Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I have to ask you a question: is there some rule that states all stories must be told in the past tense? There’s a few who have dabbled in the present tense, to my knowledge; and not that I’m all that well-read, but Dean Koontz did it in “Intensity,” as did Hemingway occasionally. So why do the vast majority of stories play out in the has-been tense?

I understand convention. And tradition. And sensibility. Okay, well, I understand them in a limited way. If I said otherwise I would be in trouble with my wife. But just because we have those things doesn’t mean they’re not to be used by default. After all, and human history will bear me out on this, the rules were made to be broken.

So the obvious conclusion I have reached here is this, and it too shall be phrased as a question: why not write a novel in the present tense?

I’m not an idiot. Even if the idiot “doth protest too much.” Just hear me out. Imagine a story told wherein the plot takes on an immediacy the simple past tense is unable to muster. Imagine a story told where the present tense takes center stage, thus allowing the writer—and the reader—to engage time and tense in whole new ways.

My story features time as a central, well, character, almost. It makes sense for me to fiddlefart around with the tenses in such a story. I have other very good reasons for messing with convention and tradition and sensibility, but they are top secret. Mwah-haha.

I’m finding, as I rewrite the opening to my novel in the present tense (initially as an experiment) that it opens up all kinds of subtle doors, especially in dialogue. It does take some getting used to, both as reader and writer. But it’s addictive. And I love it, because it allows for so much more depth and flexibility in the writing and story. I love it so much that, in spite of myself, my new opening has become about 20,000 words.

Granted, right off the bat, present tense is not for every writer, reader, or story. Besides, like I said, I have some aces up my sleeve. But in this case, for this story and this writer, it was an epiphany.


  1. Didn;t I write Caffe' in the present tense? I think that I just sit down and start writing and however it comes out is how it comes out for me.

  2. Bri, Caffe Seduzione was past tense. You can tell by phrases like this dialogue tag: "he said." I do remember working together on past perfect, which is "He had said," for some of the flashbacks. If it was present tense, the same phrase would be "he says."

    I guess I'll have to read some examples at the Guild. But not this week! Cuz I'm busy selling Jammy books. =)