Monday, 14 December 2009

Present Tense Problems

I was over at the Rain on the Roof blog checking out Sarah's latest m/m recommendations and was intrigued by The Strongest Shape, so decided to go check out the excerpt. (Something I always try to do when it's a new author to me unless I've agreed to read a book for the bookclub).

The excerpt begins
Caleb doesn't actually remember how he ended up coming home with Jason. He remembers going to Jason's concert alone after Damian broke up with him.
I continue reading, I don't know what the problem is, but for some reason it's the reading equivalent of trying to swim through treacle. Then I realize - this is written in the present tense.

I don't know why but I struggle to read present tense. I find it hard going.

Maybe, it's because growing up all the stories you hear as a child are past tense - "Once upon a time there was a..." Maybe it's the difficulty of getting your brain to assimilate a story that is happening THIS INSTANT.

I've found I can take it in very small doses where it's used mainly for effect, for example in the prologue of Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. For me as far as present tense is concerned it's a question of less is more.


Nicole said...

For me, I think the present tense issue is mostly because it's easier for me to suspend disbelief in the past tense than in the present. Especially in first person narratives, it's hard to accept a story that is supposed to be happening "right now."

Also, a lot of authors have trouble writing present tense. It's so easy to accidentally allow some future bit into the narrative.

Jenre said...

I'm actually reading The Strongest Shape at the moment and whilst it took me a few pages to get used to the present tense, I've stopped even noticing it now.

I was put off getting it for the reasons you have said. I read the extract and thought 'ugh, this is difficult to read', but got it anyway after lots of people recommended it at Good Reads. I'm glad I've stuck with it as it's a really good book.

Kris said...

I feel exactly the same way, Lesley. It puts me off initially and I find I have to stick with it and hopefully find myself engaged with the story.

LesleyW said...

Nicole - I think the problem I have is exactly the same.

Jenre - :), I'm looking forward to reading your review.

Kris - it's making that initial commitment. I'm waiting to read a few more reviews.

D.B.Reynolds said...

Present tense is okay, as long as it's first person present tense. Third person present gets a little confusing ... who is this guy and why is he talking to me? LOL

LesleyW said...

DBR - I can read a little bit of present tense. But so far I've struggled to read a whole book without my brain feeling like it's melting.

I managed Grimspace by Ann Aguirre okay. I'm pretty sure that's present tense.

Nicole said...

I much prefer present tense to be used as a tool, rather than the entire narrative. Use it to shock me into realizing something's different, or to make a character's dreams more intense.

"Moongazer" (M. Mancusi, I believe) has two separate parts to the narrative, one in past and one in present. Once you figure out the trick, it's an easy way to pick out who the narrator is.

LesleyW said...

Nicole - I think that's my preference as well. Using it to highlight a situation. I think that's why it worked so well for me in the Bitten prologue - that Kelley Armstrong wanted to highlight the immediacy of being in the wolf form.