Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Writer friends…how do you decide what tense to write in?


past to present

My natural state of writing is past tense. It’s what I’ve written all of my books in.

I’ve been working with a writing professional on really nailing my first chapter in one of my manuscripts. She suggested I consider re-writing it from past tense to present tense.

home aloneYeah, it really scares me. But…I have noticed that most YA in particular is written in present tense. Really, the only one I’ve read relatively recently that is written in past tense is Eleanor & Park. I’m not opposed to re-writing in present, or even the amount of work it might take, but what a brain shift that would be.

mind blowSo my question is this…writer friends how do you decide what tense to write in? Do you tend to prefer a tense or a particular POV?

17 thoughts on “Writer friends…how do you decide what tense to write in?

  1. michellejoycebond

    Lol–love the gifs. I let a book decide how it wants to be written. Usually whatever flows out of me when it comes time to draft is what I stick with. I still like past tense, but whereas I used to write in third person, I now write in first. It brought me closer to my protagonists as my writing evolved and helped me bring their smart-mouthed cynical selves to life.

    I wouldn’t go back and change my writing despite trends. Whichever tense you choose, just make sure it comes out sounding natural. The tense should melt into the background so that the reader never thinks about it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Glad you enjoyed the GIF’s! I also used to write third and made the switch to first. I don’t plan on ever going back :P. Thanks for the advice 😀 Agree on not following trends. I’m meditating on it now. I may re-write a chapter in present tense and see how I like it. And good point… tense should just fade in the background. Thanks for the comment and happy writing 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. annabelwriter

    It’s a tough one, especially when you’re starting on a new work, to decide what would suit. The other tough one is first person vs third.

    To answer your question, my current WIP is in both. Two points of view, one present, one past. I think it’ll work, but it’s hard to say until it’s more established.

    Good luck with the re-write! 🙂


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      It’s funny how much our stories end up telling us, when we’re the one writing it! It’s amazing how much my characters end up telling me by the time I reach the end of my first draft. 😛


  3. M. Kagey

    I like to write in past tense, personally. I have worked on a few pieces in present tense. The transitions were easier than I would have thought, but it was too easy to slip back into past tense when the words were flowing. I enjoy working on variations in my writing, such as with tense, but I prefer to create short stories for practice. I feel it is much more fluid, and less forced, if the story is created with a certain tense in mind.


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Hmmm interesting and I totally agree. I think that’s what would happen to me if I were writing in present from the start, slipping into past when I’m in the writing zone. Thanks for comment and happy writing!


  4. Charles Colp

    I tend to write past tense as well. I have written in present tense though, I usually decide based on the place in time I am setting the characters versus the storyteller. * Disclaimer – I tend to write Urban Fantasy * With the Sprite Series I have been writing it from Sprites POV from a fixed point in time and space. When I am done the last book will probably be in first person. Having said all this, I have a new person going over my work and am still waiting for my super editor to get it back to me. I may end up in the same boat. Good Luck!


  5. Charles Colp

    In the novella I am doing for a charity, the story is being told from the main character POV. The entire story takes place in his memory as his Daughter leaves to save mankind in the same way he did and his wife died trying to do.
    In my Sprite series, it is Sprite trying to explain to someone what led to her having to make a horrible decision. It will probably be around 10-14 books.
    In something I am working on in the background, it is only 7 books but it is all in 1st person and it is important that the audience learns as Mikael learns. When I was doing the outline and the cause effect script, it really felt important that the audience was along for the ride with him.
    FYI, if someone asked me to do third person I would still be sputtering and cursing. I find for me that First person cuts down on the dialogue tags I need and lets me be more free with the pacing.


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Yeah. Love first person. The first few (attempts, we’ll call them) at writing novels were in third, but then I tried out first and I’m never going back. It just feels so much more clunky. And wow you are a prolific writer! Go, go, go!!!!!


      1. Charles Colp

        Thank you. I also started my first stories in 3rd, then tried to switch to 2nd and wanted to burn everything related to that work. It became confusing to me as the writer. The reader would have been thoroughly lost. I found 1st was effortless with the wording. writing in past tense I have found I am still prone to the worst passive voice issues but those are easy to clear up when you recognize them. I also leave any passive voice problems alone when they occur in a persons words or thoughts. People rarely speak in proper english. In Present tense they go away but the story can become confusing to the reader if they see only the scope of the character at that time. People tend to recall more and comment better on the past. They can also give clues. “I saw the look of fear on Juans face and hoped Ashley would be there to help. If only I had thought of Ashley before now, I might have seen it coming.”


  6. Jon Chaisson

    My current project is in present tense, which is interesting, considering I hadn’t planned on it. The first outtake was in past tense, but it just didn’t feel right, so just for the hell of it I changed it up…and BAM, suddenly I’ve got a few thousand new words a month later. So yeah…in answer to your question, I go with whatever feels right, and I don’t question it. 😉


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      My first attempt at novel-writing was third person close, but then I made the switch to first and haven’t gone back. I don’t think I could even do third limited lol. Thanks for comment and happy writing!


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