So, you've decided to write a story. You've got characters -- Harry Styles and a French Fry. You've got a plot -- Harry Styles and French Fry have high school science together, they are lab partners, they fall in love, they get married, and... on the wedding day, French Fry eats Harry Styles!
Now, you need to start writing the story. But, before you begin -- before you even type your first word -- you must decide on a tense.
And, believe me, if you don't decide on a tense and just 'go with the flow', it is very, very obvious. So please choose a tense.
In this chapter, I'll be breaking down the difference between past tense and present tense. I'll briefly discuss why people choose one tense over the other, and quickly break down the different types of past tense (because, dear lord, there are nine of them).
The past vs present tense debate is an interesting one. Most people I know don't have a preference; they just want a story that is written well. However, I also know people who refuse to read stories in present tense (some even refuse to read books in first-person!).
First, though, what is past tense and what is present tense?
Past tense is when the verbs you use convey something that has already happened. For example:
French Fry pointed at the stars. [pointed = past tense]
Present tense is when the verbs you use convey something that is currently happening. For example:
French Fry points at the stars. [points = present tense]
Make sense so far? Let's go through a few more examples:
Harry Styles blinked back his tears. Was French Fry really drinking a glass full of tomato sauce? [past tense]
Harry Styles blinks back his tears. Is French Fry really drinking a glass full of tomato sauce? [present tense]
The readers rolled their eyes at Sunshine's pathetic excuse of an example. [past tense]
The readers roll their eyes at Sunshine's pathetic excuse of an example. [present tense]
Now, most stories are written in simple past tense. Harry Styles felt sick. He walked to the bar. He drank away his problems. He hoped French Fry would forgive him.
These stories are written as if you are sitting someone down and telling them about something that has already happened. These things have already occurred, the events are over, but you can't resist telling them the tale. It is very common in novels, and it's so common that most people don't really need time to settle into past tense.
As for present tense? Harry Styles feels sick. He walks to the bar. He drinks away his problems. He hopes French Fry will forgive him.
This is actually quite rare. Don't get me wrong -- there are fantastic stories that are told using present tense. I'm confident that you've read at least one. However, compared to past tense, it is used less. This is because it is a more recent practice. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with present tense, some people who have been reading past tense all their lives may find it jarring to have to dive into a tense they are unfamiliar with. Present tense is most often used by beginner writers, short stories, and literary fiction.
Additionally, some people struggle with present tense because they simply don't find it believable. How can they be living through a story written in present tense, when the story has clearly already happened, and when they can just flick to the ending and see what happens?
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