Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Creativity Corner » Fiction Discussion

Do you prefer past or present tense?

User avatar
260 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 15020
Reviews: 260
Sat Nov 19, 2016 4:33 am
TriSARAHtops says...

What it says on the tin!

Do you prefer to write in present tense or past tense? Which do you prefer to read? What do you feel are the pros and cons of both?

Ready, set, fight it out discuss!
if we wait until we're ready
we'll be waiting
for the rest of our lives

User avatar
471 Reviews

Gender: Male
Points: 125
Reviews: 471
Sat Nov 19, 2016 5:36 am
View Likes
Lightsong says...

I always prefer past tense when writing prose. No need to make sure which part needs which tense - past tense all the way! Hooray for convenience! =DDD

Poetry writing can be written in either tense or both. Depends on the suitability.
"Writing, though, belongs first to the writer, and then to the reader, to the world.

The subject is a catalyst, a character, but our responsibility is, has to be, to the work."

- David L. Ulin

User avatar
383 Reviews

Gender: Male
Points: 19607
Reviews: 383
Sat Nov 19, 2016 5:22 pm
View Likes
Sujana says...

Pros of Present Tense:

-Provides an interesting atmosphere
-Makes the reader feel more intimate with the story
-It's easier to refer to flashbacks ("She looks out into the distance, and remembers when her father bought her a pet shark. The oceans curl on her feet, and she sighs.")

Cons of Present Tense:

-Is unusual, thus most people switch to past tense somewhere in between,
-Gets annoying real quick
-While it seems interesting to most, it can also be unnerving to some, thus you may be alienating an audience.

Pros of Past Tense:
-Pretty common, nobody's going to complain about it,
-Most people are very used to it,
-The distance might actually give the audience more insight into the story, thus letting a lot more information seep in.

Cons of Past Tense:
-It may be boring,
-Flashbacks are somewhat tricky, but not by that much ("She looked out into the distance, and she remembered when her father had bought her a pet shark. She sighed.")

Personally, I prefer past tense, with the exception of some short stories. But that's most of the pros and cons out of the way, so.
"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."

Ecclesiastes 1: 18

User avatar
1125 Reviews


Gender: Female
Points: 53410
Reviews: 1125
Sat Nov 19, 2016 5:28 pm
View Likes
StellaThomas says...

Past tense all the way!

This is mainly because writing in present tense makes me feel like everything has to be sombre and atmospheric. Nah, bro. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Isn't it weird though that our default way to tell stories is that it happened in the past? I think that's so cool.
"Stella. You were in my dream the other night. And everyone called you Princess." -Lauren2010

User avatar
264 Reviews

Gender: None specified
Points: 23295
Reviews: 264
Sat Nov 19, 2016 7:09 pm
View Likes
Megrim says...

I write in past tense. I try different tenses and POVs for my flash fiction, and it's kinda fun, there are some merits to other ways of doing it, but I still like my past tense.

Fun fact, I read all of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest without realizing it was in present tense. That's how it's done, man.

Edit: Also, the "present tense has closer narrative distance and intimacy" is popularly touted but I totally think that's bogus.

User avatar
260 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 15020
Reviews: 260
Mon Nov 21, 2016 7:17 am
TriSARAHtops says...

Megrim wrote:Edit: Also, the "present tense has closer narrative distance and intimacy" is popularly touted but I totally think that's bogus.

I tend to agree with you here. I think there are occasions where you can create a stronger sense of immediacy with present tense (which is similar to the above but still a tad different, I feel), but I don't think that's inherently true all the time.

I'm not particularly opposed to present tense, but I do think it can be a bit clumsier-feeling than past tense. Maybe it's because I'm more used to past tense, so I'm more aware of the narration if it's in present - therefore it feels a little awkward if it's not pulled off right.

I've written in both from time to time, but past tense just feels more solid to me. Sometimes I start off in present, because it's just how it comes out, but then change it all into past due to sheer frustration with the tense.

I feel like present tense has gotten more and more common in the last couple of years (or maybe I just started noticing it more?). Is this something anyone else has noticed? Any ideas why this might be the case?
if we wait until we're ready
we'll be waiting
for the rest of our lives

User avatar
1132 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 49530
Reviews: 1132
Mon Nov 28, 2016 2:25 pm
View Likes
Carlito says...

I write in both, but when it's first person, I prefer present tense. First person is already great because you can really dig into the character's head, and adding present tense, to me, adds to the overall experience because it feels like you're experiencing the story with the character (when it's done well). But, it also depends on the story. I think some stories work better retroactively where the story is in first person but the MC is sort of telling/showing us what happened in the past and past tense works better. I don't think there's a hard line for which is better because it depends on the story and it depends on the execution.
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Ask a Therapist!
I want to read your novel!

Ask me anything. Talk to me about anything. Seriously. My PM box is always open <3

User avatar
541 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 370
Reviews: 541
Sun Dec 04, 2016 8:20 pm
View Likes
Lauren2010 says...

I think I've only ever written one story in present tense and it was a very short story. I feel like present tense requires more stylistic frill which is hard to maintain over a longer piece.

So past tense all the way!
Got YWS?

User avatar
806 Reviews


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Wed Dec 14, 2016 2:01 am
View Likes
Aley says...

I think one reason why present tense might be getting more popular is because more books about how to write and articles about how to write have been touting the use of present tense.

To me, I prefer past tense because it's comfortable.

It's not a good reason to like something but that's what I've got. When I write in past tense it has different pitfalls than present tense, and I know those pitfalls, such as words like "suddenly" or "now" but if I was in present tense that would all be switched up.

I feel like you would have to do something more stream of conscious if you wanted to get a real present tense.

User avatar
17 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 249
Reviews: 17
Sun Dec 25, 2016 3:56 pm
JadeBunny says...

Past tense, because it's less confusing for me.
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. -Benjamin Franklin

User avatar
489 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 5577
Reviews: 489
Sun Dec 25, 2016 4:14 pm
View Likes
Holysocks says...

I write in both. Actually, lately I've been having a tense crises, where whatever tense I write in, it feels disjointed to me. I try to just choose one now and ignore that feeling, because I don't think it stems from a real concern.

I'm cool with present tense, as long as it's used with first person narration. When it's used with third person it feels so disconnected to me. And sort of adding on to what Megrim said about the one book she read where she didn't even notice it was present tense- I've stumbled upon books like this, too... and I've been trying to figure out what's up with that for awhile. I only have guesses as to why that is now though.

@Megrim and @TriSARAHtops, I think why some people think present tense is more personal is because the story is happening RIGHT then. I know one time my buddy said he didn't like reading past tense because you knew the MC was okay, etc., so it was kinda boring. I always remember that while writing, wondering if it feels like the story is too far in the past to be told. XP
I hope it's a good joke because otherwise I'll have got it for nothing...

WARNING: Do not take grammar advice from me... EVER.

User avatar
19 Reviews

Gender: Male
Points: 14
Reviews: 19
Sun Dec 25, 2016 8:24 pm
CarryOnMrCaulfield says...

Past. By far. Like, no contest at all.

User avatar
423 Reviews

Gender: Gendervague he/she/they
Points: 215
Reviews: 423
Sun Dec 25, 2016 9:26 pm
View Likes
Vervain says...

Both. I'd use future tense, too, if I could get away with it.

To be clear, each tense has its own pros and cons. Past tense feels more natural for storytelling, while present tense is often better for suspense and not really knowing that the characters will come out on top. Past tense can get caught up too much in the author's personal writing voice, while present tends to get caught up in the character's internal monologue more than their actions.

Each tense also works better with different points of view.

First person narration is the golden boy. It can work with either one. "I did this" and "I do this" have the same amount of weight. Each one is totally plausible as a storytelling technique.

Third person relies more on past tense. "Sophie turned on the lights" sounds infinitely more natural than "Sophie turns on the lights." However, it can still work with present tense -- it just has to be more carefully finessed than first-person, which gets away with it more often.

Second person, for me, works better in present tense. It immerses the reader wholly and immediately in the world with no second thought. "You grimaced and toyed with the end of your sleeve" sounds awkward, ineffectual; "you grimace and toy with the end of your sleeve" is a more present, full image in second person.

Of course, these are all my opinions and how I usually use my tenses. I have been meaning to get on a third-person present-tense short story to test that out, but I'll mix-and-match whatever I need to do to reach my end.

For example, In the Absence of Stars, my pet project, is in first person present tense. Camera Obscura, another one, is in second person past. Feather is in second person present. Dancing with Fire is in third person past. It really depends on the character, the voice, and the story itself -- what makes more sense for the storyline?

Feather, for one thing, is in second person present tense because of the suspense behind the main character's identity. "You" are the main character, and "you" don't know who "you" are, so the story becomes a search for identity and purpose in a world that is continuing to turn against "you". It would be less effective, in my opinion, if it was in past tense -- it would be a less whole immersion into the character, which is fine for finite main characters like in Camera Obscura (where the MC has a solid identity), but in Feather it's a little more malleable.

stay off the faerie paths

User avatar
43 Reviews

Gender: Other
Points: 1321
Reviews: 43
Sun Dec 25, 2016 10:11 pm
Love says...

I won't read books with the present tense. I just can't get into them :( It feels strange and somehow... fake?

"Bob is running up the stairs."
*next line*
"Bob is flying his spaceship to Alpha Centauri."

Huh..?! Which one is it? :O He did all that in 2 lines? Woah!

It feels quite weird!
I was Amareth :)

User avatar
260 Reviews

Gender: Female
Points: 15020
Reviews: 260
Mon Dec 26, 2016 7:25 am
View Likes
TriSARAHtops says...

Holysocks wrote:I write in both. Actually, lately I've been having a tense crises, where whatever tense I write in, it feels disjointed to me. I try to just choose one now and ignore that feeling, because I don't think it stems from a real concern.

Saaaaame. I also find myself accidentally switching tense, then when I realise i've been doing I fix it and change it to the right tense, but it then feels off.
if we wait until we're ready
we'll be waiting
for the rest of our lives

Remember the rain that made your corn grow.
— Haitian Proverb