The Texture of Tense

I’ve been working with the present tense a lot lately. I went browsing to see what other authors said about the use of present tense, and I found a lot of writers who were “down” on present tense, saying it was limited in scope, or that it was too alienating for readers, or too self indulgent with including minor details, or could not create complex characters. There were more, but those were the ones which stuck out to me.

While there is a “right” or “wrong” tense for each story, I contend that the authors who made these allegations about present tense were not looking at the issue correctly. They mistakenly confused tense with time when tense, is, in fact, texture. 

Tense lends texture to the story. Why is it that present tense has such immediacy over the past tense? Texture. How is it past tense has weight? Texture.

When you approach tense as texture, possibilities yield themselves, not ultimatums against one tense or the other.

Present tense is no more limiting than past, if you are willing to be daring and think of your time/texture in unconventional ways. Present tense, I have found, keeps me from indulging in minor, meaningless details. The texture of it is too vivid, too bright, to waste on things that don’t mean anything. In creating complex characters, present tense works just as well as past, again, if you are willing to be daring in how you portray or construct those characters.

As for alienating readers . . . fuck ’em. If someone is going to be put off reading a present tense story simply because it’s present tense — they are not the reader for that story.

But texture. Not time.


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