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When it comes to fiction writing, most writers will, at some point, have to ask themselves which tense should I be framing my story in?  Part of the joy of being an author, especially an Indie one, is that this choice is solely down to you. Unfortunately, it sometimes comes down to a question of not knowing which one to choose?

Today I am going to offer you some pros and cons for each approach that will, hopefully, help you to make this decision. I have gathered this information by listening to other writers conversations on the subject, reading comments, as well as studying various written works. So, let’s get started.

Let’s start with the use of Present Tense?

In order to allow your readers to feel that they are caught up in the story they are reading, and to experience the events of what is happening at a precise moment in time, then this element is for you.

Reading books written in the present tense lets readers to feel energised, as well as allowing them to become fully engaged with the story and, the characters. When using present tense the chances are, these qualities will sink deep in to your writing.

Present tense is certainly ideal when writing a short piece, such as a flash fiction story, as every word is usually strictly rationed. It also allows you to add some punch to your story.

Now, there is an opposite to this. So the next question has to be - when should you avoid using Present Tense

You should not use present tense if you believe it will cause some irritation to your readers; or if they will find it tiring to read. You need to know who your readers are, so be careful to listen to their viewpoint. When you write something your aim is to please your readers. If you don’t you will soon realise that you need to find different readers who are happier with what you want to write! If using beta readers, writing buddies, or ARC’s why not ask them to read your work and give honest comments, specifically based on your chosen tense.

There are time when it is best not to use Present Tense, especially if you find writing it is too hard. More so, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, or if your story isn’t flowing the way you would like. Despite your desire to write, any discomfort you experience in writing in this particular tense will make for a less compelling read; thus leaving your text more awkward to read.

One great way to discover if any tense is right for you is to read your story out loud. Ask yourself, does it sound as if you are writing in the tense you want just for the sake of it? Is the tense more conspicuous than say the story itself? If it is, then your writing will end up sounding affected and self-conscious.

Of course you could question yourself as to why you should Use Past Tense?

Well, for a start it’s a more traditional way of writing. It’s more common, and therefore likely to please more readers. Another reason, is that it can make you feel more in control of the situations you are writing about, probably because they are already resolved.

And of course, if you need to be able to show hindsight, flashbacks, or… a time-slip, or even if you need to take the reader back and forth between different time frames, then Past Tense is the ideal one to use.

The opposite viewpoint to this is when should you Avoid using Past Tense

Avoiding past tense is more relevant when your story has a fast-action pace to it. Placing the storyline in the past, means the pace can end up being slowed down too much.

Another reason for not using it, is if you feel constrained by the tense. If your writing isn’t going the way you want it to, well cut or remove the tense. Of course, it could be, that you simply find writing in the present tense a much more enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

So now we come to the main question - which tense is the right one for you?

To be honest, I really can’t say as there are no absolute truths here. As an Indie author, there will also be no third party publisher dictating what you must write, or the manner in which you should be doing it.

After all, what feels right for one book you write, may actually be the opposite for your next one. You have to be able to trust your own instincts; do what feels right for you. Looking back at my collection of short stories, I realised that in approximately half of the 30 odd stories, I’ve written in the present tense. The other half were written in the past. Now that wasn’t a conscious decision as I just wrote what I felt was right for each story. However, I do recall changing the tense in a couple of stories after reading them aloud. Why? Because I felt they sounded wrong and should be changed.

The craft of writing is, if it helps you to get your words flowing, then go for it and write your first draft in any tense you want. If, when you read it through afterwards, it feels wrong well, you can always change it. Remember reading out loud helps. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.

You might even decide, like me that it feels better to write your book using both tenses; alternating between past and present for different scenes or narrators.

When I look at the novel I wrote, Dear Friends: Letters From Abroad, I realise I actually wrote that in a mix of tenses. This depended on which chapter or scenario I was creating at the time. It did work and reads well. And while I am sure there may be some writers who may say perhaps I shouldn’t have done that, I say, hey ho, I’m the writer, and I had the choice to choose to do it the way I wanted it to be. Besides I did get an award for the book so it can’t have been all bad…

That’s the joy of being a self-published author, the decision is entirely up to you.

At the end of the day the most important thing to remember is that you must just keep on writing! Unless you do there won’t be a book to question or worry about tenses over will there.

If you need help with your writing journey then why not check out our website for details of the services we offer, or if you have any questions about the writing process email us at and we will endeavour to assist you.

Good luck with your fiction, whichever tense you choose!

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