Verb Tense

Hi, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 4 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re discussing verb tense. Before you start writing a story, you have to choose a verb tense. The nice thing is there are only two choices.

The first is past tense. Past tense is verbs that indicate events already happened. Here are some examples of past tense verbs: said, walked, ran, hiked, yelled, etc. Past tense is the most commonly used verb tense in fiction. Out of all the books I read in 2020 and in 2021 so far, all of them are written in past tense. There are specific genres that rely on past tense more than others. Fantasy is one of them. If you can’t decide between the two verb tenses, this is the one you should go with.

What are the advantages of using past tense?

One, it’s easier to write in past tense. I’ll get to why present tense is harder later in this post. Past tense is way more straightforward.

Two, most books are written in past tense, so readers are used to reading it. You’re far less likely to jar readers.

What are the disadvantages of using past tense?

Past tense is slightly less immediate.

The other tense is present tense. Present tense is verbs that indicate events are happening right now. Here are some examples: say, walk, run, hike, yell, etc. Present tense is far less common in books, but it is perfectly acceptable to use. Readers are more likely to accept present tense in a genre like contemporary than in genres like sci-fi or fantasy.

What are the advantages of using present tense?

Present tense is more immediate than past tense because everything is happening right now, and readers are in the moment.

What are the disadvantages of using present tense?

One, it’s harder to write in present tense. You have to learn how to refer to past events in a way that works with the verb tense. This can be very difficult to learn for new writers.

Two, some readers find present tense jarring and/or annoying.

When deciding on a verb tense, the first thing you should consider is what genre your book is in. Do readers in your genre expect a specific tense? Is it acceptable to use either? Then consider the immediacy you want and whether or not you’re up to the challenge of writing in present tense. As I said earlier, when in doubt, choose past tense.

Once you choose a tense, stick with it. You can’t go back and forth between the two tenses—except in very rare cases, but those are more advanced than this course. Be consistent.

Those are the differences between past tense and present tense. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.

Discussion Questions:

Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!

1) Which tense do/will you write in? Do you have a preference, or do you use both?

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