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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Monday, 24 August 2009
In writing a novel it’s a good idea to decide at the very beginning who the main characters are; the viewpoint you are going to use; which tense you will choose. The reason is simple, once started and with a lot written, to change is difficult and tiresome. Lorna wrote “I have a query about tense and what are the pros and cons of using present instead of past imperfect tense?” Oh,Lorna a difficult one! It’s difficulty, for me, lies in the fact that I don’t like books written in present tense – so I’ll try to look at the problem without prejudice. The first question is what do you want your readers to feel? You no doubt want them to believe that the world you are creating is real and happening. What a paradox then that past tense is more common in novels. What sort of book are you writing? There is an immediacy to present tense which adds pace to your narrative, a sense of happening of witnessing, of reality; it is why it suits thrillers, you only have to think of Chandlers work. Something else to consider. To work, present tense has to be so well written that the reader should not be aware of it – this requires skill. Editors are used to the past tense, unless you are really skilled then you are adding another hurdle to being accepted. On the other hand, if you have cracked it, it will certainly make your work stand out. Consider also that when writing in the present it is very easy to slip into the past and less likely the other way around. And I can foresee difficulties when writing about a character’s own past and my mind begins to whirl at how flashbacks will be handled. Readers hate to be confused and so I would strongly advise not playing with these tenses, switching during different sections of the novel – perhaps if you are writing for the literary market but I think there might be problems with commercial fiction. To sum up, ignoring my prejudice, I honestly think that it complicates an already difficult task. If you can do it seamlessly that is another matter. If your inner voice is screaming at you to go the present tense route, well, you know I think you have to follow the voice, which is the boss. Lorna also wants to discuss first person vis-à-vis third. We’ll do that next week. And please everyone whatever I write is my opinion only! PS: Liz posted in comments that she is using present tense in a diary she is writing in her wip. I should have thought of that. And in letters too .

3 comments:

  1. Interesting as I hadn't given much thought to using the present tense but in the rewrite of ACH I switched to present tense for diary entries of 16 yr old and felt they sounded better and more immediate. Having said that we are speaking about at tops 1000 words of the novle in total.

    Before writing recently I never thought about the tense a book was written - I plowed in fully ready to enjoy the story and usually did. Oh to have that innocence back again :-)

    lx

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  2. I, too, Anita, am prejudiced slightly against the present tense. It makes a book seem a little like film script. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about first and third person voices! Very interesting post.

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