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  1. #1
    A. Way
    Guest

    Present vs Past Tense

    There are a lot of threads about using the present tense (particularly with the first person) in writing fiction, but most of them just discuss how difficult it is or isn't to do well. I'm wondering what literary effect using the present tense third person has. Someone used that word, "literary", to describe what it can do to a ms. Is that the general consensus: using the present tense third person makes a ms look more "arty"? Another person mentioned an inherent falseness to it; might it be considered as a hint, therefore, that the reader is dealing with an unreliable narrator?



  2. #2
    Robert Raven
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    A lot of this choice tends to become personal preference, more than anything else. I tend not to like first-person present tense narration much; it often comes across to me as precious and self-indulgent. But, there are some stories that are more appropriately rendered in that way. And some people (including even editors, who occasionally qualify as such) really love it. Hilda Raz, the long-time editor of the highly-respected litmag Prairie Schooner, was famously quoted in a Writer's Digest article three or four years ago as saying, "Good stories used to be written in third-person." Guess which kind of narration has the best chance at her mag?

    RR

  3. #3
    Jan Helman
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    I have a similar question.

    I've got a book going that combines third person present with third person past tense. When I started writing this book several years ago, my idea was that chapters taking place in the "present" (as perceived by the book's characters) would be written in present tense, while the occasional flashback/history chapter would be written in past tense.

    Now that I've decided to tackle this project again, I'm questioning this decision. It would not be too difficult to switch everything to third person past tense.

    Do you think the mix of present/past tense would work in this situation, or should I make the switch?

  4. #4
    Denise .
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    Jan, I can only speak for myself. I am writing my first novel, and it is in third person present restricted. And the reason I chose to do it this way is because it is my first novel and I don't feel qualified to attempt anything more complicated yet. I can concentrate on the writing and the story.

    Now, to address the question posed by the creator of this thread. I like books written in any tense from any viewpoint if the writing is good and the story compelling. I don't believe we should concern ourselves with whether it is considered literary, arty, etc. As writers, we must be true to the story and write in our voice. If it comes out sounding literary, so be it.

  5. #5
    A. Way
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    I'm kind of surprised to hear Denise take such a dim view of using narrative techniques to one effect or another. Isn't this part of what makes literature literature? If I wanted to write a story using an unreliable narrator and using third person present made my narrator seem more slippery, wouldn't it be "true" to my purposes to use it?

  6. #6
    Denise .
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    I think you misunderstood me, or either I didn't make myself clear enough. Some writers have a literary style, some don't. I don't think you can create a voice that doesn't exist.

    I have no idea what you mean my wanting to use an unreliable narrator on purpose. Why would you want to do that? Who wants to read a book from a perspective they can't trust?

    And it sounds as if you believe that a writer can change their technique to create an effect at will. Do you mean their voice? You lost me there. But if that is what you meant, please name a few famous authors who have done this.

    Most likely I think we must be on different pages, or maybe even in complete different books.

  7. #7
    Jan Helman
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    The unreliable narrator can be a very effective literary technique. For example, Agatha Christie wrote a fine mystery (I forget the title) in which the narrator turns out to be the murderer, only the reader doesn't find out until the end of the book.

  8. #8
    Denise .
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    Ah hah! Now that makes sense.

  9. #9
    Kim H
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    There are definitely genre lines regarding POV and tense. One thriller publisher that I recently read guidelines to only accepts third person past tense. The only books I have personally read that were in the present tense were literary novels. Not commercial fiction.

    There are definitely personal preferences involved (both at the reader and editor levels). Personally, I can't stand present tense. I find it awkward to read. I don't have an opinion regarding first or third person POV, I enjoy both equally. I just have a real hatred for present tense. lol.

  10. #10
    Robert Raven
    Guest

    Re: Present vs Past Tense

    Christie's novel is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Other honored examples of "unreliable" narrator would include Huckleberry Finn, A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess), The Inheritors (William Golding), The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) and Little Big Man (Thomas Berger).

    RR

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