Sunday, August 22, 2010


Not as in "I'm so tense and need a massage" (although I'd totally take the massage...). The other night I read two YA novels that were written in first person, present tense. I know it's supposed to lend itself to a sense of immediacy, but it just doesn't do it for me. I find it much too awkward. Rather than enjoying the story, I spend the entire time nursing an odd twitch that I seem to develop while reading that point of view, and I feel like there's someone in the background dragging their nails on a chalkboard.

I don't know, maybe I just need to get used to it? I've read about 7 or 8 books in the present tense, and I can't remember liking any of them. Even the ones that are bestsellers - the ones that I know would've been a favourite - are moved to the "meh" pile because they're written that way. Sad, but true. I've had a hard time coming to terms with my tense-ism, but after reading that many books, I feel like I've more than given it a fair chance.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still read something that comes highly recommended, but I can pretty much guarantee that I won't buy it or re-read it. (Don't judge - would you spend money to hear nails on a chalkboard? Exactly.) That's not to say that I won't give credit where credit is due. There are some excellent stories out just hurts to have to read them.

What do you thing about books written in the present tense? Anyone else out there with tense-ist issues they'd like to get off their chest? Is there something wrong with me and should I be hanging my head in shame?



Schmutzie said...

For the most part, I hate it when stories are told in the present tense. I think it's because that is not how people tell stories verbally. I also find it jarring because I find myself feeling like I'm being forced into how to see a scene. When it's told in a past tense, I feel more freedom to imagine and play with it more in my head rather than being told this-is-what-is-here-now.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I love stories written in first person, but the present tense--unless it's done very well--I would give a pass.

It's interesting what different folks like or dislike. Thanks for the insight.

Tracy said...

Schmutzie, I think you've nailed it. I feel the same way!

Kathi, I enjoy a lot of first person narratives too! I'm just grateful that there are many other wonderful books out there that don't drive me crazy. :)

Ron Smith said...

I just tried rewriting my novel in present tense and it was painful. It didn't feel natural at all. I became painfully aware of each word.

Some present tense novels I like more than others. I guess it depends on the author's skill in pulling it off. For some reason, the Hunger Games present tense didn't bother me, but it did in Catching Fire.

Go figure.

Franklin Beaumont said...

Hi Tracy. I've never gotten along with present tense myself. It feels constrictive, and it makes suspending disbelief more difficult.

If you're told a story in the past tense, the mind is tricked on some subconscious level into feeling the story has some reality. How could a story be happening right now, as I'm reading it? Present tense exposes the lie of fiction.

Tracy said...

Franklin - love your thoughts on this. So true!

Jessica said...

I am exactly the same way! I feel like I have a mosquito flying around my head the whole time I'm reading. I just can't seem to focus when a book is written in present tense. Although I have toyed with the idea of writing in the present tense, I never can bring myself to do it. Too painful.
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