I wrote the following, or, I’m writing the following…. which is better?
Once you start writing a new piece, this really is one of the first technical decisions that must be made. Is the narrator looking back on past events or experiencing the events in that moment? Past tense and present tense are the two grammatical tenses in the english language and both have their own unique storytelling advantages.
Lets first take a look at past tense. This is when the narrator is describing all events and actions as having already occurred. An example of this would be, “the explosion shook our building, causing hearing loss in those closer to the blast.” With past tense, you have the option specifying how much in the past this was, or deciding not to, depending on the type of story you want to tell. The advantages here is the adage of hindsight being 20/20 – your narrator is able to describe the story without being handcuffed by their emotions or mindset within that moment. In general, this type of tense was the clear timeframe of choice for traditional storytelling.
Present tense, which has gained more prevalence in modern storytelling, is the other grammatical tense. From a storytelling perspective, this tense is used to describe a narrator experiencing events unfolding for themselves, or the characters they are describing. An example of this tense would be, “I open the door and look out to see him waiving while he starts up his car, work bound.” Using present tense has the ability to create more tension in a story since you are unable to see the forest beyond the trees. While a character speaking in past tense has almost assuredly survived whatever the story has thrown at them, the same cant be said about a present tense character, until the end of the story. They aren’t as privy to other details of the greater story, however, and it usually requires switching perspectives in larger stories.
For me, I’ve struggled with present tense unless its in small spurts. My mind is more wired for writing in past tense as most of the stories I grew up reading were written similarly. For the short stories that I’ve used it for, whether character introductions or single scenes, I feel they haven’t moved along like i would have wanted. That being said, still trying to make it work!
That’s it for now, more from me next week.
Keep turning the page,