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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What's The Big Deal About Tense?

I read the blog post at Kidlit.com today talking about tense in books and it made me think.  What is the big deal?  I've read books written in past tense and books written in present tense that I've enjoyed.  I've read books written in past tense and books written in present tense that I didn't like. And the tense had nothing to do with whether I liked the books or not.  For me, it came down to the writing itself.  If the author could craft a story that was engaging, had characters I cared about, and had a satisfying ending, then I liked it.  If the writing was flat, then I didn't.

I know there are some people who would disagree.  One of the earliest readers of my WiP remarked that the first person, present tense I used was distracting.  That surprised me.  But I guess if you're used to reading past tense, then going to something in present tense would be more noticeable.

To be perfectly honest, I can't even remember reading anything in present tense until The Hunger Games.  I'm sure I did, it's just I don't remember.  But The Hunger Games made a huge impression on me because the writing was fantabulous.  Now, it seems like present tense is very popular, especially in YA.  Some of my favorite reads lately have all been present tense - Matched by Ally Condie, The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan, and Across the Universe by Beth Revis are just a few.

So how do you feel about tense. Do you prefer past tense over present tense or does it matter as long as the story is good?

25 comments:

  1. I love 1st person present if it's done right, but I have read some that feels a bit like being hit on the head with a frying pan, if that makes sense. Collins is awesome, of course.

    I think some people (I'm looking at you, Philip Pullman) are just biased against it. There are some narrators who simply need to tell their story in present. As long as it's done well, I don't even notice.

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  2. I write in both. I don't think it matters what tense you use (or read) as long as the writing is good.

    demitrialunetta.blogspot.com

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  3. I think I'm like you. It doesn't matter as long as it's a great story and written well.

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  4. Yeah, I don't care either. And your writing is superb, so no need to worry :) I think Anna and the French Kiss was present tense too, was it not? Can't remember. You know why? Because it didn't matter. LOL.

    I've written in both, but I don't know that I'm good at present tense. Blerg.

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  5. I'm with you. Present tense as trendy as it is right now won't make bad writing good. And the reading experience should be seamless where you don't even think about tense!

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  6. I get so wrapped up in the story that i don't notice, like you, if the story is good who cares... I think it's a matter of preference, but how many of us say "Oh I wont's buy this book becasue it's in past/present tense"?

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  7. I like to write both but I never noticed favoring one over the other, reading wise. I panic over doing the right one for my novels but it's just pointless worrying over a toss-up situation. Preference, I suppose. No right, no wrong.

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  8. I write in first person, past tense, but like you I had to stop and think what tense my favorite books are written in. Didn't really think about it when I was reading them, just enjoyed the story.

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  9. I think 1st person present provides more of a connection, like the reader is actually experiencing the story with the character. The books I've enjoyed the most recently have been written in 1st person present.

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  10. It used to be a big deal to me until I read The Hunger Games and Across The Universe. Then I realized, it wasn't the tense that was the big deal, but the writing. Now I don't care what tense a book is written in as long as it is done well.

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  11. For me, the story is definitely more important than the tense. It can be past, present or even future as long as the writing is good.

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  12. I tend to like present tense only if the action of the plot is quick and immediate. Otherwise it comes off kind of phony to me, though I don't really know why.

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  13. It all depends on the quality of the writing for me. I can read either as long as it's well done.

    One thing that has kept me from writing a first person present tense story is people who have stated outright that they won't read a book if it's in present tense. I resisted it for a long time (probably one of the last people to read Hunger Games). But now I'm leaning toward using it my WIP. :)

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  14. Present tense is my favorite to read, and this year's NaNo novel was in present tense. A lot of people seem to hate it, but I'm with you- the quality of the writing is what matters.

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  15. I wrote my first WIP in past tense but something wasn't clicking. I ended up rewriting in present and now I think it's better.

    As far as reading - if it's good writing, I don't care.

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  16. I don't really pay attention. If it's a great story, I become absorbed in it no matter the tense.

    But for some novels that aren't stellar, I can picture them being stronger if the tense were changed.

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  17. Absolutely - if the story is good then it shouldn't matter.

    I wrote, The House of Mirrors in 1st person, present tense after writing the first draft in 3rd past. The story seemed to be a more personal tale and I felt that I could convey this better in 1st than in 3rd.

    My current wip is 3rd past for precisely the opposite reason, because it has a wider scope and I like the ability to use multiple viewpoints and a larger cast.

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  18. I don't hang my hat on a particular tense - it all has to do with the story being told.

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  19. I don't really care, to be honest. It's all about story and voice for me, not tense.

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  20. I tend to agree with you: As a reader, I've never been put off by the use of one tense or the other. If it works for the story, I'm more than game to read it. Up until my most recent novel, I've always written in 3rd-person past tense, but, with this book, I got to play around with present tense in both 3rd- and 1st-person. It was quite an adventure, and I enjoyed it immensely.

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  21. I've enjoyed reading both. Depends on what you're trying to accomplish as to which is better.

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  22. I agree about Hunger Games... I know I must have read books in present before, but that's the first book that I actually noticed and can remember. I think Perfect Chemistry is also in present? Great post!!

    And CONGRATS on winning at DNA Writers!!!

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  23. I remember the first book I read in present tense was Shopaholic from Sophie Kinsella, and I thought she did it very well. (I kinda fell in <3 with first present.)

    SO. I prefer to write in first present, but as long as the book is good, I don't have any preferences when it comes to reading :)

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  24. I'm so used to present tense now that reading a novel in past tense is actually a jarring experience. So it's less about the tense than it is about what the reader's used to. Personally, I love present tense, but don't mind reading in past as long as the writing's good. :)

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