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Past or Present; Which Tense do I Write In?

writing tips

By Amethyst ChampagnePublished 3 years ago Updated 6 months ago 3 min read
Past or Present; Which Tense do I Write In?
Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash

Hi again, it’s me.

For this post, I’ll be discussing the two main tenses you can use in your writing, their pros and cons, and tips for each. But first, let me tell you about what each is.

Past Tense

The first one is past tense, meaning was/were/would. It is, for the most part, the default for most fiction and many non-fiction pieces, full-length novels especially, so it’s probably the one you’re used to and more likely to write in.

For some reason, and I’m not sure why, our brains often interpret past tense in stories as if it’s in the present, and we don’t even think twice about it. Like an automatic, unconscious assumption, which I find fascinating.

I don’t see a downside to using past tense, writing-wise. It’s easy to do, reliable, and readers will always be able to understand who’s talking and what is trying to be said.

Maybe, except for how easy it is to write in a passive voice, something you should try to avoid whenever possible.

Present Tense

Present tense, meaning am/is/are, has been growing in popularity, especially in self-published books and shorter writing pieces. You’ll notice many pieces written in present tense on Vocal and other fiction-driven writing platforms.

From what I figure, it’s supposed to give a more real-time effect in stories, a concept I can respect, whether or not I agree with it for certain writing pieces.

Writing in Present Tense

If you do decide to write in present tense, I recommend using first person limited or second person. It will provide a more personal connection in addition to the real-time effect.

I’ve read several books using either third person or first person multiple present tense. It can become a bit confusing and annoying, especially third person present tense, and this is me speaking as a reader.

Which Tense Do I Prefer Using?

Now, I prefer reading and writing in past tense when it comes to fiction stories, such as my Shadow Academy chapters or the fiction short stories I’ve created.

It’s more natural for me, and I can dive in without making sure I’m writing in present. Plus, most of my favorite authors write in past tense, so that’s something.

When I Use Present Tense

However, I do find present tense to be the better option for some applications. Some of my pieces, like my writing tips series and How to be a Dancer, are written in the present tense format.

Anything more conversational between the writer and reader, like this piece, present tense works well. It works for essays, too, as long as you’re the only one writing it.

Although my story, Sweets of the Sea, is in present tense, too.

The funny thing is that hadn’t been my intent for the story and something I don’t usually do for longer-form stories. But it worked well for that piece, so I rolled with it, and it turned out pretty good.

So take from that what you will.

Keeping Your Tense Choice Consistent

You need to ensure you don’t accidentally slip into either past or present tense when writing, which, from what I’ve heard and done on rare occasions, can be easy to do if you’re not paying close enough attention.

I’m not saying you can’t mix them into the same piece of writing. Some books do fourth wall breaks, when the main character talks directly to the audience at specific points, allowing the two tense types to coexist harmoniously.

This can probably go without saying, but you should remember to write in past tense when you’re, well, writing about the past in your story, whichever tense the rest of it is in.

Either way, the intentionality of it has to be evident to the audience, such as you talking about a past event involving a character, or else it will look clunky and turn readers off.

To Wrap Things Up

I encourage you to check out my Vocal page and read some of the pieces I’ve written on this platform to give you a better idea about what the hell I’m talking about.

So, as long as you know which tense you’d prefer to write in, it doesn’t matter if it’s past or present.

So go on and write!


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About the Creator

Amethyst Champagne

I create fiction, short stories, poetry, and more!

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