Writers Glossary: Tense

On the Writer’s Glossary this week:


We all like a bit of tension in our novels, but this meaning refers to another of the fundamentals of narrative: past, present or future.


The most common tense used in modern writing is past tense, implying the narrator is recalling or describing events which have already happened. ‘He rushed up the stairs and fell into her arms.’ Because it’s so ubiquitous, most people find it comfortable to both write and read in.


Some books are written in present tense. ‘He rushes up the stairs and falls into her arms.’ Since it’s less common, it can take a bit of getting used to, but is an effective narrative style for generating immediacy.


Effective in dream and fantasy sequences, this is the least common tense. ‘He will rush up the stairs and fall into her arms.’ This style is unwieldy for novels. It can give a sense of disconnectedness and (surprisingly) a lack of immediacy. Useful for generating a feeling of otherworldliness.


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