When we start to write a novel, there are lots of things to think about: appropriate plot twists, rounded characters, and a snarky antagonist or two. Something many of us don’t tend to give much thought to is what tense to write in. Some writers believe it’s a personal choice, while others believe it should be decided based on what genre we’re writing it.
For the most part, writing in the past tense tends to be the preferred method. It’s familiar and comfortable, not to mention that it’s the most popular tense of all the big-shot writers out there. Writing in the past tense allows the reader to feel more connected to the narrator, listening to him/her tell the story as everyone sits around a campfire or a kitchen table. It helps you invest in the characters and plot in a gentle way so that you’re hooked before you know it.
As far as genre goes, writing in the past tense is best for those books that are plot driven (ex: action, mystery) rather than character-based (ex: romance, coming-of-age). As mentioned, the reader is able to connect with the narrator as s/he tells the story. So, the writer can slip comments and prejudices to the reader (overtly or otherwise) and make the mystery a little trickier, or give the action story an extra plot twist.
Writing in the present tense can be jarring and distracting for the writer as much as the reader and cause all sorts of problems. Its intention is pure enough, it works to help you get in the head of the character as the action is happening, but the truth of it is that it isn’t always effective. It can allows you to get in the mindset of the character and go on the journey with them as it happens, giving the reader the feeling of making the decisions along with the character. The reader will put stock in the character and form a strong, emotional connection that way. Present tense writing can do a lot in the slower, more emotional plots that require you to invest in the characters. You may be thinking “but, I know all sorts of romance novels that are written in the paste tense,” and you’d be right. Choosing the tense doesn’t have to involve anything but personal preference for many writers out there, despite what I’ve been saying.
Personally, I much prefer writing and reading in past tense. When I’m reading, I can focus on the story without getting distracted by the writing itself. When writing, I feel much more confident in the past tense. The several times I’ve written in present tense, everything was choppy and awkward, not to mention that I randomly switched from third person point of view to first person. The bottom line for me is that writing in the present tense is just plain distracting, no matter what genre I’m in or what story I’m trying to tell.
Does anyone else feel partial to the past tense? Or, maybe feel that writing in the present tense is more comfortable? Feel free to say it all below!