Asking for a Friend - Past v. Present Tense
I recently finished Burn and decided before jumping into the third novel in your series I would catch up on the preludes and interludes that take place up until the beginning of Came Back Haunted. Why do you write the short stories in present tense, but the novels in past? Do you have a preference? And do you think you’ll ever write a novel in present tense?
Before I get started on answering your question, I want to say thank you for your interest in my series. I hope you are enjoying them and will continue to enjoy them. On to the question… My preference is past tense for a couple of reasons, mostly because it’s the tense I’m most comfortable writing in.
I’ve been writing in past tense since I started writing in the fourth grade, so this is the tense that feels the most natural for me. Once I made the decision to become intentional about my writing, I wanted to give myself every advantage I could, after all, writing a novel is daunting enough. Selecting past tense was the obvious choice (as was the POV selected but that’s for another time).
Writing three novels built up my confidence and made me feel like I was ready to toss another challenge onto my plate. At first, I thought that took on the form or writing a short story. Yes, writing a short story can be (at least for me) very challenging. It’s counter-intuitive to think t
his way, after all, novels are much longer than short stories. Well, that’s the rub. Novels are much longer, which means there’s a longer runway of building the story. With a novel, I have at least 80,000 words to build up characters, their relationships, insert nuances, reveal their backstory, plot, etcetera. With a short story I only have what… 8,000 words? Less in the case of Siren. It’s hard, and it’s definitely a skill… but I digress.
I thought it might be challenging in a fun way to write in the present tense for these short stories. I admire how present tense puts the reader right in the thick of the action as it unfolds on the page. It’s a tense that makes things more personal… grittier? Maybe. Writing short stories in the present tense allows me to dabble with this style of writing, without committing to it for 80,000 words. Which leads me to your last question.
Honestly, I don’t know. It would definitely be challenging, but I don’t know if I can sustain present tense for a full-length novel. Present tense has the tendency to naturally dip into past at some area (describing what happened in the past, or conversations that happened in the past), and I know I would get stuck in past tense when I should shift back to present. I also don’t see switching tenses mid series at least not for the novels, but I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to writing.