Past Tense, Present Tense, What Tense?

I’m not going to get into a discussion about tenses. I’m only going to make a statement in support of writing in whatever POV and in whatever tense you want.

Writing is art. And like any art, unless someone has hired you for a specific project, you are free to do whatever you please.

I don’t remember where I read this, but I think it was Stephen King who said that he wasn’t being paid to write, he was being paid to publish what he wrote. I’m a firm believer that there is a market for nearly everything. Maybe not a commercial market, but there are people out there who will buy the most outlandish stories you can think up, if they are available for them to buy.

I’ve seen people on both sides of the present tense debate. To be honest, I don’t think readers care. They just want a good story, however it’s told, and most of them don’t even notice and wouldn’t unless you asked them. I’m like this, too. I recently pulled a few books off my bookshelf and flipped through them to see what tense they were in because I couldn’t remember.

That’s how unimportant it is. You can’t put restrictions on what people are allowed to write and the way they are allowed to write it. There are books without chapters, books with titled chapters in all genres, books with pictures, books without page numbers, etc, etc, etc.

Are there people who will refuse to read anything that isn’t in 3rd person past? Yes. And you know what, who cares? It’s YOUR story. Tell it however you want, in as many POVs as you want, and in as many different tenses as you want.

There is not a single “rule” that can’t be broken in the right hands. There is no right, absolute way to write a story. There is only the story. It’s our job to tell it the best way that we can, using whatever tools we need. It’s art. There are no restrictions on art. Obviously if it’s unreadable, you’ll hear about it. But it’s still your right as an artist.

I can’t say I would be crazy about reading a story in second person, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I’m just one person. Really though, I would at least read a couple of pages to see if I could stand it. It might be amazing! Or not.

I think it was about a year ago, I talked about the different tenses and how they would sound in a story, and I played around with future tense! It was crazy! Again, i can’t say I would be crazy about reading a novel in that tense, but it’s sounds so wild I would have to take a look. I bet it would be a right hot mess if I tried to do it, but in the right hands…world rocked. 🙂

17 Responses to Past Tense, Present Tense, What Tense?

  1. I’ve read fan fiction written in second tense. Don’t think I could read an entire book written like that though. I generally don’t care what tense a story is written in as long as it makes sense. The novel’s being written half in first and half in first.

  2. Yeah, I used to rant about first person present tense. It still drives me crazy, but I have read a few books written that way that I enjoyed, so who am I to say it’s a bad way to tell a story? Still makes me want to bash my head in until I get deeper into the story.

    • The first time I read it, I didn’t even notice it for several chapters. When I did, I had this moment where I was like, “Has she been doing this the entire time?!” It was interesting. I ended up really liking it.

  3. Back in 6th grade my teacher read us a story written in the second-person. It was disorienting at first but it gave the whole thing an immediacy that was downright scary and intimate. But it has to be used carefully, I think. Like most “rules”, it’s a good idea to stick in first or third person unless you know what you’re doing.

    • I read these choose your own adventure books as a kid that were all in second person. It was pretty exciting as a nine year old. I think I would be a lot more resistant to it now, but it sounds like it could be a lot of fun at the same time.

  4. I prefer 1st. The writing has to be strong for me to read in a different POV. It’s easier for me to write in 1st, too.

  5. I’m a firm believer in the story dictating how it should be told. My first MS was in close 3rd past. My current MS mostly told in close 3rd past, but one of the POV is in 1st present. I’ve read stories in all sorts of tenses and POVs and mixes and I don’t think I’ve ever not liked a book because of the tense it was told in. Mind you I’ve never read a future tense novel, and I can’t imagine it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    • That’s how I feel about it. I’ve never put a book down because of the tense, but future tense would be pretty wild! Whenever I write in third, I do close third. I love it. 🙂

  6. Amen.
    But I think present tense is harder to write, especially 3rd present. Not only are very few books written in that tense, but many of those which are, feel a little jarring. So all the power more to those who get it right!

    • Did you know I’ve written a few things in 3rd present! I actually really like it, but I can definitely say first present is easier. It is quite a bit trickier to pull off a seamless 3rd present, but you can’t get good without practice. ;D

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