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Guest Column March 25, When the literary historians of the year write about the fiction of our time, I believe they will consider our use of the present tense to be its most distinctive—and, perhaps, problematic—feature. Whereas present-tense narration was once rare, it is now so common as to be commonplace.
And why was the present tense now omnipresent? The best writers almost always seem to know, either consciously or intuitively, when to use present tense.
Many of us, however, do not. Present tense has become something of a fad, and we often use it even when past tense would serve the story better. Whereas the character Charlie Baxter fears the erasure of the past, his friend Bradley feels the present is, at times, less present than the past and therefore more subject to erasure.
I watch them go into the kitchen and observe them making a dinner of hamburgers and potato chips. They recover their senses by talking and listening to the radio. I watch them feed each other. This is love in the present tense.
Present tense simplifies our handling of tenses. Present tense restricts our ability to manipulate time. It seems natural to alter the chronology of events in past tense, when the narrator is looking back from an indeterminate present at many past times, but it seems unnatural to do it in present tense, when the narrator is speaking from and about a specific present.
It is more difficult to create complex characters using present tense. They also help us complicate a character by placing her in a larger temporal context. Without the kind of context flashbacks provide, our characters tend to become relatively simple, even generic.
The present tense can diminish suspense. Because present-tense narrators do not know what is going to happen, they are unable to create the kind of suspense that arises from knowledge of upcoming events.
The narrator of Doctor Faustus provides a good example of this kind of suspense: What we gain in immediacy, she says, we lose in tension. Present-tense fiction can create another kind of suspense, of course—the kind we feel when no one knows the outcome—but not this kind.
The use of present tense encourages us to include trivial events that serve no plot function simply because such events would actually happen in the naturalistic sequence of time.
The principle of selection can be applied more readily, and ruthlessly, in past tense. One of the great resources on writing around.
Verbs come in three tenses: past, present, and future. The past is used to describe things that have already happened (e.g., earlier in the day, yesterday, last week, three years ago). The present tense is used to describe things that are happening right now, or things that are continuous. The present tense is usually correct even when describing a study that happened in the past, as long as the conclusions are still relevant in the present. The Future Tense in Academic Writing The future tense is less common in academic writing, but it still has a couple of important roles. Present perfect tense should be used to discuss an action that began in the past and is still relevant in the present, or an action that did not have one specific start and/or end time, such as research conducted by many different people independently.
Check it out here. For more great writing advice, click here. Follow Brian on Twitter: WD Newsletter You might also like:Always write about literature using the present tense. Even though many literary works Even though many literary works are narrated in the past tense, when we write about literature we use present tense.
Definition, Examples of English Tenses Past perfect tense definition: The past perfect tense is a verb tense used to express actions that occurred in the past that finished before another action in the past . Present perfect tense should be used to discuss an action that began in the past and is still relevant in the present, or an action that did not have one specific start and/or end time, such as research conducted by many different people independently.
When writing about literature, use both present and past tense when combining observations about fictional events from the text (present tense) with factual information (past tense): James Joyce, who grew up in the Catholic faith, draws on church doctrine to illuminate the roots of Stephen Dedalus' guilt.
Verbs come in three tenses: past, present, and future. The past is used to describe things that have already happened (e.g., earlier in the day, yesterday, last week, three years ago).
The present tense is used to describe things that are happening right now, or things that are continuous.
You might also want to use the present or present perfect tense in your literature review when describing past research, especially if the studies described are still relevant to your subject area.
The Past Tense.