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Thread: Tense preferences in literary magazines

  1. #1
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Tense preferences in literary magazines

    I just got my first 2013 edition of a MAJOR literary quarterly today*. Of the nine short stories it contains, six are in present-tense narrative. I'm curious. Is this the common preference in today's literary fiction?

    I haven't yet read any of the stories; I plan to make it my bedtime read. So I'm not trying to pass any literary judgment or critique on it. Just intrigued by the apparent preference, and wondering if it extends to other such venues.

    Anybody have other evidence?

    caw


    *I prefer not to name it, but it's a biggie. I subscribe to it.
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  2. #2
    Migam eyeblink's Avatar
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    Not really evidence as I haven't surveyed it. On the other hand, three of the stories are NOT in present tense so are presumably just as acceptable.

    A romance market I sold four stories to in the 1990s sometimes published present-tense stories. They tended to be somewhat shorter, more "mood" pieces than straight-ahead plot-driven stuff.

    Someone who did do a survey was John Kessell, who wrote an article on the subject of present tense in SF short fiction called "The Brother from Another Planet", which was published in the New York Review of Science Fiction. I have a copy somewhere. He compared anthologies (reprint and best-of) from the 40s and the 70s. In 40s SF no one wrote in present tense, while in the 70s, some of the more "experimental" and "literary" SF writers often did - James Tiptree Jr, Joanna Russ and others. Later, William Gibson. It's certainly not UNacceptable to do so - as a newcomer, I sold two stories to F & SF in present tense, one in third person, one in second.
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  3. #3
    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    I think it's the preference of quite a few authors these days.

    I doubt publishers care what tense it is as long as it's good.
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  4. #4
    resident curmudgeon
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    Well, individual editors each have a preference, but it's always more about good writing and content than tense. As a writer, I think you have to write the way you write best, and the way you prefer reading.

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    Not responsible for bitten fingers Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Define MAJOR, because most literary magazine are small press or university-funded and they pay in copies. To me, major pays professional rates like the New Yorker or Playboy.

    But I haven't noticed any tense shift.
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    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret View Post
    ...Playboy.

    But I haven't noticed any tense shift.
    I get it for the pictures...oh...wait...
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret View Post
    Define MAJOR, because most literary magazine are small press or university-funded and they pay in copies. To me, major pays professional rates like the New Yorker or Playboy.

    But I haven't noticed any tense shift.
    "Professional" rate is generally considered from five to seven cents per word, depending on genre, not New Yorker or Playboy rates. If The New Yorker and PLayboy are your standard, only five or six major magazines exist, and chances are no one you know is ever getting into them.

    There are many MAJOR literary magazines out there, and it isn't at all true that all of them, or even a majority, pay only in copies. Most of them don't pay much, though a few pay very well, but even many of the low-paying markets are still MAJOR players, and do more good for a writer's career than hundreds of magazines that may pay better.

    And some few of them pay pretty darned well.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
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    I read a bunch of the big literary magazines, and there is usually a combination of both past and present tense stories. I have played around with both tenses in my own writing, and I think it just depends on the story which tense works better.

    Also, most of the major journals don't just pay in copies. I could name at least twenty off the top of my head that pay quite nicely. I agree that even some of the ones that don't pay are quite good and very hard to get into. I don't think how much they pay dictates just how good or major a literary magazine is.

  9. #9
    Reads more than she writes. AW Moderator Smish's Avatar
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    I've seen an upsurge in present tense over the past couple of years, in both short fiction and novels. I think it's just becoming more popular, but as has been said upthread, tense doesn't really matter. If the writing is good enough, the tense disappears.
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  10. #10
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smish View Post
    I've seen an upsurge in present tense over the past couple of years, in both short fiction and novels. I think it's just becoming more popular, but as has been said upthread, tense doesn't really matter. If the writing is good enough, the tense disappears.
    I've found that too, but it could be that in the past couple of years some books written in present tense have been hugely popular.

    Hard to tell, really. Not a fan of it myself but if the story's good, ya know...

  11. #11
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    Well, individual editors each have a preference, but it's always more about good writing and content than tense. As a writer, I think you have to write the way you write best, and the way you prefer reading.
    I thought you hated present tense.

    As for the mag, it pays in four figures for shorts, and is a real totem on one's publication resumé.

    caw
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    I thought you hated present tense.

    As for the mag, it pays in four figures for shorts, and is a real totem on one's publication resumé.

    caw
    I detest present tense in novels, and usually dislike it in short stories. If the writer is good enough, however, I can make it through a short story in present tense, and sometimes even find one I like. I almost never find one that I think wouldn't have been better in past tense, but that's another story.

    And, unfortunately, all these magazine don't buy stories just to please me. They do buy enough that please me to keep me reading.

    My personal taste aside, individual writers have to write what they like, and what they do best. And editors have to buy what they like, and what they think their readers will like.

  13. #13
    That hairy-handed gent
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    I have a submission in to this mag. It has the chance of being accepted that Bernard Madoff has of being the next U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

    caw
    "Badger! Badger! The weasels have stolen my motor-car!"

    "Frankly, Toad, I don't give a damn."

    -- Gone with the Wind in the Willows

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    I have a submission in to this mag. It has the chance of being accepted that Bernard Madoff has of being the next U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

    caw
    You are remembering to slip photos of the editor in a compromising position with a poodle into the envelope, aren't you?

  15. #15
    figuring it all out Eliza azilE's Avatar
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    A few years ago I was flipping through the Writer's Market, and even back then there were at least two sources (agents, publishers, I forget) who requested NO MORE present because they were sick of it.

    If there's ever an upsurge, prepare for a pullback.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eliza azilE View Post
    A few years ago I was flipping through the Writer's Market, and even back then there were at least two sources (agents, publishers, I forget) who requested NO MORE present because they were sick of it.

    If there's ever an upsurge, prepare for a pullback.
    Well, I've also seen the same warnings abut first person of any kind. This usually happens not because present tense or first person doesn't sell, but because a great story is written in one or the other, and fifty-eight million new writers flood agents and editors with horribly written present tense or first person.

    There are always exceptions, and writers should usually write whatever it is they most love to read and write, but there is no doubt that third person limited is the safest POV for new writers. It's the "easiest" POV for most new writers to handle.

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