Past Tense vs. Present Tense

It’s Rue again.

I’m wondering how you decide whether to write in the past or present tense or be experimental, mix it like a diary, and write in both tenses.

All insight is welcome.

X Rue


I just don’t know of these tenses as such… I mean I understand them, and their use’s, but I just write what I feel is the way to write what I’m writing.

However, there is a chapter in a tale that I’m currently writing, that is from the point of view of the character in which I’m writing about, and it is his recolection of a day which passed four years ago.

He is telling another character of what happened that day, and while it is the past (in telling) it is in the current time that he tells this…

I truly don’t understand such Past and Present, but focus on how such details should be offered at the time I write them. For the most part what I write is taken on how it it’s perceived by the reader… Which is usually without comment of the “Tense” in which it is written.

I don’t think folk should tear their minds up wondering of which tense they should write in, but just write it as you feel it flows.

Just my thoughts here, and if you find a way, then that is good for you and your project if it works.


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Most of my writing tends to be Past Tense, third person, Limited Omniscience. The most I’ll do these days is give characters their own chapter to shine in. This is my most frequent use because I find it the easiest to write in and be consistent.

I do have one series written in first person, present tense. That one I did to challenge my storytelling. I can’t even see myself writing that series any other way. Though I still slip and start writing third person on it at times and not catch it until later.

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Yeah the only caution to this is mixing tenses can really throw readers out of the loop. The tell and the show need to be REALLY clearly delineated.

I get ya here, but it really makes sense in the whole tale when read.


This is a legitimate use of a switch in tenses… Dialogue is often written in present tense, so it follows a “story” would be able to do the same.


The telling is a chapter of it’s own here, and it answers questions from a previous chapter between two characters and their dialogue. The asking character gets no answers as such, and does not wish to push further, yet the telling character finally reveals what happened in a moment of his own willing. This is more of an emotional pull upon the one who questions, and directs his future thoughts later within the tale.
For the reader it is no more than a Historic Event entwined within a reasoning of the previous historic events of some four thousand years before… But with the histories of the world which it is set, and the future events, it makes for a bridge between “Then and Now”.
I feel that the way it is delivered is one that enriches the world deeper, and gives coherency to the world that I have created.



Sounds interesting.


1st person, I tend more towards present tense, unless I’m talking about the past, which means the actions are past, but a lot of the thoughts are present.

I punched a guy today. He’s dumb anyway, and now missing half his teeth.

3rd person is past tense, again, except for thoughts and current speech.

She punched the guy in the jaw with her brass knuckles. Why the heck is he standing still for this?! “You are the dumbest fighter, ever!”


Interesting. I lean more towards writing a past tense, first-person story. However, I have a few stories in the third person, past tense, and one book that is literally written as diary entries written in first-person (with a little tinge of the second person (think of Stolen)) using both past and present (primarily past but the epilogue is entirely in the present tense).


Present tense is good if you want unfolding action where not even the viewpoint character knows what would happen next, while past is better for reflection. Think Hunger Games vs To Kill a Mockingbird.

It is really down to the kind of story you are telling. I would not reccomend future tense because that is extremely weird and distant for a whole book. An Omniscient perspective can get away with telling you what will happen every so often to raise tension but not for every single sentence.

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If the story relies on suspense and lots of surprising twists and turns in emotions, I write in Present Tense. If the story is anything else, I write in Past Tense.

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Ooo second person is hard to write in because it requires readers to assume the role of the MC… how did you think it worked for what you were writing?


I’ve heard past-tense is the most approachable, because most people tell stories in past tense, after it’s happened. This is the most natural way stories are relayed to us.

I was surprised to find how many people had a problem with present tense. I guess I get it, it does sound a little strange–but at the end of the day, I personally never thought it was that big of a deal.

I guess it would depend upon your audience, honestly, or how important it was to tell the story in present-tense for you to make that decision. But I would personally consider target audience for this decision, and kind of go with the flow of what newer books are doing, the feedback they’re getting on their tense (if there’s any).

Personally feel more comfortable with past tense third-person, though first-person’s not much of a problem. Personally prefer third-person because I’m oftentimes working with a semi-large cast of characters and third-person gives me room to develop a story around a protagonist rather than dependent upon a protagonist, if that makes any sense. Usually go with limited with some omniscient elements, which people also tend to have a problem with. “Head hopping” they call it, but idrc, honestly. All the books they accuse of ‘head hopping’ I generally enjoy, so it sounds like more of a ‘them’ problem then a real technical issue (though I do agree too much ‘head hopping’ isn’t a good thing, and there should be limits/boundaries to it).

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I sooner excuse head-hopping than having twenty million perspectives, only two of which have to do with the actual story.

I choose based on the story, mostly.

Phase 1: Genre.

When you read any kind of book within a particular genre, you start to notice different things like formulas and styles. You’ll find that a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fictions are in third person. You’ll see that a lot of contemporaries and romances are in first. Thrillers are on the edge because some may be third and some may be first, depending on the type of book and author. But the first thing that I, personally, think of is the genre of the story I’m writing. This is because there is, in fact, a reason why these stories have first or third person. Some genres are better suited for it. So, I generally go off that.

Phase 2: What’s the focus of details?

The second thing that helps is determining if the story is an internally detailed type of novel or if it’s an externally detailed type of novel. Internal details are where the story focuses on the emotion and thoughts of your character. External details are where your story focuses on the scenery and whatnot. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with phase one because most contemporaries and romances focus on internal details and most science fictions, fantasies, etc. focus on external details. But the reason why this has its own phase is because sometimes, the genre doesn’t always tell you what the story will be about. Sometimes, you may have a romance or a contemporary in third person because the character goes on an adventure and the story focuses a lot on those places they go to rather than how it made the character feel. And this may be the opposite for the fantasy, sci-fi, etc. type genres.

Phase 3: Main character count.

This may come as a personal preference, but I personally count this toward which one I do the most because a lot of stories can’t truly have more than two main characters in first person as similar voices hurts the story (since most authors can’t write in various voices). Some can, and if you’re one of them, you can throw that out the window. But as a general rule I follow, if a story has more than one person telling the story then I write in third person. If it’s a single person, it’s first person.

Phase 4: Personal preference.

And finally, I choose based on personal preference. Now, of course, I don’t have one because I like reading and writing in both, so if I hadn’t figured it out by the first three phases, I either do innie-minnie-miney-moe or write a scene to experiment on it (which, truthfully, I’ve never done… per say).

I chose my tense for my current story because of its genre and detail-oriented type. It’s a YA sci-fi fantasy with a heavy dose of external details, though a good balance of internal details. So it’s third person, limited. I actually wrote it in first person way back in 2015, but due to my lack of writing skills, it wasn’t up to par. When I finally got to it after it simmering on the back burner in 2019, I didn’t think it suit first person anymore because of the heavy details and how it just didn’t fit. Probably a reason why the story didn’t work as great back then.

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Head-hopping becomes a problem with increased frequency and unclear delineation of whose head the reader hopped into. My early works were littered with this problem. I learned as I got more seasoned as a writer that the audience doesn’t need to know what ALL the characters are thinking about the situation. It can also cause a lack of mystery if done excessively because we know all the motivations and backstories, etc.

Limiting omniscience is done to help maintain mystery in the development of the story.

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I agree

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Umm, well, it might’ve been less second-person, more letter-styled narrative that wasn’t written great. I will admit, it’s not my best work. It’s fanfic.

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