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When you're writing a story, how do you choose the tense to use? Do you always write in past tense or present tense or do you switch between stories?

I've found that when I'm writing a story that's got a modicum of plot, I usually go for past tense. But if I'm writing porn, it usually wants to be in present tense. (And when I say "wants", I mean, I write it automatically and it's a struggle to change it.) As well, stories that are more general in their action, describing things that take place regularly, tend to go into present tense. For example:

Harry always watches Draco in the corridors.


Harry knocked Draco's books to the floor.

What do you do? Have you ever tried anything experimental with tense? Does reading present tense drive you crazy? Sometimes I force my fic into past tense because I know a lot of people don't care for present.

I find that present tense makes me feel more immediately involved with the story. But often that doesn't really work with longer stories. With porn, I like it a lot.

The present tense/first person combo doesn't often work for me all that well. I'm not entirely sure why -- maybe most people don't develop enough of an individual voice for their POV character when they use first person and it makes the present/first combo sound affected to me.

What about you?

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If I'm writing anything with any sort of plot or action at all, I have to use past tense, because I don't need or want the feeling of intimacy of character that the preterit involves. I don't write porn very often, but if I'm going for the same level of involvement, then past tense usually feels too remote. Also, if I'm writing thoughts, emotions, etc., present tense tends to come more naturally; it feels more organic. Does that make any sense?

The present tense/first person combo doesn't often work for me all that well.

I hate writing fanfic in the first person; as I was saying to somebody the other day, first person/present tense makes me feel like I'm writing a first-person shooter game. And for some reason it comes off as really amateurish, though I'm not sure why.

I just start writing and it comes out in a particular POV and tense. I sometimes don't even realize why until after I'm done.

For instance I wrote Harry/Ginny NC-17 for norah's vcabulary smut challenge because everyoen else was writing slash - so I thought H/G would be a good foil. Also I wrote it 2nd person - just to see how far I could push the envelope.

H/G is hardly a favorite ship among most of my friends and slash people - so I realized by writing it 2nd person I was putting the reader in a funky position.

All I can assume is that I realized that subconciously and started writing. I suppose this isn't very helpful.

But I just let the story pour out and trust my brain. *shrug*

The story picks its tense for the first draft but I might change it when I edit, particularly if the tense affects the words - one tense often makes for better sentences than another in a particular story. I go for my instinctive reaction and one day I hope to be more knowledgeable about why I'm right or wrong in my choices.

Present tense is good for the PWP, immediate as you say, and right there in the midst of the action.

Present tense seems to be my default, and when I'm writing something else it's nearly impossible to stop writing in present, if I'm not careful. Which is why my betas are always having to point out tense shifts. *g*

For me, present tense flows naturally because I tend to write mood pieces, heavy on the introspection, and that seems to be the tense best suited for that kind of work. And it's true -- when I've written something more "serious" and plotty, I've switched to past.

I made one tense experiment that had mixed results -- I jumped around in a timeline and used tense shifts to signal that. It worked in my mind, but I'm not sure how it did for anyone else. ::shrug::

I feel guilty about writing in present tense so often, in much the same way I feel guilty about doing so many short, insubstantial pieces, but that's more my own issues as a writer, rather than a problem of anyone else's. *g*


I'm all over the map as regards tense and person. Okay, so I find third person nearly strangling when I start trying to use pronouns, so most of my slash is in first person (except for some new experiments with second person). It depends whether the narrator, or POV individual, needs to tell his immediate reactions to a moment or is reflecting on an event. As long as you are okay with moving into a character's head, listen to how he tells you the story. If the reactions are fresh and still occurring, it should be present tense. If there is some distance there, past tense is just fine. (Now if I could just explain this beyond what feels right!)

Present tense is my default, and normally I write in it. However, when I have a tense switch somewhere in a story, I go back and pick one to shift it all into. Usually it's whatever has the most space already. Not very artistic at all. Very random.

I tend to default to third person past, but yeah, smut works best in present - especially if it's the whole point of the story. I find that present tense works best for short (under 5K words) thought/character pieces, romances, and PWPs.

To me, it breaks down in action scenes and stuff that's plot-involved, because it starts to feel more like an outline (X does this, Y does that, Z says something else) than a narrative.

I find that the tense, much like the POV, arrives with the story, though on occasion I've changed when in the middle of the story, I started writing in the other tense (or person - I dislike second person intensely - it usually feels gimmicky to me - but on occasion I've started out in third and wound up in second. Usually with Snape. *snerk* He's good for distancing himself from whatever he's actually feeling, which is one of the times second works, imo.).

I find it hard to work on two stories with two different tenses at the same time. Inevitably, I'll start writing the past tense story in present (present is insidious and will take you over if you're not careful) and have to rewrite to get back in the past tense groove.

I don't much care for first person in fanfic, because I find most people don't hear the characters the way I do, so the voice never matches my conception of the character, and while I can let that slide in third, I can't in first.

I've only written first person once, I think, and I think it worked (going by the response to the story, and the fact that, two years later, *I* still love the story), but that was also a character I felt very confident writing.

Wait, no. I have two stories that are rotating first person - one is eight points of view of one scene (Logan stabbing Rogue in X1), and one is a broad comedy with Molly trying to matchmake for Bill and Remus and Sirius not liking the idea at all. In that, it was fairly easy to slip into Molly's POV, but for Bill and Sirius, I was very unsure.

I really, really don't like present tense. And i hate it when a story insists on being written in it.

I keep challenging myself to write in tenses that I'm not comfortable using just to see if I can make them work, sometimes to the detriment of the story. I find that once I start off writing in a certain tense I get stuck, so either I make it work or abandon it. I have a large pile of unfinished things. There is a correlation.

Just as an aside - I tend to find that in addition to subject matter, the length of the story dictates the tense. I don't have the stamina to use third person present for more than short scenes. Strangely, second person present is easier.

Does anyone ever get stuck in certain rhythms? I sometimes find that I hit Iambic Pentameter and can't for the life of me escape.

I write the story in whatever tense it wants. Generally I just start writing, and the first line comes to me in a certain tense, and that's what it gets to be. I do go through trends though. Right now I'm in a present tense trend. I couldn't write past tense if I tried. It's like some archaic form of language to me now. My favorite combo is present tense/third person.

I tend to not like first person in fandom. It's too close to the narrator and often the characterization isn't believable enough to pull it off. If I'm reading a first person fic and I don't *notice* right away, that means it's *good* writing. I don't care what tense something is in as long as the story is readable and involving.

Adventures in voice: The story I'm finishing now is in second person, which has been a lot of fun to write, and I realize it's going to scare people off, but I don't care. The one thing about it that I'd consider a drawback is I can't easily use "you" in the plural sense because it's too easy to read it as singular in this setting. This has disappointed me a couple times. I miss the inclusive nature of the plural "you" because it serves as "we" in that POV.

I almost always write in past tense. For telling a story, it seems more natural.

Present tense does not work better for me for porn, actually. I think it calls attention to itself and detracts from the story. I find myself using present tense only very rarely, usually in drabbles or very short ficlets. It's very rare that I like stories written in present tense, I think because I tend to prefer plotty stories and that just doesn't work in present tense as well. But those stories that I like that are in present tense would probably not work as well in the past tense.

Heh. I guess I can sum it up by saying that IMHO, stories with a plot work better in past, stories which are just moment-in-time work better in present, but as my preference is strongly toward plot, my preference is therefore strongly toward past.

Present tense first person always seems so melodramatic to me. Like, "you must care about me and what I am doing," and unless the story is exceptional, I don't. (And I think part of the problem is that many authors choose to write from the POV of angsty!Snape, which just drives the melodrama quotient sky-high.) The only such story I can think of that I really like is A Bittersweet Potion, which is (mostly) Harry's POV, and his interest and curiosity are engaging.

I usually don't think about it - they're pretty much all in past tense. There are two exceptions - the one I wrote partially in Blairspeak, which wanted to be in present, and the DS one I wrote in second person, which demands present tense.

I default to a tight third person past tense. Generally, I don't consciously choose a tense, or a point of view; I know when I start the story what it's going to be, because the story has started writing itself in my head and the viewpoint character has already presented him/herself.

I rarely write in present tense because I dislike it intensely, particularly when combined with second person. I think it's often used poorly, so I'm wary of it in my own writing. Most of the time, if a story I'm writing starts to emerge in present tense, that's because I'm feeling some sort of immediacy with that particular piece. If I later find that the immediacy isn't required to make the story work, I'll change it to past tense when I revise.

hmmm. Interesting question. I actually had one story where I switched from past to present (or was it present to past?) in the middle of a sentence. It had a purpose--to show the stuttering out of one reality into the "real" one--but I dunno if it worked. I experiment sometimes. But I'm with you on long stories. Past tense is a little easier to read over the long run, but only because we are more conditioned to read that way, I think. Margaret Atwood writes whole novels in present tense--but she's Margaret Atwood and you can take that how you will *g*.

Sometimes a story will just start to tell itself in the present tense, the "voice" of it speaks that way, but I know what you mean about writing to people's preferences--present tense has a bad rap. But if it has a *purpose*--like cranking up the immediacy of an experience, or to offset another narrative line that may be in the past tense, to show contrast or development or something--then I find it works well. I have no inherent prejudice or preference. It depends on what the story *needs* and what is appropriate to the communication of its core purpose. It's aaaaall about decorum, baby, decorum. :-)

whoops, wanted to add re: first person pov

Very very hard to do, but sometimes can be very powerful if, for instance, the story turns on a particular quirk of perception-- if the lens is of a particular precription (if you get my drift)-- that would be attenuated by being distanced by the interposition of a third person voice, which adds a narrative layer, raises the issue of (limited) omniscience. I'm thinking of stories that are based in, say, psychosis on one end of the scale or misunderstanding on the other. I suppose this perspective can be communicated in 3rd person, too, but, again, it depends what you want the story to *do* and how you want to position the *reader* and how you want to shape the way the reader receives and interprets information.

Mmm. Usually I don't think about it; the scene that starts me thinking about the story tends to dictate how it should be written.

As a matter of taste, I dislike present tense. It usually knocks me out of the narrative. If I'm reading, I find it distracting. If I'm writing, I find myself having to stop to decide whether something needs to be phrased a certain way. (Not that I don't constantly rewrite in my head, but...)

The only thing I've ever written in present tense was second-person, and that was because I heard it from Sara's POV. I didn't have to keep it up very long, because it was a short character piece. I prefer either third or second person in general.

I have written first-person -- I think that I'm happiest reading or writing first-person when the narrative voice is either distinctive or completely neutral/colorless. If the voice is too distinctive, or is written in some attempt to convey vernacular, I often find I get too irritated to continue reading. But then, a really abtruse or affected style will get me so irritated I can't go on reading.

One of the examples is Amelia Peabody -- I like the books: that is, I like the setting, I like the details, I enjoy the plots -- but if someone would stuff a sock into Amelia's mouth I would be just so happy... I can read about two or three chapters before I have to go off and find some non-fiction to get the taste out of my mouth.

I don't tend to write porn just to write porn... I don't mind reading it, but writing it is boring. If I'm writing an erotic scene in the course of a story, then the tense of the story will dictate what the tense of that scene is.

One of the more experimental things I've tried was in writing an AU FK story where the main body of the story was in past tense, but the inserted 'halluncinations' (actually memories/projections of alternate timelines) were in present tense. I've used the same technique for dreams/nightmares to try and convey the immediacy of the scene and its surrealism.

I think I am like a lot of people in that I write in past tense for plotty and/or long pieces and present for smut/moody/short pieces. I do have one fic that could have worked either way, and I wrote it in past, mainly because I wanted to give the idea of Harry looking back on something that happened rather than something that was presently happening, though the piece was short enough and lent itself well to present tense. I generally decide before I begin and rarely change tense once I've decided.

I don't have a problem with present tense so long as it is grammatically consistent. I don't know if I could deal with it for the length of a novel, but the way most people use it in short pieces, I think it tends to work and evoke the right mood. And that, really, is the bottom line. Usually you would want to use present tense if you want to make the emotions in the story more immediate.

POV is something different though. I always write in third person limited. I have one very, very short piece that is in present tense, second person, but overall... it's third person. First person is difficult and is rarely done well. It also feels detached for the reader. I know that for the writer it feels very immediate, but to the reader it feels like someone is telling you a story rather than allowing you to immerse yourself in the story. I am probably the only person around who actually prefers second person to first, lol.

Strangely enough, however, when I write in third person present tense, a lot of people think it is in first person. I've had comments that say 'way to use first person' and I'm left just scratching my head.

have you asked/posted that somewhere else? i swear i answered something worded exactly like your question *scratches head*

answer: immediacy. that´s why your porn wants to be written in the present tense. i also discovered that a fic i started with the sex scene was in the present tense. it works when it´s mostly p.o.v.´s and impressions, thoughts, a story in broad strokes with more hinted at than explained ...

it drives me mad when people actually switch in the middle of the fic, in a "grammatically wrong" way. i understand it though, coz as you said, even when starting in the present, the past tense is so much more ... usual that we tend to slip into it.

and i don´t like present tense/first voice. i tend to get bored by the restrictions, as you said few people are good at it, and once again it´s more suited towards exposing something about the person doing the talking and thinking - if used differently, it is tedious and self-absorbed (hm, good for mst´s then? ;))

I tend to automatically write in the first person POV, which most people don't want to read. The problem is, that when I write, I sort of fall into the voice of whomever I'm writing about; it just doesn't feel natural for me to write "Ron told Harry" instead of "I told Harry". It feels too impersonal to me. At the same time, I have to be very careful, because the first person POV can turn into some horrible Mary Sue-ing if I don't really *feel* what the character's personality is like. I guess it's why I've never bothered to really pursue fanfic writing as a hobby that I'd share with other people.

Although the type is a good indication for me of tense (ie sex is present tense, plot is past because it's just too hard to write in present) it also depends on the fandom.

Narnia should be past tense. LotRPS should be present tense.

(pet hate is first person pov)

I like writing in future tense. I feel it lends a bit of distance to the story, but also a bit of mysticism. These aren't necessarily the reasons why I like writing in it, these are just thoughts.

Second person sometimes feels affected, but can work quite nicely.

Present tense is much more instinctive for me, and is almost unavoidable in my shorter fics. I write as I breathe--that is to say, I wing it--so the present tense suits me rather well. For longer stories, however, the present tense is harder to sustain, and I tend to favor the past tense for longer, plot-rich fics.

My favorite pet combo is present tense/second person POV--I've written a surprising number of fics this way, and I can't begin to explain why. It's a pity people don't like the second person POV--because damn, it can be intense. (To write, at least!) It's like... reversing the narrator as subject. Just fascinating, and a method incredibly suited to building unreliable narrators. Which are also among my favorite style-kinks.

I don't know why certain stories want to be written in certain tenses; I know that I don't think about it when I begin a story. I start writing and in a few sentences I look back and say, "Hmm, look at that. Third-person present tense." Or whatever it turned out to be.

I write much more in present tense than I used to; it shows up hugely in drabbles, especially. Yes, a number of readers are not afraid to declare their dislike for present tense stories, but I'm not capable of changing to please them. I have on occasion tried to call an early halt to a story that can't seem to get off the ground, and see if changing tense will help. Usually it does not and there turns out to be another reason that the story is not working for me.

OTOH, if I find I am having difficulty maintaining the tense--if I keep slipping into another accidentally--I have to stop and ask myself if what I want is to write it in that tense instead--and sometimes that is so-- or if I am, perhaps, just forgetting because I just read something powerfully memorable in the opposite tense. That does happen.

A while back I was so accustomed to past tense that anything in present tense seemed really weird. I've seen a lot more done in present tense within fandom, though, so now I'm used to it and it rarely bothers me.

The few things I've written have been in past tense, though there's one short little experiment I did that was mostly present tense (save for a character memory, which of course needed to be in past tense).

First person is tricky. I don't dislike it in general, but I think it is more difficult since you have to get so much more immediate immersion into the character's head. Not many people manage it very well. I think it also depends on whether the fic is mostly introspection or a more external plot: first person is ideally well-suited for introspection, but that in general can be tricky enough that it often falls flat; for a more external story I think it's somewhat easier to manage, but it can feel unecessary. Did that make sense?

What really throws me off is second-person POV. I've seen it in a few fics, and even seen it pulled off decently well, but it just...seems weird. I find it very hard to get truly immersed in the story through that POV.

Hi! unanon pimped you here, so I friended you. *waves hello*

As to tenses...

I tend to automatically use past tense in long plotty stories, and present tense in shorter vignettes or character studies; however, I admittedly have a very hard time staying with one tense, and if, say, a chapter in a plotty fic is getting very musing or romantic or whatever I'll often slip into present tense on accident, or if a character study is getting some action in it I'll tend to go into past. I have to watch myself.

Welcome aboard. :) It seems like a lot of people handle tense that way -- I'm glad I'm not alone.

It looks like I'm in the minority, but I grew to hate present tense in fanfiction when it went from being interesting, to a trend, to the default. I think, once in a great while, I enjoy it. I wrote one story that was in first person and a mix of present and past tense, and it's one of the very few stories I've written that I still like. But I doubt very much that I would write that story today, because I got so very tired of the affectations of both first person and present tense in fanfic. My attitude towards all such narrative voice choices is the same as my attitude towards typography and web page design: if it comes between me and the story in any way, it's a bad choice and it tends to tick me off.

That said, I think a strong writer knows what tense and POV her(his) story wants to be. Like almost anything else, it can be done well or badly, and now that I'm no longer reading Smallville and have pretty much read all the West Wing Toby/CJ that's out there, I don't feel quite as violent an urge to run screaming the second I see a present tense verb. *g*

I tend to be similar -- I don't usually write porn, per se, but the shorter, more sexual, less plotty pieces tend to lapse into present tense for me. I also like it for vignettes and drabbles -- capturing a moment in time -- and I tend to use it when writing characters with multiple-personality sorts of issues.

Otherwise, past tense all the way. I generally don't like first person at all, although some people can do it in a way that works for me, so I haven't thought much about first/past or first/present.

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