When I returned to the joys of reading a few years ago, a couple of books I bought were written in present tense. They sat on my shelf for a few months as I delved into other books written in the more familiar and comfortable past tense. But when I eventually got round to reading one of them, I found that after a few chapters my brain had been reprogrammed to recognise present tense as normal. It didn't bother me any more and I simply enjoyed the stories.

Since then I've branched out and read books written with multiple viewpoints (first, third, different characters), as well as books written in either tense. CITIZEN VINCE by Jess Walters even switches to second person for a few paragraphs every so often and it actually enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

The novel I'm writing now is mostly in present tense, with semi-dream sequences in past tense. My reasoning here is that I want it clear that the dreams are set in the past.

But I'm wondering, how do all of you feel about techniques like this, switching tense and characters? Is it gimmicky, does it add to your enjoyment of the novel, or does it all come down to how good the writer is and how well the techniques are handled?

I'm especially interested in the views of readers on this, because of my novel, but also just plain old curiosity.

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I don't mind alternating POV, done properly. Simon Kernick does a good job of switching from 1st to 3rd between chapters in a way that doesn't bother me.

For the most part, I like consistency when it comes to the tense. I do prefer past tense. Present tense is extremely tricky and easier to make mistakes with. I've read a few books in present tense recently and found there were more times I had to stop and re-read something that I ended up attributing to the clumsiness of the tense.

Just my opinion. You should write whatever suits what you're working on. I think it's like all things - you can break 'rules' or conventional guidelines if you have a reason that works for the story, but if you just do it to do it, then it's a gimmick and will likely come off as such.
Actually, since I worked on the Dagger entry, I'm tempted to go through and change everything to past tense. I'll have to experiment some, see what works best. Funny thing is, I already did that when I started the novel, but now I'm having something of a change of heart.

I definitely want to avoid gimmicks. The less present the artist is in the art, the better, I say.

Or something. I sure picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue...
I've read present tense in both first person and third. Either way seemed to work just as well. John Rickards does fantastic work in first person present.

I just don't know if I'm up to the task yet. I'll see how it goes.
Yeah, Rickards is pretty much a big b*****rd. His was the one book I read recently where I didn't even notice until I started writing down review notes. Jerk.

(I didn't want anyone to think I was seriously insulting him. I should never post in the witching hours.)

BTW, speaking of Rickards, Hardboiled Jesus will be seeing print in the second Out of the Gutter issue. John's identity as the anti-Christ will then be public knowledge. If we send a copy to the pope maybe we can get John some serious publicity.
I used to think that I didn't like books in the present tense, but then after I read a great one, I realised it was only books where I actually NOTICED what tense it was written in that bothered me. There are books I read where it strikes me immediately, and I just can't forget it. It gets in the way of the story, takes over the characters and just bugs me so much that I concentrate more on the way the book is written than what is being said. And then there are books where it only clicks part way through that the author is using the present tense. Present tense makes a story more immediate, although thinking about it, some of the tension is lost because you know that the narrator manages to survive (unless it's is ghost writing)

I couldn't write in it myself for any sustained length of time because I would be conscious of it and it would bug me. The whole:
"I open the door and enter. It's dark inside and I turn my torch on and put it in my mouth so that I can continue to use my pen and notebook to write this down. Suddenly, there is a noise behind me and I spin round. I'm a bit dizzy and having trouble writing. Then the torch is ripped from my hand and it bounces across the floor, the bulb breaking, leaving me in darkness. It's going to be a little difficult to write and I can't tell when I reach the edge of the pa . I can feel hot breath on my neck and it suddenly dawns on me that I haven't felt hot breath on my neck for far too long. As my eyes accustom to the dark, I can see the outline of a blunt instrument being brought down with great force onto my ---------. I wake up some time later..."
thing would bother me :o)

I like changes of POV when done right. They can change the pace and feel of a story. I'm not keen on second person though, except in very small doses.

I like to hear the author's voice, but I don't want it to get in the way of the characters' story. I don't like things which are done for effect, and I think the reader can usually tell whether something IS, because it doesn't flow and it doesn't sit right. Good writing for me is when I can lose myself in the story and care about the characters. If that happens then the author can write every fourth word upside down and back to front for all I care :o)

If it works in present tense, with switches between first and third, and missing out words with the letter T in them, then the author should write it that way. If the author thinks it's a stretch and is just trying to be clever, then the reader wil think so too.
That's what it comes down to then, doesn't it? If the story is compelling, you don't notice the technique as much. Same as in film. No visual effects can hide a crap story or bad acting.
Well I am not a writer...only a reader and I concur...I like a good story and I really don't mind which POV it comes from. The only little niggle I have with changing POV's is when one voice stops and the other starts..I need a clear area..not even as far as a new chapter just some little hint that one voice has ended or then I get really confused hearing voices in head....oh wait..nevermind ;-)
It's great to get this kind of input, Patricia. Never say you're only a reader! :)
Reading that example passage makes me wonder how first-person present tense can possibly work, but I've read Rickards too and it certainly doesn't feel clunky in his books. Much as I hate to admit it.
Yes, exactly. I object to any writing that calls attention to itself, and takes me out of the story.

Most of my work these days is editing other people's manuscripts, and it is TERRIBLY difficult to sustain a present-tense narrative for the length of an entire book.
I think the only time I've ever had problems (or even really noticed to be honest) present tense was in a book where the tense was used to constantly self-congratulate the "speaker" - that annoyed me to distraction and hence I noticed the tense more.

Changing tense / as in changing perspective can work in chapter by chapter switches although it does help the reader a bit if you can telegraph that's what you're doing. Another book I read a while ago had me lost and confused for quite a while until I finally twigged - okay I can be thick, but both points of view were about the same events and weren't individually voiced enough to be clear to my poor mushy brain.

But as for the rest of it - what Donna said.
Definitely chapter by chapter, and your point of telegraphing make sense. I think that a writer has to be very careful to test these things out, because the reader doesn't know everything the writer does.


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