Present or Past Tense?

The first time I attempted my novel, it was in the third person POV and the main protagonist –the guy who narrates it in its current form –wasn’t even a major character.

Once I realized I wanted him telling the story and going on the adventure (and for some reason, I realized these things in that order), I wrote several chapters in first person past tense.

Most recently, I decided I wanted to write it in the first person present tense.

Now, I’m back to being unsure. First person past tense is more common and arguably easier to read for many people. I disagree with “many people;” I find I tend to read through present tense novels fanatically.

So, I’m not sure if I want to go ahead and change back to the past tense, or if I should keep at the present tense version.

Which tense do you prefer for a gritty post-apoc action novel?

And for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about:

Past tense: I punched him in the face.
Present tense: I punch him in the face.

12 thoughts on “Present or Past Tense?

  1. I love present tense first person novels, I’m with you on that one, I think they are fantastic. I wrote the first 20,000 words of my novel in first person present. However, once I put my work on Scribophile, so many people complained that it spoiled their flow that I decided to change it. I still love first person present tense, but I guarentee that first person past tense is a heck of a lot easier to write. Best of luck 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your input, Amy! My experience has matched yours, so far, haha. I posted it on Scribophile, and people do not love the first person present tense. Do you still use the site? I would love to check out your work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I prefer past tense myself. But that’s me. I guess it would depend on the story. I’ve written both ways, but I always default to past tense. I kind of have to force the other.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s tough to answer, especially if I’m not familiar with this story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. I just know there are quite a few people out there who won’t even read a book written in the present tense. It’s certainly hard for me not to “default back” in the middle of writing it, but as a reader I often prefer present.

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  3. Personally I prefer past tense. Present tense is what young children use when they first start writing, as they are only aware of the present. I don’t like the modern ‘fad’ of present tense books, they do sound juvenile in their construction. Go for past tense.

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  4. I like present tense, it gives everything an immediacy, but it can be unrelenting because you are always in the action. It has had some bad press recently, some people see it as a fad. But Hilary Mantel made good use of it in ‘Wolf Hall’, which was brilliant because it gave the past an extra lively dimension that, I don’t think, could be gleamed from a past tense narrative; I also enjoyed Chuck Palahniuk’s use of it in ‘Fight Club’ and thought it suited the immediacy and tension of the book. I think it depends on effect — past tense allows more distance and reflection, present tense puts you in the thick of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you completely. Present tense might be a little silly in a book that doesn’t have a lot of action, but Fight Club would be a missed opportunity if it weren’t written with that sense of “immediacy,” as you put it so well. Thank you! I think it will suit what I’m writing well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It may be less about ‘action’ than ‘immersion’ — it puts the reader almost next to the characters I feel. Good luck with your book, whatever style you choose. Write what you would like to read, without too much worry what others will think, some will like it some won’t — we can’t please everybody.

        Liked by 1 person

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