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PRESENT TENSE DRIVES ME NUTS

June 24, 2015

I last talked about this in May 2013, but it keeps popping up in books everywhere. What really bugs me is not what people say to my face, but what I know some of them think. I’m old and set in my ways for not liking and accepting present tense writing. They look at me, see a few (well maybe more than a few) wrinkles and my gray hair and automatically think, ancient.

Well, I’ve got news for those of you with your blatant touches of ageism. I didn’t come to my conclusions about present tense neither lightly or without plenty of experimentation. I know when not to stick my hand in the virtual electrical outlet. I also know after over five decades of reading (which I’d call a bit of experience), what I like and don’t like. If you think I haven’t read several hundred present-tense books to find that out, you’re deluded.

I DON’T LIKE BEING RUSHED

In the world of ADHD, thirty-second attention span people, present tense makes a lot of sense. When I read prose written in that style, I get the feeling the author is trying to rush me through the story. With people afflicted with hyperactivity, ADHD, etc., the style might be a perfect fit. Others, who like to be dragged along might also find it appealing. I am in no way demeaning anyone or drawing parallels here, just guessing how this style might fit certain readers. That’s how present tense makes me feel. It rushes me and irritates me and makes me feel like the author is trying to push me along instead of letting me relax and enjoy the story. It pisses me off.

TEEN AUTHORS LOVE IT

The big trend with teen authors is present tense, which many young people eat up because they’re relatively new readers and don’t know any better. They’re still experiencing the thrill of finding their comfort zones and it might be decades before they reach that zone where certain styles just bug the crap out of them. Many people will always be open to any style of writing and never reach the spot I’m in. However, I know quite a few that are just like me. They only read third person, past tense. I’m not alone. It’s not just old farts like me.

Teen authors love present tense because teens are used to the MTV-style thirty-second attention span they’re bred on. That translates to what they read and see in movies. They don’t have to be stricken with ADHD or some other affliction to be drawn into that culture.

Just look at the music industry. Why should bands bother to make albums when fans will sample their whole album on the net, grab one or two songs and be done with them. Short attention span. Bands have to tour to make money because then the audience is captive, given a different experience in a social, live setting where they have to pay more attention.

WITH ADULTS, THINGS CHANGE A BIT

Adults tend to slow a bit and smell the roses, cliché intended. This is where present tense doesn’t shine and past tense is much more compatible with telling a good story.

I’ve experimented with present tense, just for a hoot. I wrote a very short story called The Word Factory, just for a goof. I’ll never write another one like it. Ever.

Also, it doesn’t make sense to use present tense to tell about the past or something in chronological order. Or, use it for flashbacks. If it’s in the past, it should be past tense, not present tense. It’s contradictory.

There’s always the mantra, a good story is all that matters, no matter what form.

Well, I’ll tell you. You can spoil a fantastic story by how you tell it.

If you tell it in a lousy format, you’ve just lost half your audience.

If you tell the story in a format that’s more comfortable for a wider audience, you can reach more people. Duh!

Happy writing!

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