Past or present?

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“Past, Present, Future all are tensed and they say Life is Easy.” 

~ Manasa Rao.

In recent times, I had a query from my fan, who is writing a book in present tense. This made me wonder on the uses of different tenses. Here I am going to discuss few plus and minus points of past and present tenses. Of course, use of the tense has to do with how you want your narrator to be.

As an author of “In Honour of the Heart.” I have felt that I am telling a story which has already happened in my head so I started writing it in past tense. There were lot of flash backs, back story and using a past tense made sense.

Use of past tense is more common compared to present tense.  By and large, we are used to read novels in this tense. Even the newspapers, magazines, news use it.  

 But many of YA/Teen fiction are written in present tense.  Latest I came across is “Twilight Saga”.  “The Hunger Games” “Fight Club” and “The Night circus” is written this way too.

Past tense:

It is helpful when you have multiple points of views in your story.  It’s common for novel-length works because writing a standard 50,000 words story in present tense may prove difficult. Moreover it is easy to maneuver time using past tense. You can change the pace of your story. Storyteller and character are separated in this style so the narrator can hint at mystery creating a slight suspense.

Back story and flash backs can be woven much easier. If I give example of my own book, it runs parallel between Now and then.

But writing a story in past tense can make you tell rather show, informing readers instead of giving them a taste of direct action.  It may create distance between reader and character so readers don’t experience the things as and when characters do.

Present tense:

How it goes when a friend calls you to tell about something that happened yesterday? She tells it in the present tense. A little similar to this,

“And I’m ready to take Sam for a movie, right? But the minute she comes home, she just collapses on the sofa. Umm, I, like, almost run and touch her forehead. Oh my God, she is having a high fever. So I make her at ease by wrapping her in a blanket and give her medicine straight away. Here goes my plan to enjoy the evening with my daughter. But guess what happens next? Sam throws a tantrum when I cancel going out!”

A tale written in this tense sounds more urgent as you can see from the above example.  It conveys more intimacy. This works best when you want your reader to feel the story as if they are living it now.  Such writing style forms much better bond between your protagonist and readers. Both reader and character go through the plot together creating an instant close relationship. Here readers get to experience the events at the same time the characters do.  It is excellent when you want your readers to believe in your character but want to keep them in dark regarding the future.

On the other hand, it limits the ability to show actions from multiple points of views.

There is less chance to create suspense and drama as well. The story stays in the present forever so you can’t demonstrate how the experiences helped your character to grow or pushed them to act.

This is a good way to keep readers in the ‘now’ but it is not as simple to accomplish as it sounds.  Main issue is to sustain it without losing reader’s interest.


Nonetheless, past tense is an accepted technique by tradition and many of the published books are proof of that.  

Consider which tense is correct for your book.  Every idea can’t be executed in a particular tense.

I will say that you should select the tense which feels right to you. It depends on your personal writing style.


Guys, I am eager to hear from you. What do you think of this as both readers and writers? Are you comfortable writing in present tense? Do you read such novels? Can you name them ?

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