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Knigel
02-06-2013, 11:36 PM
I used to use past tense more in fiction e.g., She said, he said, they went, she fell, he screamed, etc.

A fiction teacher went through my work and told me to change everything to literary present tense e.g., "Bark!" I say, he runs, she jumps, and so on.

Usually when I read novels, they usually use "said". Does it make sense for my prof to tell me to switch?

Are there times that literary present tense is better or worse?

Thank you~

mccardey
02-06-2013, 11:40 PM
They serve different purposes. They mean different things. Did your teacher tell you to do it, or say you might like to try it to see if it strengthens a (specific) piece?

Knigel
02-06-2013, 11:44 PM
They serve different purposes. They mean different tings. Did your teacher tell you to do it, or say you might like to try it to see if it strengthens a (specific) piece?

One of them was a travelogue and I could understand that one, but the others were normal narrative fiction.

WillSauger
02-06-2013, 11:45 PM
Personal choice. I've never found any difference when either are used correctly. People say present tense is more sudden, or past is better for bringing up backstory. And I call BS. They both can do anything well if the writer tries.
Your teacher might be telling you to change it, because they want you to play with it, just to know how to use it. Maybe you might like it better.

Personally, I hate present tense unless its done extremely well. I hate, hate, hate it. It's a gimmick that writers are throwing up now and it can drown good things. There's redundancies throughout.
And mixing it with 1st person is the automatic trigger for me to chuck the book at the wall.

But that's me. :D

EDT: For advertisements, there's strong rules for everything. Like a sypnosis or blurb is typically written in present tense. For fiction (the actual writing), your choice.

mccardey
02-06-2013, 11:48 PM
Yes, but I'm asking more whether your teacher told you to do it, or suggested it might be something to look at.

I'd be cautious of teacher who told me the tense I had to write in, if I was say, older than six-and-a-half. But a suggestion to look at another tense - I could see that as just helpful advice.

One is not better than another. They achieve different things. Myself, I love what you call literary present. But that's me.

I'm sure that helped ;)

Knigel
02-07-2013, 12:11 AM
Yes, but I'm asking more whether your teacher told you to do it, or suggested it might be something to look at.

I'd be cautious of teacher who told me the tense I had to write in, if I was say, older than six-and-a-half. But a suggestion to look at another tense - I could see that as just helpful advice.

One is not better than another. They achieve different things. Myself, I love what you call literary present. But that's me.

I'm sure that helped ;)


I see. To be honest, the remarks were a little ambiguous in that I don't know how strong she was insisting. For professors, the "you might want to try this..." could be that, or a polite way of saying "do this." Overall, I think it was a combination of both.

Knigel
02-07-2013, 12:12 AM
Personal choice. I've never found any difference when either are used correctly. People say present tense is more sudden, or past is better for bringing up backstory. And I call BS. They both can do anything well if the writer tries.
Your teacher might be telling you to change it, because they want you to play with it, just to know how to use it. Maybe you might like it better.

Personally, I hate present tense unless its done extremely well. I hate, hate, hate it. It's a gimmick that writers are throwing up now and it can drown good things. There's redundancies throughout.
And mixing it with 1st person is the automatic trigger for me to chuck the book at the wall.

But that's me. :D

EDT: For advertisements, there's strong rules for everything. Like a sypnosis or blurb is typically written in present tense. For fiction (the actual writing), your choice.


What do you hate about it? When do you think it is well executed?

James D. Macdonald
02-07-2013, 12:24 AM
What's best for this particular story? That's the only important question.

Jamesaritchie
02-07-2013, 12:33 AM
Give it a try. I hate present tense, but many love reading it and writing it.

Susan Littlefield
02-07-2013, 01:31 AM
Knigel,

It sounds to me like your teacher was offering suggestions as to what you might want to try, not telling you to write a certain way. :)

What do you think is best for your story?

Knigel
02-07-2013, 01:35 AM
Knigel,

It sounds to me like your teacher was offering suggestions as to what you might want to try, not telling you to write a certain way. :)

What do you think is best for your story?



For sure, that's what they are there for. I'm just trying to see if there has been a more recent shift in the popularity of literary present tense and to see if I should be leaning towards that trend. I'm starting to like literary present tense more, but as stated above, some people don't like it.

kuwisdelu
02-07-2013, 01:38 AM
It's a gimmick that writers are throwing up now and it can drown good things. There's redundancies throughout.

Can you be more specific? There's no reason present tense would have any more redundancies than past tense. I'm not sure what "drown out good things" means either.

benbenberi
02-07-2013, 02:03 AM
Present tense has been extremely common in literary fiction for several decades now. If you're writing in that genre, present tense is pretty standard.

If you're writing in other genres, not so much. They're stylistically more conservative, perhaps. Some readers still consider present tense fiction a gimmick or attention-seeking party trick because they are not used to seeing it.

Neither present nor past tense is ever mandatory, or forbidden. You have to make the decision for each story based on its particular needs (which can include, but shouldn't be limited to, your own level of artistic & technical comfort, and the response of readers).

Roxxsmom
02-07-2013, 02:04 AM
Present tense seemed jarring to me when I first encountered it a couple of years back. The books I read growing up were not written that way, and most of the books I read now (adult SF and fantasy) still aren't. I don't, as a rule, read literary fiction (though to be honest, I'm not sure exactly what literary fiction is), but I've recently encountered it with some contemporaneity fiction, and some YA science fiction and fantasy.

But I can see the advantage for some styles of YA fiction to be told in first person present. If you want to have a sense that the story is happening now and the character's "older and wiser" self isn't relating past events as a sort of reflection on the follies or virtues of his or her youth, then first person present makes a great deal of sense. With first present, the narrator can't "step outside of the story" and tell the reader what was really going on in hindsight, for instance. He or she can't reflect on how foolish or clever he or she was. And you aren't sure as a reader that the narrator will be all right in the end.

With first person past tense, there are certain issues. You know the character survived until the end of the story (since he's telling it to you now--though I've seen authors sneak epilogues in where the protagonist dies. A dirty trick, I think). You know the issue resolved itself in a way that allows said character to be reflecting on events and telling the story now. There is the possibility that the narrator's cherry picking what he or she chooses to tell the reader in order to present things in a certain light (whether intentionally or not--how many of us can really describe the events of even a few months ago with unbiased accuracy)? This can be a powerful tool (unreliable narrator), but it also can distance the reader from the first person past narrator.

Now a deep third person past tense accomplishes something similar to first person present, and of course, it's also possible to write first person past without all the reflection and pontificating. But there is a feel to first person present that's different, and it works for some stories and some readers.

I'm no expert on this approach to storytelling, but although it may seem strange to those of us who came of age reading Judy Blume and other popular kid's stories of the 70's and 80's (mostly told in first person past and in a way that avoided many of the pitfalls of this tense and pov), I think there are some reasons why it's become popular in the past decade.

But to get back to the OP's question, I suspect the teacher was suggesting an approach that he or she felt might be interesting for the stories/pieces you had at the time. I don't think he or she would mean that everything you (let alone anyone else) ever writes should be in present tense.

JoBird
02-07-2013, 02:19 AM
What does your professor want?

Present tense.

When does your professor want it?

NOW!

***

I've heard it argued that present tense can make a story feel more immediate to the reader. Shrug. Personally, I've never understood that argument.

But this does seem like a great conversation to have with your professor. "So, uhm, *why* do you want me to write this in present tense?"

Knigel
02-07-2013, 02:38 AM
"But this does seem like a great conversation to have with your professor."

Past prof. This is just an afterthought since I'm onto other stories now. I didn't want to write a bunch of stories using a broken rule.

Roxxmom, thank you for that detail. Very useful.

BethS
02-07-2013, 03:30 AM
With first present, the narrator can't "step outside of the story" and tell the reader what was really going on in hindsight, for instance.

No, but in first-person past, there's no rule they have to do that, either.

Part of what bothers me about first-person present tense, other than the fact that it's distracting and annoying to read, is that it sounds like the character is relating the story real-time, presumably to themselves...which nobody sane would be doing. It comes across as silly, self-conscious, and completely unnatural. IMO.

dangerousbill
02-07-2013, 03:38 AM
A fiction teacher went through my work and told me to change everything to literary present tense e.g., "Bark!" I say, he runs, she jumps, and so on.


What is a 'literary' present tense?

If I write in the present tense merely as a stunt, pr to show everyone what a clever writer I am, and forget to tell a story, I'm not a very good storyteller. I may know a million literary tricks, but I wouldn't be surprised if no one read my stuff.

kuwisdelu
02-07-2013, 03:39 AM
Part of what bothers me about first-person present tense, other than the fact that it's distracting and annoying to read, is that it sounds like the character is relating the story real-time, presumably to themselves...which nobody sane would be doing. It comes across as silly, self-conscious, and completely unnatural. IMO.

When I read first person past tense, I can't help but think how unlikely and unrealistic it often seems for a character to be relating his or her past experiences in such detail.

Unless it's set up very explicitly, the "character relating the story" conceit breaks down for me in past tense, too.

Knigel
02-07-2013, 03:41 AM
What is a 'literary' present tense?

If I write in the present tense merely as a stunt, pr to show everyone what a clever writer I am, and forget to tell a story, I'm not a very good storyteller. I may know a million literary tricks, but I wouldn't be surprised if no one read my stuff.


Literary present tense:

http://grammar.about.com/od/il/g/literarypresentterm.htm

eyeblink
02-07-2013, 03:43 AM
Part of what bothers me about first-person present tense, other than the fact that it's distracting and annoying to read, is that it sounds like the character is relating the story real-time, presumably to themselves...which nobody sane would be doing. It comes across as silly, self-conscious, and completely unnatural. IMO.

Not necessarily. First present could just as easily be interior monologue as it is "relating the story" to anyone.

Present tense isn't anything new, though it wasn't widespread in literary fiction until the 1960s. But there are examples of it going back to the nineteenth century at least - about half of Dickens's Bleak House is in third present (omni), and the other half is first past narrated by Esther Summerson.

kuwisdelu
02-07-2013, 03:44 AM
What is a 'literary' present tense!

It refers to the fact that you're not are truly referring to "past" or "present" events, but events in a fictional narrative. It's usually invoked when writing about fiction rather than writing fiction.

For example, if I'm writing an essay about The Great Gatsby, literary present is me writing "on page 84, Gatsby tells Daisy..." instead of "Gatsy told Daisy..."

JustSarah
02-07-2013, 03:44 AM
I think the only reason I would even notice present tense, is if the sentences themselves were simply constructed so that it feels like a robot is relating the story to real time. Such as: I walk to the store. I open the door. I see a boy.

When the same thing could be said in: I walk to the story, open the door, and then I see a boy.

kuwisdelu
02-07-2013, 03:47 AM
When the same thing could be said in: I walk to the story, open the door, and then I see a boy.

Actually, that's dramatically different than walking to the store, opening the door, and seeing a boy. And much more interesting and surreal, too...

JustSarah
02-07-2013, 03:55 AM
Figures I would make a grammar error when I mention not liking present tense.XD

And its not like its a total story killer, when writing script for games it should be in present tense.

kkbe
02-07-2013, 04:05 AM
Actually, that's dramatically different than walking to the store, opening the door, and seeing a boy. And much more interesting and surreal, too...

oh. OH. I just got that one.

Is first person present tense like stream of consciousness? So first person past would be, as kuwisdelu suggests, relating one's past experiences?

But how is that unrealistic? Any evening I converse with Mr. kkbe about what I did today, am I not in that POV?


I posted something on SYW today, honey. You wouldn't believe the responses I had! I can't believe how positive everybody was! They loved my writing more than usual!


Yeah, I write fiction. :)

As for first person present tense, everytime somebody rails against it, says they hate it, won't read it, I cringe because I write in fppt, a lot. Have I lost readers already? I'd hope readers would at least give a novel written in that POV a chance. Maybe the story lends itself to that POV, or needs it. Maybe the author was skilled enough to make it work. Maybe the novel is better because of it.

I don't know. I just feel like some people are missing out on great stuff out there because they're biased, perhaps because they read a stink first person present tense novel once upon a time.

LJD
02-07-2013, 04:08 AM
Literary present tense:

http://grammar.about.com/od/il/g/literarypresentterm.htm

But that doesn't apply if you are actually writing fiction (which is what you said you were doing), does it? The article just talks about using present tense if you are writing about literature. I'm not sure "literary" present tense is relevant here.

JustSarah
02-07-2013, 04:08 AM
It really largely depends on context. Someone telling a story on a road trip the beach might be able to get away with recounting a longer story than someone sitting in a bar. Simply because it passes the time.

courtneyv
02-07-2013, 04:35 AM
When I read first person past tense, I can't help but think how unlikely and unrealistic it often seems for a character to be relating his or her past experiences in such detail.

Unless it's set up very explicitly, the "character relating the story" conceit breaks down for me in past tense, too.

This is a common misconception about past tense. Both present and past tense can be immediate, where the narrator doesn't know the outcome of the story because it is unfolding as they relay it. Past tense does not necessarily mean a story is being told from some distant point in the future. Plenty of past tense stories unfold in real time.

Think of two people giving a play-by-play of what they are doing to someone over the phone. One person may relay each action, the second after it happens, using past tense, and another might give details right as they happen in present tense. Neither is wrong and each person is relaying details in the way that's most natural. But both first person accounts are immediate because they unfolding in real time and neither person knows what lies ahead.

I think a lot of writers choose Present tense because they believe past tense means the narrator is looking back to tell a story, which is not always the case.

kuwisdelu
02-07-2013, 04:40 AM
This is a common misconception about past tense. Both present and past tense can be immediate, where the narrator doesn't know the outcome of the story because it is unfolding as they relay it. Past tense does not necessarily mean a story is being told from some distant point in the future. Plenty of past tense stories unfold in real time.

You get me wrong. I agree with you.

Stacia Kane
02-07-2013, 04:46 AM
The only litfic I can think of offhand that I've read (re-read, actually) recently was Angela Huth's WIVES OF THE FISHERMEN. It was published in the 80s, I think.

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but the present tense is so well done that the first time I read it I honestly didn't even notice it until I was almost halfway finished with it.

It's a beautiful book.

But I don't think present tense is a must-do for litfic.


That said, if your prof is grading it and wants present tense, I'd do it.

Stacia Kane
02-07-2013, 04:47 AM
This is a common misconception about past tense. Both present and past tense can be immediate, where the narrator doesn't know the outcome of the story because it is unfolding as they relay it. Past tense does not necessarily mean a story is being told from some distant point in the future. Plenty of past tense stories unfold in real time.

Think of two people giving a play-by-play of what they are doing to someone over the phone. One person may relay each action, the second after it happens, using past tense, and another might give details right as they happen in present tense. Neither is wrong and each person is relaying details in the way that's most natural. But both first person accounts are immediate because they unfolding in real time and neither person knows what lies ahead.

I think a lot of writers choose Present tense because they believe past tense means the narrator is looking back to tell a story, which is not always the case.


QFT.

Knigel
02-07-2013, 05:05 AM
But that doesn't apply if you are actually writing fiction (which is what you said you were doing), does it? The article just talks about using present tense if you are writing about literature. I'm not sure "literary" present tense is relevant here.


Ah okay, it's the term my prof used. I'm not sure why. *shrug*

Ken
02-07-2013, 06:24 AM
... present tense is very commonly used at the conclusion of novels. The protag finishes an account of where events have lead them and then they switch from past to present where an uncertain and troublesome future awaits. E.g. on the lam. cops in pursuit. capture inevitable. etc. Neat way of signing off.