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Random Thoughts On… Present Tense

So, I've been thinking a lot about how I'm going to write my next book. Not just thinking about what I'm going to write, but how I'm going to write it. This includes spending my time outlining ahead of time, doing all the research, and reading up on what cozy mysteries are all about. On all of the message boards I go to, I see the same comments over and over again: people just do not like reading present tense. I can't tell you how many times I've groaned reading the comments on message boards about how much people hate reading present tense. Because I write in present tense! When I was in college, I took a lot of screenwriting classes and screenplays are written in present tense. This is how I honed my skills and became a good storyteller. So present tense comes very naturally to me, and it's not something that I'm likely to give up easily. But I want people to read my books! And a lot of people will not even touch my books if they are in present tense. Sigh. What should I do?

Well, the obvious solution is to write in past tense. And I love a good challenge, so I'm going to try it for my next book. I figure it can't really hurt to try, right? But you can imagine the anxiety turning circles in my head right now, and how I must be worried about trying something this drastic. I'm already switching to a new genre, and I'm phasing in dictating, and now I'm going to try writing in a different tense? Boy, do I have my work cut out for me.

So tell me, do you have a preference for what you like to read: past tense or present tense? I realize that everybody has an opinion about this kind of thing, and it really shouldn't matter to me all that much. But the hatred of present tense is so vehement on the Internet, I figure I should try to give past tense a go and see if readers like it better. Wish me luck!

7 thoughts on “Random Thoughts On… Present Tense”

  1. I am not sure what kind of tense I prefer, if the book is well written I don’t even notice in which tense it is. I’ll have to pay attention to the tense next time I read a cozy mystery. I got quite some cozy mysteries for netgalley recently and am finally finding my way in the genre :). But wouldn’t it be ncier to write the book in a way you write best? Switching to another tense sounds difficult.

    I didn’t knew there were people who didn’t read books if they are in a tense they don’t like. I have heard some readers who don’t like first or third person perspective and avoid books for that reason. Althoughe I prefer first person perspective I will never not read a book because of the perspective. It just takes me a chapter or so to get used to thrid perspective, but I can deal with that.

    1. I have heard from many people that they will not even TOUCH my books because they’re in present tense. They don’t even care if they’re well-written. They just can’t get past it. And I get it. For some people it’s a huge sticking point. I would love to write in present tense forever but I also see the advantage of gaining more readers. This is just one of those things that *I* can do to make things better (possibly) for my career so I might as well try it.

      Almost all the cozy mysteries I’ve read are in past tense and I can’t think of one in present, so that right there tells me a lot. I like first person for a mystery because then you only see things from the detective’s viewpoint and it leaves the events, well, more mysterious. Lol. First person is common in mystery so I should be fine there.

      For my next scifi series, I may even do third-person past tense! I’m getting all wild up in here. :)

  2. I actually *love* reading books in present-tense. Not that I dislike past tense; if a book is well-written and the tense makes sense for the story being told, then I don’t really care (or necessarily even notice) what it is. But I do notice that when a story is told in present-tense, I stay much more engaged with it; it reads more like a movie (so the connection you mentioned with screen writing makes a lot of sense!).

    I actually think there’s a “prestige” aspect to it, in that (at least in my experience – correct me if I’m mistaken!) books written in present tense tend to be more “action” oriented or aimed at younger readers and as such I think a lot of the resistance to reading books written in present tense comes from a kind of snobbish elitism. Maybe I’m wrong, but when I’ve seen folks complain about present tense in books, that’s what stands out to me (why else beyond snobbishness would you refuse to even touch a book if it’s written in present tense?).

    1. Yes, indeed. Why? Recently I saw this, “He finds the book is written in the single worst literary format ever conceived: present tense.” And I cringed. Really? THAT is the single worth literary format ever? Sigh.

      I agree with your points about feeling more “in the moment” when reading present tense, and more movie-like, which is why I like it. It just feels cinematic!

      But I’ve seen enough people hate on present tense to consider giving it up for my next series. I really want to find readers who will enjoy my work, and I don’t want to alienate a huge audience just because of the tense I write in. THAT I’m willing to change, at least. Sigh. At least, I hope I can!

      1. That makes sense why it’d be something you’d want to think about – if your potential audience hates it, then you won’t reach them. The linguist in me just rails against language-snobbery in all forms :)

    2. I think present tense is A LOT harder to get right, but when it is done well, it’s fantastic. Present tense should make the reader feel closer to the action, but for some reason I often feel more distance from the emotion in present tense. I don’t avoid present tense books, but I do find them harder to connect to sometimes.

      Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    S. J. Pajonas