Sunday, April 10, 2011

Present tense trendy?

This is the second book I've read in a week which is narrated in present tense. Both were first-person legal thrillers.  Is this a trend? How do you feel about it?  When would you use present tense in your own story? What's the purpose and effect?


Alicia

20 comments:

Livia said...

It's super popular in YA. It took me a while to get used to, but character voice comes through *really* strong, if the author does it right. I thought about doing it in my YA novel, but it was too contemporary/chatty feeling for a medieval fantasy

Liane Gentry Skye said...

I have, and for that particular story, I think it worked. It was a story of a character searching to live in the moment instead of living as a victim to habit. So for that character's jjourney, I couldn't see it unfold any other way. Tricky writing, though!!!

Ian said...

I used third person present-tense in my cyberpunk novel, Troubleshooters (free sample here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48614). I think cyberpunk as a genre lends itself to present-tense storytelling because cyberpunk tends toward feeling very much in the moment.

Tamara said...

Yup, it's all over the place, and I'm getting really sick of it!

A. R. Campbell said...

I just finished reading "The Hunger Games" and was fascinated by the use of present tense (as well as the story--awesome book). I want to experiment with it in my own writing.

Edittorrent said...

I'm kind of getting used to present tense with first-person, but I'm intrigued by present tense with third-person.

Alicia

JewelTones said...

I don't like present tense and first person makes me close a book and put it back on the shelf 99% of the time. I just can't do it. It's too disruptive to me as a reader.

JT

Jami Gold said...

Yes, it's a trend and I hate when people do something just because it's trendy.

However, I read one YA recently that did it so right, I didn't notice it was in present tense until I set down the book after a chapter and came back to it a few minutes later. If I notice it, I figure it's done wrong - in that it's drawing too much attention to the writing technique rather than the story. But if I don't notice it, I figure it's done well.

On the other hand, I hate reading them as a writer. After reading a present tense story, I can't edit my work for a while, as all my past tense stuff sounds wrong. *sigh*

Stevie Carroll said...

I think tense and narrator choices have to fit the story. I'm working on a buch of linked pieces, and while most will be third person past tense, I might try something else if the story seems to demand it.

Christina Auret said...

It really depends on what you are doing, how you are doing it and why you are doing it. Massively decisive of me to say that, right?

I find myself automatically writing in present tense most of the time, but because the story has elements were the MC looks back into the past and I feel that it is better to stick to one tense, I've decided to edit it all into past tense.

So if the author has a good reason for the tense choice or if they do it so well I never even notice, who am I to judge?

Jennifer said...

I really find it jarring. The idea with telling a story is that the person telling it has already lived it and is recounting it. So it pulls me out of the whole suspension of disbelief thing.

In fact, it's why it took me a very long time to read The Namesake, even though Jhumpa Lahiri is arguably my favorite author. I found the present tense (3rd person) very, very jarring and it was hard for me to get lost in the story.

hillary said...

I think present tense works when the reader needs to be unsure of the narrator's fate (i.e. in The Hunger Games). Otherwise it feels like an affectation.

Debbie said...

I think a lot of authors use it to try to make the story seem more immediate. However, I find it distancing in most cases. I know I'm not watching this happen right now.

Short stories seem to lend themselves to present tense better than longer work. I've only read a few novels that present tense worked for me.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand it, won't read it, and won't buy books that use it.

That's why I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell... six or so books into Scarpetta, and she decides to get 'arty'.

I started the Hunger Games because of all the talk about how great the books were. I was determined to muscle my way through it - but couldn't get past the first couple of chapters. Leapt to the end just to find out what happened but found I didn't care.

I do think that people who don't write - say readers, like my husband for example, are more likely to ignore the tense.

harmamae said...

I just finished a story written that way and it really grabbed me... but that was because the author wrote very, very well. I can see it being done badly.

cmstewartwrite said...

All the fiction I write is present tense. Past tense has always seemed odd and stale to me, but I've learned to overlook it, of course.

M.E. Summer said...

I'm using present tense in my current YA project, because the protagonist has a lack of identity coupled with a tendency to act/react on the fly. She doesn't really have a sense of past or future--she lives completely in the present (unless something that happened in the past explains or has some bearing on what's happening in the present).

I think present tense works when there's a literary purpose for it, when it says something about the POV character to use it. IMO, tense is an important part of voice, and it should be decided with a specific intention in mind. "It just feels right" is probably not a strong enough reason to use an unusual tense or person. And "it seems to be hot right now" or "I want my book to stand out" are certainly not strong enough reasons. The decision should be based on literary merit.

Jordan said...

I agree with what's been said here. I just finished a book that was in 3rd past and 3rd present (I'm pitching to the editor next month). Most of the 3rd present sections were told from the POV of the villain, whose identity was kept ambiguous. It was interesting.

I didn't quite understand, however, why some of the other sections were in present tense. Most of the book was in past.

It's made me think about trying something similar in my book. We don't see the antagonist on screen until the end of the story, and we need more of a sense of him taking action, without giving away his identity. He's going to be under a lot of stress, so I like the idea of present tense immediacy. We'll see, though.

epic said...

It blows and should be banned by law.

Remember second-person in old horrible detective novels?

"You walk in the door and a blonde is sitting in your chair, drinking your Scotch, her high heels scraping the oak. You put out your Marlboro and wonder what kind of lies she'll tell you, and why you'll believe them, and whether you'll get her between the sheets before she gets you killed."

Thomas Sharkey said...

I would use it, but the way I use it it would sound more like future tense and then only as my thoughts to the reader.

Anything else (apart from screenplays) Su-su-su-su-sucks!