One of them is the use of the present tense. I am decidedly not a fan.
Now, before I started researching this article, I had no idea the depths of feeling that people had regarding the use of past vs. present tense. Complicating the issue is the fact that the debate seems to align itself closely to new writers vs. old writers (not old in age, but old as in more time spent writing). It is definitely not a helpful stance for all the old writers to turn up their noses and say things like “Only amateurs use present tense.”
I do admit that part of my problem with the present tense used to be that it just seemed trendy. But in reading all of the pro-present tense posts, it came out that though people have noticed the option of present tense, they didn’t choose it because it’s popular. They choose it because for them, the use of present tense makes the story seem more immediate. Because it makes it seem like the story is happening right now, that the reader is experiencing it with the narrator.
Alas, I disagree. Maybe it’s because I never felt any lack of immediacy in all those past-tense novels I’ve read all my life. All the dangers the heroes and heroines were facing all felt very real to me. Unless the story is being told as a journal, or another method where the narrator speaks directly to the reader, I assume the story is being told as it happens. Which isn’t necessarily obvious with past tense, but as one blogger put it:
Any reading of literature or watching of films involves a little suspension of disbelief. Even though you see who the author is (and the author is rarely the narrator) and that the book is fiction, you imagine or pretend, as you’re reading, that the book is “true” and that the narrator is, in fact, recounting events that happened. This literary contract I can live with… as long as the narrative recounts events as having happened in the past tense.
This perspective made me smile:
Whereas it’s reasonable to think that a narrator may be telling you about something they experienced before (as is the case with novels written in past tense), the idea that the narrator is actually standing right there in front of you narrating exactly what they’re doing right now is a hurdle that readers must get over in order to enjoy the story. Obviously no one (sane) goes around announcing to some invisible audience everything that they’re doing as they do it.
In the end, it’s all a matter of opinion, about what works best for you as a reader. I think that if someone wants to write in present tense, more power to them. But understanding the opposition, so to speak, is important (at least so you understand their perspective, and are less tempted to break a plate over their head when they complain about your tense choice).
This blogger explains the crux of the matter:
From what I can tell from a quick survey of Internet articles, readers notice when stories are told using the present tense. I’m not saying, nor are those readers, that there’s anything wrong with the use of present tense. We are saying that its use is noticeable.
For me, I’m overall not a fan of different stylistic choices. Because though words are the heart and soul and the everything of a story, the instant your reader stops to notice the words, they get kicked out of the story for a moment, rather than being immersed in it.
But some stories do beg to be told in a unique and different way. So if your story needs to be told as something out of the ordinary, then as long as the story is reaching its best potential in that way, no opinions from anyone should stifle your creative process.
This blogger offers some great tips on how to write in present tense:
Phillip Pullman on why present tense can be restricting: