In Defense of the Present Tense (from lithub.com)

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It’s becoming the most popular verb tense in fiction writing, and this article by Alexander Chee at Lithub.com defends it:

As a part time professional ‘creative writing tutor’, I can say I only ever teach the present tense as one tool among many. I do not urge it on my ‘sensitive and artistic storytellers’, or any of the insensitive ones either. I teach students that verbs are the way they create a relationship for the reader to time, and function a little like the way a horizon line might in a picture. As for using it to dodge the ‘politically dodgy’, well, I can’t imagine teaching anyone that way with a straight face—and so that strikes me as something of a straw man. Or, woman, perhaps.

We use it in poetry, journalistic profiles, vernacular stories told between friends, screen treatments, stage directions. In literary criticism, when describing what a writer has done, the writer’s work is treated as a continual present—a place where everything is still happening each time it is read. This resembles the way victims of assault and trauma think of their memories—they almost always tell the story of what happened to them in the present tense, because it is a place still vivid for them, in their minds. It is entirely plausible to imagine any of these being an influence on a writer in search of form or texture. The novelist Christopher Bram, for example, says of it, “I’ve used present tense myself only once, in Father of Frankenstein, but didn’t notice I was doing it until ten pages in. I realized I was using it because it’s the tense of screenplays. That seemed appropriate for a novel about a movie director so I kept using it.”

Chee goes on to give several examples of the present tense in classic and modern literature, and he also quotes MFA teachers and writers to show the present tense isn’t begin “pushed” simply because it’s a popular style.

Well worth a read.

Source: “In Defense of the Present Tense” by Alexander Chee, Lithub.com
Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.