I’ve written a couple of manuscripts, though not found myself at the point of querying yet. I’m also an avid reader, mainly of women’s fiction, chick lit, romance and erotic romance. This will sound ridiculous, but it just occurred to me that nearly everything I read is in the past tense, yet I always write in the present tense.
As my goal is to produce, polish, and submit a novel so knock-your-socks off that you simply have to take me on as a client – would you say that I should adapt my style to the past tense?
This question coincidentally arrived the day I posted the question about writing a memoir in present tense, and while I’m going to ask you to go back and read that post and the comments readers made, I also think it’s a topic that’s worth revisiting.
In the previous post I said that I don’t believe in rules, that I’m more of a guidelines gal and yes, that still holds true today. While we certainly have, and need, rules of grammar and punctuation, I don’t think there should be rules when it comes to how a writer chooses to actually write the book. That’s part of what is often called voice, an author’s ability to make the work her own. That means writing in the way that best works for your book (and keep in mind what works for your book might not always be preferable to you as the writer). That being said, should you be writing in present or past tense?
Without reading your book I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is veering too far outside the guidelines can be a bit like trying to sell Beef Stew Ice Cream to a traditionally chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream eating culture. While we’re certainly open to new things, we still like those new things to feel vaguely familiar. Present tense might be a more difficult treat to swallow.
However, it’s about more than trying to appeal to an audience or make something familiar. It’s about the craft of writing. I think the trouble writers have when writing in present tense or even first person is that it becomes a little too much about you telling a story, and the important pieces of storytelling (the showing) are actually left out. You forget the importance of other viewpoints, body language and description, for example. Of course writing present tense, just as writing first person, feels easier because it’s about you and this moment you’re in. However, when you really sit down to read it, it’s not easier to read. In fact, it’s more difficult. It doesn’t give the information that makes a story really sing for the reader or listener.
If you want a straight answer I would encourage you to start honing the craft of writing in past tense. Once you master that skill go ahead and try present tense.