Past vs. Present Tense

So lately, I feel like there’s been a shift in novels.  Specifically the Young Adult, and specifically in regards to tense.  And it makes me tense to see.

(Haha.  Get it?  Tense to see?)

Ahem.  Anyway, I’m talking, of course, about the shift between past and present tense in fiction.  While a large majority still use past tense, more and more people are writing in present.  The Hunger Games is a perfect example.

I figured I’d try it, just to spice things up.  After years of writing in past tense, present seemed like a fresh start.  A new way to craft my sentences, change the structure to be engaging, interesting.  I thought my present-tense writing was amazing.  I handed a story to Beta Krissy, and it took her four pages to realize it wasn’t in past tense.

Success!

Then I started writing Occupational Hazards.  I typed about 2,000 words in present tense.  Then I considered it—the length of the novel, the pacing of the story, etc—and decided past would better suit my needs.

Should be an easy change, right?  Just go back and add “-ed” to the verbs.

Ha.  Freaking.  Ha.

Turns out, my writing sucks in first person, something I never would have realized if I hadn’t decided to change Occupational Hazards to past tense 5,000 words into the first draft.  As I combed through my sentences, dutifully replacing verbs, I balked at what I’d written just two days earlier.

It was awful.  So bad, in fact, that I wound up discarding that draft entirely.

I’m not saying present tense is terrible.  If you do it well, your reader might not even realize you’re using it.  I’m just saying that my internal editor started slacking during that first draft, and I paid the price.

Although honestly, now that I’m aware of that issue, I may take this as a writing challenge to improve my present tense work.

What do you think?  As a reader, do you have a preference?

As a writer, does verb tense affect your writing style?

Let me know!

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