Story Stuff: T Is For Tenses

Today’s post in our series came up in the comments on POV day, because the two often go hand-in-hand.


While POV determines through which character’s (or narrator’s) eyes we’re seeing the story, tense determines when the story is happening.

Kind of.

There are three basic tenses: past, present, and future. Stories are told in past and present tense, but that’s not to say the stories can’t take place in the future. Future-set stories are still told in past or present tense (because you can’t tell a made-up story about something that hasn’t happened yet without sounding like it has).


I know. Stay with me.

What tense a story is told in is mostly a matter of preference for the the author and to a lesser degree, the readers. More Young Adult stories are told in first-person present tense because it’s seen as more immediate and personal, so instead of hearing about a teenage girl fighting in a death match for reality TV, the reader is doing the killing.

Kind of.

This post credits The Hunger Games for recent preferences for first person/present tense in YA as well as quotes from people who either love or hate it. I’m not sure I noticed the tense of the trilogy when I read it, probably because I read it before I started writing books myself.

To me, funny, short stories work better in present tense: So I’m sitting there in the waiting room, right? And this guy shuffles in like he owns the place. Too bad his pants were on backwards.

Whereas past tense is more like someone telling a scary story around a campfire.

Homer Simpson GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

You know, fifty years ago tonight, the Jameson twins disappeared from this very spot.

I think that’s why I prefer past tense for a long story, such as a novel – let’s settle in while you tell me a tale. But short stories, being quicker and more immediate, work well in present tense.

What are your tense preferences? Are they different for reading than for writing?

15 thoughts on “Story Stuff: T Is For Tenses

  1. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

  2. I mess up tenses occasionally when I write. Luckily I have an editor who is focused on that like a laser. She helps find and fix POV issues, too, which I occasionally flub.

    I like writing in past tense, as if we were sitting at a bar/over coffee/after dinner/whatever and I was telling you this story that happened to me. I like to switch scenes and POV though, so the MC tends to be 1st person past tense and the second and third story lines tend to be 3rd person limited past tense.

    I hate, hate HATE reading first person present tense (I run, I jump – YUCK). Just don’t care for it.

    That said, whatever works best for the story, that’s what I wanna do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny enough that I’ve never thought of tense being different for a reader as opposed to a writer, but now that you mention it, it makes perfect sense! I think I am quite comfortable with present and past as a writer but prefer present as a reader, with a bit of inclination towards past as well. Future can come off as stilted if not done right. I did like the flow of this piece of yours 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading! Since you prefer present tense, do you enjoy reading YA? I’m one of those weird “old” people who does. LOL. But sometimes I gotta take a break from the present tense novels. I think they must take more mental energy, at least for me.


  4. I prefer past over present. Just getting used to reading present (credit Hunger Games).
    My problem is I always mess up with tenses in my writing. It’s something I know I have to look over with a fine tooth comb during the seld-edit stage.

    Liked by 2 people

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