I was directed to the writers stackexchange from the English/grammar forums.

I'm writing a novel in present-tense. If all the actions are in the present-tense, e.g. as the character is experiencing them, does the phrase, "I spend the next few hours pondering about it" make sense then? Doesn't it seem like a flashback instead?

I know in past-tense this would be no problem.


  • 2
    "Should I instead use" -- is something missing there? – Monica Cellio Nov 4 '15 at 18:29
  • Sounds like somebody is playing an RPG. If that's not intended you might want to fix it. – Joshua Nov 4 '15 at 19:57

This is one of the problems I have with writing in present tense, and why it can be difficult for authors to do it well. There are just certain narrative constructions that don't really work when trying to put them together in present tense.

That said, you can accomplish what you're trying to do by telling it from the other side, time-wise. Instead of what your original sentence does which is use time A as "now" and states that the character is thinking until time B, try using time B as "now" and have the character realize they've been thinking since time A.

Three hours I've been sitting here, lost in my thoughts, and I'm no closer to figuring out what I should do than when I started.

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  • I was on the verge of posting my own answer, and then reconsidered. This is a great alternative. The only thing I would add is that the sentence will be different to different people. For example, the sentence sounds fine to me. What you need to consider is which way will make your writing stronger as it seems to you, and then go with that. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Nov 4 '15 at 20:03

This seems fine, just make sure that you pick up the timeline of events at the end of the 'few hours' spent pondering, or provide detail of relevant events or thoughts inside that window of pondering.

The flashback version of the sentence would be: "I spent the last few hours pondering about it."

You're good.

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The only issue I have with it is that it sounds bookish — it's a narrative device. So if your character is telling this story to the reader, even if it's in the present, you'd be okay. You can particularly get away with more when it's a first-person present-tense POV, because the narration is "spoken" in the character's voice, and you have more flexibility.

I stare at John, the fall of light on his hair, wonder if it would be okay if I approached him. I spend the next few hours pondering about it, until Molly finds me at the café still staring at the table where he'd been sitting.

But if it's a third-person present-tense POV, I wouldn't use it. It would throw me out of the story.

He stares at John and the fall of light on his hair, wondering if it would be okay if he approached him. He spends the next few hours pondering about it, until Molly finds him at the café still staring at the table where John had been sitting.

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  • But the OP uses 'I,' as in first person ... – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Nov 4 '15 at 19:57
  • @TommyMyron You are correct. However: (a) the OP could change his/her mind and make the story 3rd person (b) my answer is different if the story is in 3rd person. That's significant. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Nov 5 '15 at 10:56

I think a simple rewrite of the sentence will solve your problem:

"Over the next few hours, I think about what life might be like living in Hawaii. I could be surfing waves, but instead, I'm cleaning grease traps for Pizza Hut."

However, you're inherently messing with your timeline with the expression "next few hours." It will push you into present perfect or future tenses--or just sound awkward and slow down your reader. You can roll with it:

"I ponder it, and I ponder it some more. In fact, hours slip by thinking about that North Coast surf and the pina colada sunsets."

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