What do you think about present tense narration?

For first person narration I prefer

  • Present tense

    Votes: 2 5.4%
  • Past tense

    Votes: 10 27.0%
  • Both are fine

    Votes: 25 67.6%

  • Total voters
    37

Saileri

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As in the title. Present tense narration is kinda common in your usual books and was a trend some time ago. I know that most of the novels tend to lean more on the side of past tense narration since it feels like reading a told story.

What're your thoughts about it? Do you dislike it? You don't mind? Obviously, I'm not talking about just a random choice in narration. In my eyes, certain narration types just fit the story or premise.

I have currently 3 projects in my mind, out of which 2 are being worked on.

First one is your typical adventure fantasy written in 3rd person past tense since it suits the setting, where the reader follows not just the MC, but other characters and even the world itself. There's no doubt any other narration styles might not capture the feeling better.

The second one is where I'm still on the edge. It follows the MC from 1st person perspective and due to having readers experience the world and events alongside him, I decided to use the present tense. It just feels natural. But I'm aware not everyone is fond of it. It would also seem fine when written in the past tense. To give some more details, it's a kinda smutty story, where a 27 yo teacher ends up summoned to your usual fantasy other world, alongside 5 other people from his class. He learns about the world, tries his best to fit the situation he has been placed in, realizes his class(role) isn't particularly strong but finds something he can actually do. Can't discern what exactly since that would be a spoiler, but that leads to a lot of wholesome lewding. I don't mind it being in the present tense, but what do you think?

The third one, which is currently on hold, is a 2nd person present tense situation. Why? Because it's a reactive story with the reader as the MC. I just thought of a fun concept that doesn't make readers choose the action to take, but something different. Maybe I'll start it someday so you'll see. It's not the main focus here.

So yeah, would you read the second one if it was in the present tense? Or maybe you find it weird having adult scenes presented like that? I know I've left a lot of details out and even just posting the title would literally give out everything about the series, sorry! I don't mind hearing about your usual preference to the tenses too.
 

LuceLucky

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Hi! First off I wanna say that no matter which tense/pov you choose to use, there WILL be people that won't like it. So choose the tense that feels most right, the easiest for your writing.

That said, I also try out different tenses/pov for different stories. These are the factors I take into consideration:
  • Character - depending on their personality
  • Setting - fantasy worlds will most likely have third person. Slice of life: first person.
  • Plot - what's the message you want to send? Every story has a subtextual message. In Harry Potter: kindness triumphs. In Lotr: goodness triumphs. In Attack on Titan: humans are the real monsters who also create the 'normal' monsters.
  • Focus - here I mean: will you focus more on the action? The technicalities of the world? Worldbuilding? The relationships? The emotional side of things?

Take my PJO fic for example. The first line of the first chapter starts with this:

I'm pretty sure the sound of my mother's neck being snapped will haunt me for the rest of my life, however long -or short, at this rate- it may be.

It used to be in past tense. Then I decided that present tense had more (emotional) impact. Same reason I used First Person Point of View; I wanted my readers to live it through Percy's eyes. The other povs/tenses distance the reader from the story.

Now on to your story. Romance novels are usually written in first person -> it's focused on emotion. If you're confident in the way you write your Hottie Hot scenes, go with first. If you're used to reading bad smut (or smut written by men because ugh) then I suggest some distance -> past tense.

Personally I'm not into reading hetero smut from the pov of male MCs, but the smut I do read can have all the tenses/povs, as long as it's good I don't notice it.

Hope this helped?
 

Assurbanipal_II

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As in the title. Present tense narration is kinda common in your usual books and was a trend some time ago. I know that most of the novels tend to lean more on the side of past tense narration since it feels like reading a told story.

What're your thoughts about it? Do you dislike it? You don't mind? Obviously, I'm not talking about just a random choice in narration. In my eyes, certain narration types just fit the story or premise.

I have currently 3 projects in my mind, out of which 2 are being worked on.

First one is your typical adventure fantasy written in 3rd person past tense since it suits the setting, where the reader follows not just the MC, but other characters and even the world itself. There's no doubt any other narration styles might not capture the feeling better.

The second one is where I'm still on the edge. It follows the MC from 1st person perspective and due to having readers experience the world and events alongside him, I decided to use the present tense. It just feels natural. But I'm aware not everyone is fond of it. It would also seem fine when written in the past tense. To give some more details, it's a kinda smutty story, where a 27 yo teacher ends up summoned to your usual fantasy other world, alongside 5 other people from his class. He learns about the world, tries his best to fit the situation he has been placed in, realizes his class(role) isn't particularly strong but finds something he can actually do. Can't discern what exactly since that would be a spoiler, but that leads to a lot of wholesome lewding. I don't mind it being in the present tense, but what do you think?

The third one, which is currently on hold, is a 2nd person present tense situation. Why? Because it's a reactive story with the reader as the MC. I just thought of a fun concept that doesn't make readers choose the action to take, but something different. Maybe I'll start it someday so you'll see. It's not the main focus here.

So yeah, would you read the second one if it was in the present tense? Or maybe you find it weird having adult scenes presented like that? I know I've left a lot of details out and even just posting the title would literally give out everything about the series, sorry! I don't mind hearing about your usual preference to the tenses too.

A trend? Some time ago?

Well, the use of present, aka historical present, for narration is a classical rhetorical instrument that goes at least back to Roman times and possibly even further, which means this kind of narration is more or less 2,500 years old. :blob_evil_two:

I don't think the modalities have changed since then much. The advantages and disadvantages are still the same.
 

Saileri

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Thanks for the input, any feedback is of value @LuceLucky.

Obviously, I agree that the more people the more preferences. So, me asking for yours or other's is just out of curiosity.

I agree with pretty much everything you said. It matches with my views on the whole narration style aspect.

As for the romance department, I'm not particularly confident in it. I always feel like I don't properly grasp that side and end in kinda unnatural state. In the second story, due to the premise and its overall character, there's not much of a deep romance. I'd say it's the usual hetero smut with a backstory and slice of life pace. Won't really appeal to others besides the male audience, unless obviously someone finds something of interest for themselves in it. About the hot stuff, well, I guess it feels right my head, but that can only be judged when published. I guess it's not the usual slam, dam and bam style, but I tend to write long, detailed paragraphs between the "action".

If I had to say, the first story has more long term relationship development.

So yeah, thanks, and unfortunately I don't think the 2nd project would be up to your area :blob_hide:
 

Saileri

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A trend? Some time ago?

I can vaguely remember some kind of bigger ruse where many authors jumped ships due to some titles gaining attention? I remember there even were a lot of rants from "professionals" how they are riding the wave. Didn't pay that much attention.
 

Assurbanipal_II

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I can vaguely remember some kind of bigger ruse where many authors jumped ships due to some titles gaining attention? I remember there even were a lot of rants from "professionals" how they are riding the wave. Didn't pay that much attention.

No criticism intended. Just wanted to tell you that present for narration has a long tradition in Western literature and is not a recent phenomenon. :blob_evil_two:
 

Saileri

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No criticism intended. Just wanted to tell you that present for narration has a long tradition in Western literature and is not a recent phenomenon. :blob_evil_two:

And I didn't mean to sound defensive or something if it came out like that. It's natural that all the styles date way back. Which one is more popular at a time, comes in waves. If I had to estimate the ratio of works I've read, it would sit at something like 70/30 past/present.
 

LostLibrarian

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I don't really have a problem with present tense while reading if done right.

But I really have a problem with writing present tense. I thought about using it for my novel (still thinking about it for a second draft somewhere down the line) and my brain just can't do it. It feels completely unnatural to me and one moment of inattention and I'm back to past tense. Don't know whether it's a learned thing because it isn't my mother tongue... but I really have problems writing in it.


In the end, the big question is the narrative device. Most stories have the "Let me tell you a story" feel that (for me) fits better with past tense. 2nd Person POV sounds like a better fit for that. But I would say in large anything goes with anything, as long as it done right. For a good lewding scene, it won't matter, if it's in past or tense. And for a bad scene, it won't change much either.

At least to me... tense isn't that important, as long as it feels naturally...
 

SwirlyUnicorn

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I just choose what I think is best. Like what I've said on a previous thread, writing feels like raising child (though not 100% applicable coz when a child grows up, then he could make his own decisions) . You will be responsible for so many things.
 

PrincessFelicie

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I usually select the tense in accordance with the main POV character's personality. Someone hotheaded or very in the moment will use present tense, while someone that either looks ahead or carefully considers the past will get a narration in past tense. Basically, if they were telling their own story, how would they do it? Along as it happens, or long after it's finished?
 

Saileri

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I just choose what I think is best. Like what I've said on a previous thread, writing feels like raising a child (though not 100% applicable coz when a child grows up, then he could make his own decisions). You will be responsible for so many things.

I kinda understand, in my case, when I started writing the 1st story, 3rd person past tense just came out naturally. Then, when I wrote the 1st chapter of the 2nd one, it being 1st person, following the MC, actually felt proper in the present tense. To even clear some doubts I've reached out to one of my professors I'm still in contact with (English is not my born language, though I'm C1+ on a business level), to confirm a thing or two.

So yeah, like most of you are saying, I pretty much decide on the tense on the go. Depending on how it feels. And currently, even though it feels the best, I'm considering the future events and how it all unfolds, thus am still on the edge.
 

K5Rakitan

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I grew up on past tense and find it easier to write in past tense, but present tense has a lot going for it.
 

Jemini

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I do not think either one is more or less appropriate, the real issue with present tense though is that past tense is so common our brains are primed to think that way while writing. As such, if you write in present tense, you are likely to occasionally slip up and put a past tense adverb in there somewhere. The same kind of mistake isn't as common in the other direction. As such, I would strongly recommend using past tense exclusively unless you are very confident you've broken yourself of the tendency to default to past tense.
 

Saileri

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I do not think either one is more or less appropriate, the real issue with present tense though is that past tense is so common our brains are primed to think that way while writing. As such, if you write in present tense, you are likely to occasionally slip up and put a past tense adverb in there somewhere. The same kind of mistake isn't as common in the other direction. As such, I would strongly recommend using past tense exclusively unless you are very confident you've broken yourself of the tendency to default to past tense.

That's more natural for most of the people. And also, while writing in the past tense, you are still often using present tense to describe things like characters, surroundings or scenes. Thus the slip-ups in past are less noticeable.

Personally I don't find it difficult to write in either. Naturally, I can't say I won't make mistakes, just a tiny drop in focus might result in one, but that's also why we reread the stuff countless times.
 
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kira

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I write on present tense because I pretend I am in the moment and I am that character lol. I find it easier. 😊 I write spontaneously for fun.. I don't plan the story out besides an outline. :sweating_profusely:
 

Saileri

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Well, guess I'll stick with my original plan. It's not like was going to switch just so I can hit a preference of a bigger audience. I still hope pplz will enjoy, but it's not like numbers are my goal.
 

anactualchad

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I pretty much agree with everything already stated above but I'll throw in my three cents:

The other day I found that I tend to write in present tense while planning out the story. "Claire goes over to the end of the street, and what she finds is..." etc. Somehow it's much easier for ideas to flow that way, kind of in the same vein as what @kira said above. It's much easier for me to get into a sort of playful tone of voice that way, whereas trying to be playful in past tense can sometimes come off in this kind of like "clever" and "matter of fact" tone to the humor that I don't much enjoy if not done properly.

When it comes to writing the actual manuscript I've found that, personally, I won't take to present tense unless I have a really good reason for it. There was one chapter in one of my books where I used present tense because I was getting very cerebral with the main character... kind of trying to imply that what he was feeling at that moment was so disassociated with the current moment that it became it's own moment. But I also modified the chapter numbering for that chapter and made it very small compared to the others, to further solidify that this chapter kind of existed "on its own." The very last thing I wanted to do was make it seem like I switched tense on accident!

But anyways, another practical/stylistic reason I think it can be cool to use present tense is because you might want to suggest that the future is uncertain. There's a sense of security in past-tense narration because it implies that all these events are in the past. But if you had first person present tense narration, anything could happen to that narrator... they might even get killed mid-sentence.
 

XianPiete

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As in the title. Present tense narration is kinda common in your usual books and was a trend some time ago. I know that most of the novels tend to lean more on the side of past tense narration since it feels like reading a told story.

What're your thoughts about it? Do you dislike it? You don't mind? Obviously, I'm not talking about just a random choice in narration. In my eyes, certain narration types just fit the story or premise.

As a reader, one of the things that will turn me off on reading a story is if it is written in the present tense. I am just not a fan of reading someone's diary.

As an author, I say write the story you want to tell in the way you want to tell it.
 

kira

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As a reader, one of the things that will turn me off on reading a story is if it is written in the present tense. I am just not a fan of reading someone's diary.

As an author, I say write the story you want to tell in the way you want to tell it.
I have to agree everyone has their personal preferences but I'm not sure about 'the diary' part of your response. My friend I think put it well in present tense it is like a screenplay. I feel like I am watching the scene as it happens. I model my character's personalities after people I know so I laugh thinking about how they would respond to a given situation. In past tense I feel the writer is omniscient..writing in present tense my character walks into a room and I play it by ear as to what happens haha..if that makes sense prolly not lol
 

Saileri

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I have to agree everyone has their personal preferences but I'm not sure about 'the diary' part of your response. My friend I think put it well in present tense it is like a screenplay. I feel like I am watching the scene as it happens. I model my character's personalities after people I know so I laugh thinking about how they would respond to a given situation. In past tense I feel the writer is omniscient..writing in present tense my character walks into a room and I play it by ear as to what happens haha..if that makes sense prolly not lol

That's the main distinguishing feature of 1st person present tense, you are basically viewing the world through the character's eyes at the exact moment. They don't know what will happen, the future is not set in stone. While with the past tense it already happened when the character or narrator is telling the story. So you are not wrong.

And since for me. the story in question was the "slowly unfolding in front of the reader" type, present tense felt like the natural thing to go with. MC is the narrator and he does not know much besides things he learns along the way and stuff he knew beforehand.
 
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