1

I have a novel I am working on that opens in present tense narration.

At the beginning of chapter two it is revealed that the previous chapter, and the rest of the novel, are POV narration from a particular character, of events he experienced many years ago.

Can I keep the bulk of my novel in present tense, even though it's describing things that have already passed? Or should I have all the experience-from-the-past narration be in past tense?

  • Is the second chapter in third person, or first person like the rest of it? For me, if it is all first person, I would personally prefer the second chapter to be in present tense, and consider placing the rest in past tense. – Kai Maxfield Mar 15 '16 at 23:59
  • 1
    It is all first person – Nankipoo Mar 16 '16 at 0:37
  • Did you look at these related questions? - 1 2 3 – Kai Maxfield Mar 16 '16 at 1:56
  • Thanks those are helpful and I guess I have decided to change everything to past except chapter two. OR,,,Could it work to keep novel in present tense and just move chapter two as a prologue ? That way whole book is present. – Nankipoo Mar 16 '16 at 2:57
  • Don't let my advice sway you by any means, some authors can pull off what others would caution against. I could see a book being successful no matter which of these structures you use - if what you put on those pages is good. Then again, if it isn't good, structuring it well won't help much. What can be done well and might be accepted well by readers are two things that would be hard to predict well, but what might matter more would be what publishers would give preference to, which I cannot advise you on now, but maybe someday... – Kai Maxfield Mar 16 '16 at 3:33
1

Writing a flashback in present tense can give a certain dreamy feel to it. For example,

I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember Billy-Bob McJoe saying, "It's all about steady hands. All about hands and cheese and potatoes." He looks me square in the face, eyes hardening. "Never forget the potatoes."

On the other hand, this is sort of awkward in the third person:

She remembers it like it was yesterday. She remembers Billy-Bob McJoe saying, "It's all about steady hands. All about hands and cheese and potatoes." He looks her square in the face, eyes hardening. "Never forget the potatoes."

Another option is writing the present in present and the flashback in past tense:

I/She remember(s) it like it was yesterday. I/She remember(s) Billy-Bob McJoe when he said, "It's all about steady hands. All about hands and cheese and potatoes." That's when he looked me/her square in the face, his eyes hardening. "Never forget the potatoes."

Writing both in the past does not work well--in my opinion--in first person, since in that case there is no way the reader can think of chapter two as in the now, but this works fine in third person; auhors frequently use past tense and third person when telling a story.

So take your pick of person and tense, I won't make the choice for you. I only eliminated the bad ones. So choose either 1st person present/present, 1st person present/past, 3rd person present/past, or 3rd person past/past. Just remember: You will not write in 2nd person future.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.