When I first started writing fiction, nearly a decade ago, I tended to favour the omniscient method in which the author not only tells the story but identifies him or herself as the narrator. Not surprisingly, I preferred past tense to present, and the shift to my current preference of first person narrative in present tense took several years.
Why do I prefer the present tense?
- It creates a greater level of psychological immediacy
- It provides a simpler structure in which to write
- It helps the author to become aware of redundancies in the writing, for instance “resumed again” – the fact something resumes means it’s happening again, so the second word “again” is unnecessary in the context
- Back story becomes easier, as the writer can employ simple past tense
What are the cons of using the present tense in fiction, especially with first person? In my opinion, the writer risks creating too much immediacy, where everything that happens only happens in the central character’s head. In such instances, the reader can lose the sense of events occurring chronologically. Plus, the intensity can become too much – i.e. all on the same level.
The following is taken from my current novel in progress, a psychological thriller based on a group of music students who take part in a Summer School for pianists. The central character finds the week particularly difficult due to a failed relationship with a girl on the course. During the week, the central character becomes increasingly aware of a potentially sinister situation in the surrounding countryside:
I continue climbing and cross a stile where the third dead rabbit lies on the ground.Step round it.A branch snaps nearby.And then another.I look round again.Nothing.Quicken my pace. Reach the next stile. Climb over. Further ahead, a fourth rabbit lies on the ground with its insides ripped out, blood still dripping on the grass.And then I see something else. A knife on the ground coated with blood and the remains of rabbit.I leg it diagonally, running as fast as I can.
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