Greetings to Insecure Writers everywhere! Thanks for taking time to stop by the nut-tree.
As of late I have been pondering the use of present tense—specifically in fiction, and would value greatly hearing your opinions and expertise on this matter.I admit I have (ahem) some trouble with reading a novel written in present tense.
There. I’ve said it.
If any of you lovely, dedicated writers have been slaving away for years on a fiction book written in present tense—my apologies for being so pedestrian and please don’t start over on my account. It’s me--not you. I know I should be more open to different styles, and focus more on the writing--but I just can’t handle reading a whole novel in present tense! It stresses me out! I always feel like I am hanging by my britches, apprehensively suspended, hovering mid-sentence. I can’t live like that!
I began examining my "intense" feelings regarding this subject, pondering present tense’s merits, and trying to figure out why it usually gives me the twitchy-eye. And surprisingly, on closer examination, I find I do actually enjoy some aspects of present tense--in small doses. It’s just that when expertly done—one hardly notices.
Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine” made quite an impact on me as a young reader and writer, with her chapter by chapter switcheroo on tenses. (She does it with such grace and aplomb.) It works well for poetry too, and for discussing literature, or writing an essay. I also like it when a Midwesterner tells his story in present tense, as in, “So I say to the guy…”. This week I read a most delicious, brilliant short story by blogger and writer Jessika Fleck called “Stolen”, written in—you guessed it, present tense. “Stolen” is the perfect example of how present-tense can be used to create a sense of immediacy and anticipation in a story. I also recalled something from those hazy college years about present tense and like, stream of consciousness writing, Dude.Then the idea struck me.
I went and rewrote two dream sequences in my current MG novel (which is written in third-person past) and put them in the present tense. The results were... interesting. I felt it made for a stronger sense of dream-like awareness. I may even keep it that way. I often eat my words and quite enjoy the taste of them when the realization benefits me in some manner. (Then I don’t feel like such a hypocrite.)
Do you enjoy one tense over the other, or does the whole thing just make you tense up? (You knew that was coming, right?) Do you have a favorite book told in the present, or do you rest easy in the past? Please let us know your feelings on the matter. Nothing says lovin’ like somethin' in the comments section.P.S. If you would like to read more about this techno-weanie-gearhead subject, here are two articles I found interesting. The first, entitled “Unearthing the Bones” is from Michael Nye, the managing editor of the Missouri review, and second is an article from Salon, called "The fierce fight over the present tense" by Laura Miller.