Coming to terms with writing fiction in the present tense.

One of the most frequent comments made about any fiction I write is that it is  written in the present tense.

Nearly everyone has something to say about it, but the responses vary. Most readers say it is difficult to get used to at first, not being the most common form of writing. In fact, when I first sent A Story of Now to my publisher, that was one of the first things she pointed out after her first read—and not necessarily in a positive way.   Some reviewers have assumed it is a literary device, intended to convey something specific, which is makes sense. As one of them pointed out, it is called A Story of Now. Then there was an editor who once assumed it was from exposure to fan fiction, which is apparently often written in present tense.

The thing is, I have no idea why I write in that form.  It began long before I’d even heard of such a thing as fan fiction, and it definitely wasn’t something I was experimenting with as a cunning literary device. Frankly, I’m just not that highbrow! All I know is that years ago, when I did a writing course, my writing teacher handed my first piece back to me, saying “You write in present tense. Interesting.” I didn’t even know it was a thing. But apparently it is a thing. Fortunately, she didn’t object, and I never thought much about it again. Until I published and it has become a repeated cause for comment.

In fact, it is such a natural part of my writing that when my publisher made some rumblings about it, I became incredibly nervous. Was she going to make me re-write in past tense? Not only would that be fiddly and tiresome, it seemed completely unnatural to me.  I wasn’t sure if I knew how to do it.

And it’s a strange thing to interrogate something that you have just always naturally done, like tying your shoelaces a certain way, or eating your food.  I just do. And for me, the more I think about it—and I have a lot lately—the less sense it makes to write a story in the past tense to me. In fact, when I am in a period when I am writing a lot and I start a new book, the use of the past tense begins to jar with me in ways it never did before I wrote.

But why do we do it?  Why is it natural to write everything as if it happened already? Why is it the preferred method of writing fiction? I understand it in non-fiction, where we are often recounting something that has already happened. Is writing in the past tense a leftover from more diaresque writing and verbal storytelling? That makes sense.

But I still don’t know how to do it. And as a narrator of events that are entirely made up, it makes just as much sense to me to write as if they are happening in the moment to my characters as it does to write about them as if they happened yesterday. So, I guess I am stuck with the present tense, and so are my readers, because the more I think about it the less I know how to do it any other way.

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