It’s Going To Be Tense

Get it?  Tense?

*crickets chirping*

No one?  Oh, come on.  It’s literary humor!

…Okay, okay, I admit that was a bit unnecessary.  But it was my way of awkwardly introducing today’s topic.

The question is: past or present tense?

Books have traditionally been written in the past tense (he said, the dog jumped, I sat).  Lately, though, I’ve noticed a trend in young adult literature, which is that increasingly, books are written in the present tense (he says, the dog jumps, I sit).  I first noticed this with The Hunger Games, which is probably no surprise to you readers if you’ve been with me for a while.  (If you haven’t, I LOVE The Hunger Games and talk about it WAY TOO OFTEN.)  This series is written all in present tense, which I think helps to put the reader in the middle of the action and gives an increased sense of involvement with the story.  After all, we don’t live our lives in past tense, right?  Although you could make the argument that technically we live in present progressive tense…

Spanish class: killing all my arguments with basic grammar lessons.

This is a really good book. I think the second one is out now, too.

Anyway.  Since reading The Hunger Games last summer I’ve noticed this trend continues with other books.  Divergent, another INCREDIBLE dystopian novel, is written like this.  So, I think, is Matched, although I don’t own that one so I can’t make sure.

But here’s the strange bit: all of these novels are dystopian.  Readers, if you’ve read any present-tense non-dystopian novels, please comment and correct me, but for now I’m going to go with the assumption that ALL PRESENT TENSE NOVELS TAKE PLACE IN THE FUTURE.

When I think about this, it actually makes a lot of sense.  I mean, books written in present day or in the past can be said to have already happened, so naturally you would use past tense.  But novels like Divergent and Matched happen in the future.  They can’t technically be said to have “happened” yet (I say “happened” with quotations because they’re fiction and thus will never actually happen).  Therefore, it would make sense when writing the novel would be to put it in present tense, as if you’re writing it as it happens.  Past tense, to me, would just sound strange for something that is set in a future time.

At least, that’s the argument I came up with when wondering why exactly authors would choose to do this.  Another reason could be aforementioned placement in the action of the story, or even because that’s just the “thing to do” nowadays.

Does this make sense to you, readers?  Or am I just mindlessly babbling like always?

I’m sorry if the latter is true.  It’s just that I’ve had this on my mind for a while, especially since I love this type of novel so much.  I feel like I need to finally get this out there and get someone else’s opinion on it.  So, readers, please, fill up that comment box with your thoughts.  Am I going crazy?  Or are dystopian books nowadays simply destined for the present tense?

Here’s another thought: should present tense be used at all?  I think it’s an effective way of getting a story out there.  I’ve even written in present tense.  I personally like it, but maybe not all of you think the same way.

Okay, so I did a Google search some extensive, in-depth research into this matter, and I found this article, which names at least two older books (Jane Eyre and Bleak House) that use present tense at least in part.  But as far as I know, these two don’t use it all the time, which is what I’m mainly concerned with.  But still.  Good to know.  And here’s another site that also deals with the subject.

Happy reading!

UPDATE: Liam, whose blog is This Page Intentionally Left Blank, has informed me via the comments that there ARE, in fact, modern-day books written in the present tense (The Mother-Daughter Book Club).  Thanks for clearing that up for us, Liam.

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4 thoughts on “It’s Going To Be Tense

  1. I never noticed that… But that’s really cool… Thinking about it, there really aren’t any dystopians that aren’t written in the present tense, yet, as you said, it makes sense. 😀

  2. Correction! My sister reads the Mother-Daughter Book Club, which I recently found, to my surprise, to mimic the Hunger Games’ present-tense storytelling. Mother-Daughter Book Club is in the present, not the future.
    The reason for the lack of present-tense writing in present-time novels is that authors like to have their characters writing down the story, which will always happen after it all happens.

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