Dealing With Past & Present Tense

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Past and present tense; Don't mix them up!

There IS future tense, but that's not really involved in novel writing, so I won't include it here.

If you're already knowledgeable on this topic, I'd suggest you skip this (unless you want to read and help me out if I forgot something!), but if you are told constantly you have mistakes like this and/or aren't really sure what it means, this chapter is for you.


Past tense is, well, when you're talking about the past. I don't know how else to describe it, other than to show you.


"I WALKED home."

"'That's nice,' I SAID."

"I SANG to myself as I DANCED around the room."


All of the capitalized words are in the past tense. This tense is used for story telling. Think about it: if you're telling a friend about the awesome week-end you had last week ,you wouldn't describe it in present tense like it was happening that moment, you would use past tense words like I listed above. In novel writing, this is commonly used to tell the story.

However, there IS another choice.


Present tense is told like everything is happening at THAT precise moment.


"I WALK home."

"'That's nice,' I SAY."

"I SING to myself as I DANCE around the room."


Notice how I changed each of them? Now they are in present tense. Stories such as "The Hunger Games" are written in present tense, and that was very well done. It is hard for beginners to write in this way, though, especially if they're used to writing in past tense.


The most common way of story-telling on Wattpad and most novels is past tense. There are different ways to approach this. Two common ones are:

1. As if you're living in the story, it's just told in past tense instead of present. (Okay, that doesn't make sense, but read the next one to get to my point.)

2. As if you've reached a future point (Now) and are recalling the story as you would a memory. This may have a few present tense words  like "Thinking about it now, I see that I was foolish." That kind of use is fine.

But it's when writers are writing constantly in past tense and then slide in words that make me think their story is present tense that everything goes wrong. Sorry for that long sentence, let me explain.

The whole story may be written like: "I walked to school, and on my way I saw Billy-Bob. He winked at me, flashing that wonderful smile that made girls go crazy."

See how that's all past tense? That's nice.

But then the writer goes and slips in a sentence like this: "I don't know how does it, but he is able to make every girl swoon."

Did you notice all the present tense words in there? (If you didn't, you might need to look into this more.) Words like DON'T, DOES, IS, and MAKE are all present tense.

A revised version would be: "I didn't know how he did it, but he was able to make every girl swoon."

OR, if you're recalling the story like a memory, you might be trying to do something like this: "Even now I don't know how he did it, but he was able to make every girl swoon." (Since you're talking about Billy-Bob making girls swoon in the PAST, then you speak about that action in the past tense even though you're in the present. Does that make sense? Imagine that this is a real event that happened last year and you're telling your friend about it.)

If you understand, go read through your story and look for similar mistakes like the ones listed above, or have someone do it for you. (Preferably not me, since I don't have all that time on my hands.)

If you don't understand or just have specific question, ask me or look it up. :)

Have a nice day!

CHALLENGE: If you think you might have a problem with this, or you aren't sure, do a run-through of your first couple chapters. Look for any of these mistakes. If you notice any in those chapters, then it might be good to do an entire edit on your book looking for these mistakes. Be sure to remain aware when you're writing in the future.

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