Past or present. Most writer guides suggest that new writers use the past tense. Why?
Most stories do not happen in the moment. They have happened in the past. Storytellers, whether it was your grandfather or the reader in your local library, tell their stories in the past tense.
When you want to have your character think–direct thoughts–, you can do that in the present tense. The reader is immediately alerted to this change.
To write about incidents that occurred in the distant past, we can use past perfect for the first and last sentence. The remaining part of the flashback or backstory can then be written in the past.
They are comfortable with actions occurring in the past and may find it jarring to read in the present.
Here are some reasons you might choose to write in the present tense:
1) If you write for children or young adult, the present tense is a common form. Writing for young people is simpler and the present tense simplifies the sentence structure.
2) When you want to bring the reader directly into the action of the story, use present tense. Some new novels are coming out with present tense for this reason.
3) If you are writing a memoir, some authors use the present tense to make the writing more personal.
4) Use the present tense for your main narrator and the past for the actions of the characters. The best example of this technique is The Book Thief. The reader knows instantly when the narrator speaks because of the tense change.
Given all the above, I still prefer writing in the past. Recently I wrote a short story from a child’s point of view and decided to try writing in present tense. It was a great exercise and taught me how limiting that form is.
What books have you recently read in the present tense that you loved?