The subject for today's post came from a campfire on the Twilight fanfiction site A Different Forest: present tense vs. past tense in fiction.

I've read and loved stories written in present tense as well as others written in past tense. But, as writers, what do you prefer and why? which would you suggest to achieve different effects? As readers: do you have any preference? why?

I found the answer provided by Miaokuancha very inspiring. Here it is:


"Traditionally, the default mode for novels and such has been third person, past tense. In modern times this has loosened up quite a bit.

I have used third person limited (single character POV) past tense, third person semi-limited (dual or multi character POV, but not omniscient narrator) past tense, third person semi-limited present tense, and first person (with varying POV) present tense in my stories. The first person present, with changing POV, came about not by design. The story just insisted on being told that way, and no matter how I tried to at least shoe-horn it into single POV it just wouldn't go. It also wouldn't accept past tense narration. Weird, right?

As a reader, I can accept a lot of variation in narration mode so long as it grips my imagination. The key to this, for me, is two things: (1) the content of the story that is being told, and (2) the narrative voice. By content I mean the plot and the theme. These are at the heart of what the story is about. As for narrative voice, it is the sensory and emotional filter through which we perceive a story. It includes things like

-- What is told outright and what is left only implied,

-- Imagery and diction

The character of the narrator (in all limited POV, be it first, second or third).
Although it works subtly and behind the scenes, voice is a huge element of character, and thus really affects whether the reader can identify with the character and care about the story.

Emotional and thematic perspective on the events, people, and circumstances of the story.
For me, if story content and voice are gripping my imagination, then the particular tense or POV don't really matter. I will agree with other campers that present tense does lend a feeling of immediacy to the narrative, it also limits what the narrator can know about the significance of the events being told, since there is no ability to know what will happen after the events (unless one is Alice ...) This offers opportunities for suspense and surprise in the story as consequences unforeseen at each moment of narrative unfold in real time for the characters and the reader both."


Thanks to Miaokuancha! 

In real life, Miaokuancha is a mother, a registered nurse, and a student of Chinese medicine. In the Twilight Fandom, she's the author of Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water and A Garment of Brightness. Don't miss her stories!
And if you want to read also her non-Twilight-related writing (essays and some poetry), you are welcome to check Miaokuancha's livejournal.

As you probably know, A Different Forest is a very good place to discuss fics and many other topics! See you there.

Your comments are welcome!
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