A lively debate currently rages in the fiction-writing world, pitting past-tense narrative against present-tense. Assuming that a (presumably older) writer is interested in learning more about writing in present tense, one quandary they face is that, while present tense has exploded onto the fiction scene and would tend to suggest that the writing world is moving toward it as the desired contemporary mode, the majority of reading materials available are in past tense.
I think this important to note because we learn to speak the language we hear growing up; composers tend to write in the genre they predominantly listen to; writers write based on the works they have read.
The point being that learning another language as an adult requires some effort and—as a good teacher will tell you—immersion. So how then are we, as writers who have predominantly been exposed to past tense fiction, supposed to suddenly pull off present tense that is readable and engaging?
I believe this may be part of the difficulty with those readers, including myself, who have picked up a book in first person present tense only to feel a little repulsed by it. Although I enjoyed the storyline of the book in question, I continue to have mixed feelings about it even now, over a year later.
The first time I heard an oboe played (by a high-schooler), I hated it. It sounded terrible—the kind of music where you stop up your ears in misery. Later, I heard an oboe played by a professional, and suddenly I loved it. The point being that those who hate present tense may not truly dislike the tense itself but rather the imperfect manner of its application, primarily by writers like me who have never been immersed in it.
With that in mind, I recently decided to give present tense another chance and purposefully picked up a book I knew to be written in it. What a difference! It was well-crafted, and I easily connected with the main character within the first couple of sentences—the same amount that it had taken to repulse me from the other book.
So to those writers like me who have difficulty with consistent application—go forth and read (present tense)! A basic internet search will pull up several available lists.
To those who have had difficulty with accepting this new-fangled thing—go forth and give it a second chance. You may be surprised.
What about you — are you a writer or a reader who can relate? Do you love/hate/don’t care about what tense a book is written it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.