Traditionally stories were told using the past tense, ‘Once upon a time there was...’ but you will often find today's authors writing in the present tense. One advantage of the present tense is the sense of immediacy it gives. If it's done well, the reader is one with the narrator straight away – especially if the writer is using the first person Point Of View which is a popular choice for this tense. Another advantage of present tense and first person POV is more freedom to be creative when expressing a character's thoughts and perceptions.
The disadvantages are that any inconsistencies stand out more easily, and giving information about the past can seem contrived. And if it isn't done well, the reader can feel like someone with attention deficit disorder. Use of the present tense should be a deliberate choice, not used simply because it is perceived to be a modern way of writing.
However, not everyone is in favor of this development. Phillip Pullman, in an article in the Guardian, 18th Sept., 2010, makes a number of valid points against overuse of the present tense and argues in favor of the past tense as it allows a writer to take advantage of the full range of English tenses.
Sometimes switching tense is a good exercise to try out with a short story. A couple of times, I've written something in the present and swapped to the past tense, and vice versa, with interesting results. Although I wrote the first draft of Eddie's War in the past tense, I found changing to the present was particularly effective as its use amped up the drama.
I’m using the past tense for my current WIP (Book 3 in the Samsara Trilogy) novel as I find it a more natural way to write, and I don’t think I could pull off writing in the present tense with my use of flashbacks. But as with many literary topics, subjective opinion plays a major role, but without doubt, choice of verb tense is an important decision when writing your novel.
By this time next week, I hope to have finished the first draft of the final book of my paranormal/urban fantasy trilogy. I've been pushing hard, though that doesn't necessarily mean the writing is coming any quicker, but it's paying off. I know I've still to face the trials of editing, (and re-editing) but getting this draft down is a hugely satisfying step closer to publication...yeah!
bright moon peeps through tree
branches before being eaten
by lace edged dark clouds
Phillip Pullman call time on the present tense: http://bit.ly/1Oe5mC4
Eddie's War: http://bit.ly/1ljUtmM
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.
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