I wrote the following seven years ago, just think, seven years and I still get annoyed by it! My gripe is with stories written in the present tense; I know changing tense can make specific parts or episodes gallop along , and can be used in internal dialogue, I know as part of a whole it’s effective, but when it’s the whole whole, it’s just like fingernails down a blackboard, or teeth well and truly on edge. There have been books, which I mention below which have carried me along, and I can get over it – and it is me getting over it because plenty of people either like it, don’t mind or don’t notice! Recent novels I’ve really enjoyed in the present tense include the Dr Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I’ve just started reading the next book for book club, and blow me, it’s in the present tense! I will try to get over my irritation!
Anyway, here’s what I wrote seven years ago:
I think I must be a right old stick in the mud; I’m obviously not current, not with it at all… and the way I’ve expressed that must say it all. I just do not understand why there is this fashion for writing in the present tense. I just don’t get it; I find it extremely annoying because it is a distraction and seems so artificial. There are so many clever ways of telling a story, so many devices which can be used to give immediacy and to liven up the reader, but you don’t want every present tense verb to be like a pin stabbing your reader in the eye.
Writing in the present tense is supposed to add immediacy to the narrative, to bring the reader closer (not this reader, this reader struggles on until the book is firmly shut – I respect books too much to hurl it across the room and I resist the strong desire to do so) So many books are written in the present tense and I just don’t understand why; I think it is just a fashion, trying to be different not by the quality of writing or other techniques, but by using a different tense. Maybe I should be ultra fashionable and write in the future tense.
I admit I have read books in the present tense which I have enjoyed, ‘The Hunger Games’ for example, however, there are many, many more books which I have not enjoyed because of it. No doubt I am being curmudgeonly but I am not the only one who can’t abide it. A writer I admire is Philip Pullman :
Pullman, the best-selling children’s author, was scathing over its use. He said: “this wretched fad has been spreading more and more widely. I can’t see the appeal at all. To my mind it drastically narrows the options available to the writer. When a language has a range of tenses such as the perfect, the imperfect, the pluperfect, each of which makes other kinds of statement possible, why on earth not use them?” He added: “i just don’t read present-tense novels any more. It’s a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy.”
Philip Hensher likens it to Japanese knotweed… how apt!
Here is an article from a writing blog about use of the present tense, the pros and cons (it doesn’t mention being annoying!)
My featured image is a nice calm picture of dolphins, reminding me of the wonderful time I had in Tasmania three years ago.