I am sitting here, right now, hating fiction written in present tense.

I shouldn’t even have to say this. Fiction written in present tense is terrible. It reads as though it was written by an idiot. It destroys any sense of suspended disbelief. It makes no sense. It does not work. It is the mark of an entirely unskilled author and worse.

The problem is simple. Every story has a narrator who is presently telling the story to the reader. If the narrator speaks in present tense, they will always have to report that they are, presently, writing the story. So when a story is told in present tense, unless it is reporting the act of writing, it is inherently false. There can be no suspension of disbelief if we know the narrator is typing during the action.

This isn’t to say that present tense can’t be used in a story.  Quoted dialogue, in every case, takes place in some kind of present tense. The quotation mark identifies things being said by the character at some moment in time when it is being listened to by another character, or the narrator, and hence the reader, in the present tense. The frame of a story – the meta story – can be used to create a sense of present tense in the action. “Here’s what I was thinking – Here I am.”

Tense is the factor that creates a narrative voice. I am telling you the story of one point in time at another point of time. This space of time forces perspective on the piece. To write otherwise is to sound like a damn fool.

Of course, given this limitation, a crafty author can use this knowledge to pervert the standard story-telling technique.  I applaud such devious writing. In film, this sort of distortion was used in the Blair Witch Project, where the making of the film is the film itself. I can buy that kind of present tense. Mostly, however, that is not the case.

And then I stopped typing because I said what I had to say.

About David Cain

David Cain, literary author, bon vivant, rogue romantic poet - author of Witch, Song of Songs, Journals of Lord Malinov, Erotic Romances and others ...
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