Past and Present Tense (Rox)

There are so many things we learn as we move along the path of writing.  Along with making sure our writing remains as active as possible, there's also POV, which we've covered, along with the choice of first or third person and past or present tense.  It's enough to make a new writer's head spin!

Romance novels are more likely to be written in third person past tense, with the POV in the heroine's or the heroine and hero's POV.  A third POV sometimes is seen in romantic suspense.  Past tense is very often chosen for most fiction, although not always. 

What is Past and Present tense and what's the difference?  Tense refers to the way in which verbs are used. 
  • I walk to the store to buy a dress. (present)
  • I walked to the store to buy a dress. (past)

I've almost always written in past tense, and most of what I read is past tense, also.  But lately I've been reading out of genre and have come across some present tense writing.  I recently attempted to read a YA novel that was written in first person present tense.  (As a side note, the majority of YAs are written in first person, as well as past tense.  The focus is on the teen in the story and his/her reaction to people and events going on around him/her, not on the why's or the emotions of others.)  I didn't get far into the book before I put it aside.  I suspected it was the first person present tense that put me off.

But was it?  I just finished the adult novel Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.  (I'm sure most everyone recognizes that author!)  I was well into it when I noticed that at least two different writing styles were being used.  When I'd finished, I took a closer look at how the book was written.  The prologue is written in first person present tense.  I hadn't even noticed it.  The rest of the book appears to be written in third person past tense, with short portions (a page or less) written in first person present tense of other characters.

Confused?  I never was, which shows how well written the book is.  And I've learned a few lessons.  First, I may go back and try that YA book I put down.  Second, it pays to read outside of my genre.  Third, I'm blown away by the talent of Judy Blume and so many others and am grateful to them for their wonderfully written stories.

If you're interested in reading more about verb tense and writing present and past tense, check out these links:

Precise Edit (blog post)

Purdue Owl One of my favorite writing resources for grammar and punctuation.

University of Richmond Writing Center, Writer's Web: Verbs: Past Tense? Present?


Penny Rader said...

Thanks for the links, Rox.

I used to hate reading 1st person, but I guess it's all in the execution. Love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Funny, I don't remember if her books are past tense or present tense.

I recently read a book (outside of the romance genre) where the main character's pov was in first person and other characters were in third person. I was so absorbed in the story that I didn't really notice two different types of pov were being used.

Starla Kaye said...

Your first sentence says it all as far as being a writer is concerned: "There are so many things we learn as we move along the path of writing." In my opinion, once you stop learning and improving your writing, stop and do something else.

I read and review mainly romance genre books, but in lots of sub-genres. Styles, POV usage, and which "person" is used varies a lot. But I also read other genres and find a lot of variation.

My reading preference is third person, past tense. I usually write that way, too. I'm comfortable with it. It is a rare author that can master first person and have me enjoy the story.