I often find myself writing multiple copies of everything I write, which is very inefficient, because I'm unsure how which tense or tone-of-voice I want to commit to. I've only taken one creative writing class in the past, so I've never had a clear explanation of why some writers choose specific tenses and how they benefit their storytelling.

Would anyone be able to provide a little insight into this important decision?

  • What do you mean by "tense"? Are you referring to past vs. present, or something else? I suspect you really mean voice here, but it would help if you describe what you're looking for a little more fully.
    – Robusto
    Sep 16, 2015 at 12:11
  • Yes, I am referring to past vs. present tense. Currently writing a story in both, but I'm not sure which I'd like to commit to.
    – rsfxiii
    Sep 16, 2015 at 19:40
  • I wouldn't worry about efficiency. If what matters to us is the quality of the work, we might rewrite a chunk, trying out a different tense or a different narrator or a different... whatever. Explore, experiment, be inefficient. Sep 17, 2015 at 17:57

2 Answers 2


If you're talking about choosing between past and present tense, it's a deeply subjective and personal decision. Most YA novels are known for present tense narration that arguably gives more immediacy to the action. Past tense is always the safest bet, can do no wrong there. This choice greatly depends on the audience you're writing for and your genre.

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If you're talking about past/present, then I agree with Lisa - it's an important decision based on the genre of your work and how you want it to feel.

However, if you're talking about first and third person, it's another important decision that revolves around what kind of story you're trying to tell and how you want it to feel. While first person allows you to develop a character strongly and tell a deeply personal story that lets the reader connect to the main character, it limits you in the way that you can only tell that one person's thoughts, and are limited to telling the story through their eyes only - meaning they need to be present for all important events. Third person allows you to tell a more complex story and show the emotions and thoughts of multiple characters, as well as have scenes with some characters and not others. This allows for a good amount of freedom when writing and is useful for developing characters that the main character isn't close with. At the same time, it does keep the reader in a position where they're on the sidelines watching, as opposed to being right in the action.

The decision is up to you for both, but I hope this helps in case you meant POV instead of tense.

  • I did mean past vs. present tense, but this is also great insight. I appreciate it!
    – rsfxiii
    Sep 16, 2015 at 19:39

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