I have a passage about a character who has just woken up, and then there's the line

The room fell into silence.

Or should it be

The room falls into silence.

I can't get my head around which it should be. Is it a case of tenses? that the former is past tense and the latter is present? the problem is many novels that I read even if the author is describing something which seems to be happening now they still seem to use something like "The room fell into silence"

Can someone point out what the differences are between them?

I guess it's similar to whether I say something like..

I'm sure that's wrong, Harry thinks.


I'm sure that's wrong, Harry thought.

  • 1
    possible duplicate of How to write in past tense? Nov 11, 2013 at 10:06
  • Yep, it's tenses. The first is past, the second present (and in the second example it's the other way around.)
    – CLockeWork
    Nov 11, 2013 at 10:26
  • @JohnSmithers The thrust of my question is that past to me is a long time in the past, but a lot of stories I read use the "The room fell into silence" to describe something that has just happened, i'e basically in the present, so i'm unsure of when the present tense of something would properly be used.
    – Phil
    Nov 11, 2013 at 13:55
  • 7
    The present tense is only used if your entire scene/text is in present tense. You can't have one line in present tense and the rest in the past. Nov 11, 2013 at 15:08
  • When I started writing the passage I made it all in present tense for some strange reason, but when I read it back it felt off, so I started to change it to past tense, it's interesting what was said in that other post, that most western novels are written in past tense. I guess what confused me is just how in the past, events need to be to use past tense! ha, anyway I think I've figure it out, thanks.
    – Phil
    Nov 11, 2013 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


Yes, you're about to choose the tense of your story.

See this question about comparison of when and how to use which tense.

In short:

Past tense is the standard, something great most of stories is written in. It feels most natural - this is how you tell stories from your own past after all.

Present tense introduces the sense of immediacy, rapid flow of events, things changing at startling pace. It works well for action scenes, and fast-paced short stories but it wears off rather quickly, as soon as the action winds down, and begins to feel awkward.

There are a few more exceptions but they are pretty marginal comparing to the bulk.

Picking the past tense for your writing is the safe choice. There is no situation when it would be wrong. Present tense can "liven up" your action but it's easy to overdo it. Also, hectic mixing of tenses is the common newbie writer's mistake. Stick to one tense until you've mastered switching tenses smoothly - it's possible but tricky to do in a way that won't be jarring to the reader.

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