Change It Up Editing

I'm Candace Johnson, and I love words. Especially yours. Let me help you say it the way you mean it!

Present Tense Draws the Reader into the Story—Guest Blog

Present Tense: Breathlessly Waiting to Read About What's Already Happened

Present Tense: Breathlessly Waiting to Read About What’s Already Happened

Several months ago I wrote “Present Tense: Breathlessly Waiting to Read About What’s Already Happened,” in which I posited that writing in present tense is difficult for most writers to do effectively. Two fellow bloggers commented that they felt their stories worked best using present tense, and I invited each of them to write a guest blog about this to share with us.

C.B. Wentworth wrote “How I Used First Person and Present Tense to Wake Up My Story—Guest Blog,” and below is JH Mae’s guest post. I hope you’ll visit both blogs and let them know you found them here at Change It Up Editing and Writing.

*****

Present tense seems to be the default tense of choice for many writers. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. But like any other decision we make when writing, we should consider if the tense we choose fits our story.

I was inspired to write “What Does the Dead Man Say?” after having a conversation with a coworker who has had many past-life regressions that resulted in some fascinating insights. I was intrigued by her story, and though I didn’t fully believe every detail, it inspired me to fictionalize the experience.

When I began to write, I didn’t intend to tell the tale in present tense. But here, I felt that present tense was necessary. And here’s why: In this piece, I tell the story of Dahlia, a shy young woman reeling from a bad breakup, whose well-meaning friend takes her to a past-life regression session for therapy. I wanted to get inside her head, not just to understand why she was compelled to try past-life regression, but to make her experience more vivid. I wanted the reader to have a minute-by-minute, live account as Dahlia ventured into her past and learned who she was in another life. This story didn’t take place outside the character; it took place inside of her, in the depths of her mind and soul.

Here is an excerpt from my story:

I’m here because I’m a cold bitch—that’s what Samuel told me. They were his parting words after three years.

“Dahlia, you can do so much better,” Brigitt said the following Monday at work. That was months ago, and she—my surrogate mother—has spent much energy convincing me to come here tonight. She told me this would reveal why I make these mistakes, that it will help me, and I trust her.

“Is there anyone in the room who hasn’t had a past-life regression before?” The therapist’s name is Paul, and the steady silkiness of his voice is lulling. It’s soft like his light gray hair and powder blue sweater.

There are only six of us in the room, and Brigitt raises my hand. Paul turns to me with his grandfather eyes and smiles.

“You look a little nervous,” he says. I look away and notice that he’s wearing neon green sneakers with tie-dye shoelaces. “I assure you, you are safe here—there is nothing to fear.”

 *****

My hope is that using present tense here has drawn the reader into the story. And as the story progresses, and the unusual secrets of Dahlia’s past life are revealed, I hope that use of present tense makes this journey even more compelling.

JH Mae is a lifelong writer and former reporter, rediscovering the world of short fiction. Visit her blog at By, JHMae to learn more and read her work.

Thanks to both JH Mae and C.B. Wentworth for their illustrations. I hope you have more to add to this conversation, so feel free to comment below.

Happy Writing!

—Candace

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One thought on “Present Tense Draws the Reader into the Story—Guest Blog

  1. I really enjoy present tense, but it takes an incredible amount of focus to get right. I always find myself accidentally slipping back into simple past for no real reason other than perfunctory comfort.

    Only with fiction though. My nonfiction doesn’t seem to suffer the same curse. Weird!

    Thanks for the fun insights 🙂

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