Draft to 50K: Which tense?

Blank to 50K(2)You have your characters, you understand point of view, but what about tense?

Tense places your reader in time. It gives your story a framework: present? past? Think about your favorite novel. What tense was it written in? Pick out a handful of novels that are similar to what you want to write – what tense are they written in?


Present tense is written as if the action is happening right now. Jane swims to the other side of the creek. This is seen often in YA currently, and can work very well in short fiction where every word counts and you really want to pack a punch.

  • Immediate
  • Energizing
  • Engaging
  • Adds punch


Past tense is written as if the action has already occurred. Jane swam to the other side of the creek. This is the most common tense, and has been for a very long time.

  • Traditional
  • Freedom to move in time
  • Pacing can adjust
  • Control

Whichever tense you use, make sure you are consistent. One caveat to that – no matter which tense you use, remember that you can adjust your tense through your character’s voice. For instance, if you write a story in the present tense, but can have your point of view tell a story in the past tense. The same applies in the alternative. You can write a story in past tense, but have a character speak in the present tense.


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About Lori Robinett

Lori is a creative soul trapped in a paralegal’s body. As a child, she wrote pages and pages in longhand. As a teenager, she pounded away on a typewriter. As a college student, she learned about criticism (death to English Comp!). As an adult, she found her hours filled with work and parenting. Then, she rediscovered the joy of escaping into a world of her own creation. After all, it’s not illegal to write all those twisted things that pop into your head!

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