Monday, June 27, 2011

Present Tense: Friend or Foe?

I’ve been working on a story and realized that it probably should be in the present tense, which panicked me, since everyone “knows” the present tense is hard to manage and makes everyone sound like robots knocking around on a stage filled with mirrors endlessly reflecting each other. (“She gets in her car and turns the key. She backs out of the driveway. She wonders if her credit card will go through or if there will be an embarrassing scene at the grocery store.”) For a few moments, the best I could contemplate about this present tense story was that at least it was in the third person, not the first person.

On the other hand, I knew I had to use present tense, so I dutifully combed through my computer file deleting all the “ed’s,” preparing for the bigger battle to come. How to make the present tense work?

Here’s how: post something about the present tense on Facebook that the amazing Robin Black happens to see (author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This) which by happy and lucky coincidence for me motivates her to write a terrific blog post about the present tense for the Beyond the Margins blog which she kindly sent to me.

If you’re a present tense doubter, read what she says and then decide. And if you love the present tense, read what she says because I know she’ll show you how to make the present tense work more effectively in your stories. And then offer an opinion about cilantro, which I happen to love-love-love!

From Robin’s post:

“One of my newest crusades (stay tuned for a post defending adverbs) is to convince the world that there are no bad craft elements, only not such great uses of them…..In other words, present tense is no more or less constricting than past. It has its purposes and its limitations. And as with so many other writing elements – point of view being the other big one – the choice of tense for a story has more to do with the best way to tell that particular story than with whether in the abstract one prefers one form of storytelling over another.”

Pertinent links:
Read the post here:

Are you joking? You still don’t have a copy of Robin’s book when you know how much I love it?! Buy it here:

Here’s a great recipe if you like cilantro:

And another:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.