Past Tense vs. Present Tense for Writing Novel

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Authors and writers have been long debating about the use of present tense vs. past tense in writing novels. Silly nitpicking among writers or is there a logic behind it?

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Why Go With Past Tense

When you read novels or news, 9 out of 10 the writers use past tense. It’s so natural to use past tense to tell stories and past events.

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Think about it for a minute! How many times have you used present tense when you tell a story?

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Since people expect past tense when hearing and reading stories why not just give it to them. Many people even hate reading stories written in present tense. If you ask them, the answers may not even sound logical. They just dislike it as it sounds off.

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Stick with using past tense if your novel has many parts where the story often shifts to events in the past and future. Using past tense also allows you to play with the narrative in a more flexible manner.

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Why Go With Present Tense?

For a fast-paced novel, present tense is an excellent choice. Done well, a novel written in present tense can be immersive.

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The Hunger Games is a great example of a novel written in present tense.  The use of present tense allows the readers to live in the exact moment as the characters and be in the characters shoes as the events unfold. We’re always on our toes not knowing what the events will lead to.

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Keep in mind that writing your novel in present tense doesn’t mean you cannot use past tense at all. In the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins used past tense to describe past events such as when her sister got her cat, why Gale called her Catnip, and how his dad met his mother. It would be absurd to stick to present tense to describe such things.

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That said, going back and forth between past and present tense as you describe the characters action throughout the book is a huge no-no. It’s a common pitfall for novice writers, so do your best to avoid that.

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Which One’s Better?

In the end, it all depends on the writer’s skill to make things work. If you have a novel in progress, stick with whatever tense you’re already using. There’s no point revising it all since each tense can still provide immersion when executed well.

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Writers should spend more time on figuring out the plot, twist, and character development instead. After all, they are the ingredients that can make a story addictive or bland.

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All things said, if you always write in present tense and wish to experiment using past tense or the other way around, please do. Writers can learn a lot when they go out of their comfort zone and play with different styles.

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And whatever tense you’re using, be sure to check your work thoroughly for spelling or grammar mistakes. If you’re planning to send your manuscript to a publisher, you seriously don’t want typos littering your prized work. It could be humiliating and a major turn-off for the publishers.

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