Past vs Present Tense

imagesFiguring out which tense your story will be in is something you should decide before you start writing. It will be easier to start off knowing the tense you want to use than it will be to go back and change it later. To help you decide, we will discuss two of the most common tenses used in fiction writing—the present tense and the past tense.

Past Tense: Past tense is the most common tense in fiction, so your readers should be used to reading stories written in this tense. The past tense provides flexibility—you can change the pace easily and you can manipulate time by condensing or expanding different periods (i.e. 15 years summarized in one paragraph). Writing in the past tense is appropriate for most fiction writing, but there are times when a different tense works better. A good example is an action-packed story; writing in the past might now work well as the present tense in terms of drawing the reader in.

Present Tense: The present tense can provide more of a sense of immediacy than the past tense, which is why it works well if there is a lot of action in your story. This tense can also help the reader to feel closer to the characters since the reader is experiencing everything when it is happening. The present tense is not as common, so avoid it if the writing doesn’t sound natural.

Whichever tense you choose to write in, make sure you are consistent. You can mix these tenses on occasion; for example you can write in the present tense and insert a flashback in the past tense. However, you don’t want to confuse your reader by having one sentence be in the present and the next be in the past without a clear transition. Don’t tense up about which tense is better; pick the one that is right for your story.

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