Present Tense Bursts into the Reading Room

 

I was in grade school when I first wondered why fiction was written in past tense.

I’ve read countless fiction books- virtually all in written in past tense- that were vivid, captivating, and magical. But I find reading past tense is invariably like reading about an explosion long after the detonation site has been cleared and repaved. The facts have been gathered and analyzed, and are a matter of public record. But in present tense the fuse is still burning . .

Will the bomb explode?

All other variables being equal, present tense can connect the reader to the narrator more intimately than past tense can. And if written skillfully, reading present tense is reading about something as IT’S HAPPENING.

Some people dislike present tense because it’s faddish and annoying, like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum while wearing a Hannah Montana outfit. And some people LIKE present tense because it IS a toddler throwing a temper tantrum while wearing a Hannah Montana outfit. It’s real and uncertain and in your face. Faddish? Charles Dickens, Jay McInerney, Margaret Atwood, Albert Camus, Tom Robbins, Nick Hornby, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Cunningham, Andre Dubus III, James Frey, John Updike, and Audrey Niffenegger all wrote best-selling novels in the present tense. Annoying? That’s up to each reader.

I write fiction in present tense because I find it perpetually fresh. It may be irritating, but trust me, your eyeballs will toughen up and soon you won’t feel the urge to blink and squint so much. It’s inevitable. SHEBAM ! POW ! BLOP ! WIZZ !