ever okay?

Post by miahayson » May 14th, 2010, 11:11 am

I'm no expert, let me just declare that right now.

However, from experience I think you need to work out if it's ok for you specficially i.e. does it suit your writing style? does it help the story? can you make it read well? There are lots of books out there written in present tense and written very well because present tense can be used to a) heighten tension b)form an ever present storyline that speeds up pace and c) create a much stronger sounding voice (the character sounds more certain of themselves and action appears more definite).

Be aware that it creates distance too.I've never come across third person narrative in present tense but, for first person, you place the reader within the Main Character's consciousness. They are no longer a hidden observer and this can lead to the reader feeling isloated from the other characters but connected to the MC. Maybe that's why some are so set against it? It's an acquired taste and some people dislike how this forces the reader to view other characters exactly (and only) how the MC does.

I generally use present tense for MC's I feel aren't totally of sound mind but I'm sure it works in other cases. Just make certain you keep your voice and writing style, don't lose yourself in the details. I really hope this helps and you work out whether it's right for you. Ultimately, you have to be comfortable with what you are writing :~)


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