Writing in the Present Tense: A Guest Post By Author Charles E. Yallowitz


Author Charles Yallowitz

Thank goodness it’s finally Friday! Am I right? And thank goodness for guest bloggers. After an entire week of laying sick in bed, I would have been hard-pressed to produce an interesting blog post with any content whatsoever. So, lucky for you, I’ve invited Charles E. Yallowitz, author of the fantasy adventure series Legends of Windemere to guest post on my blog today. This time he’ll be speaking about ‘Present Tense Writing.’ And just so you know, I’ve sealed all the exits and windows, so you can’t run away. Haha! Just kidding, you’ll enjoy this.

The reason I asked him to speak on this topic was because his series is written in Third Person Present Tense. What does this mean?  That he’s insane? How about I let Charles take it from here:

This style means that you are watching events unfold as they occur through your own eyes instead of the eyes of a chosen character. In other words, you’re reading a TV show or movie, which is surprisingly jarring to many people. Why is that?  Because nearly everything we read growing up is done in Past Tense a.k.a. events that already happened.

I actually have a theory on why this is. Writing was originally used to document historical events, which established past tense as the norm. Fiction began as the telling of fake events and has steadily dropped the illusion of ever being real. Yet, it had to hold onto that Past Tense style back in the day and many of the classics are like this. We’re taught to read on this, so it becomes ingrained in our minds that this is what a book is. Some people don’t get caught here due to other Present Tense mediums like video games, TV, movies, and comic books. Seriously, all of my friends that love comic books have never noticed my ‘unique’ style while everyone else has needed to get used to it.

And you can get used to Present Tense reading. Back when I published my first book, my friend and his wife were listening to The Hunger Games audiobook. That’s another Present Tense story. No problem for either of them. Then they each started reading my book. My friend has been subjected to my style since high school, so this was ‘just how Charlie writes’. Not even a blink. His wife had never read any of my stuff and she kept saying something wasn’t quite right about it. This woman is incredibly smart too, so hearing this made me wonder about how our brains are programmed to handle Past Tense better than Present Tense. Yet we can still train ourselves to enjoy both without a problem.


Watch the story unfold in the present tense!

Now there really isn’t any trick to writing this way. Like reading it, you practice and it becomes second nature. You’ll slip a few times, but you’d do the same with Past Tense too. There are also some tools that don’t transfer very well like flashbacks. Foreshadowing, action, and dialogue are my three big toys to help with the story. Though there are threats too. Since every character is being seen at their present time, the narrative exposition to explain the world and some of the systems throws off the rhythm. For example, Nyx the Caster just appeared and now is the time to tell people how magic works. If a narrator explains then it’s an info dump and you get the sense that the characters are sitting ‘off camera’ by the food table. So you need to have someone ask about magic and then have another explain. It’s still an info dump, but you get the feeling that even the heroes are learning. Not a perfect system, but what really is?

Keep in mind that I’m only talking about my style, which works for my books. Every author needs to find what feels comfortable for them. It usually takes time to hone a personal style and such a thing is always changing. Honestly, I chose Present Tense by accident when a teacher said I had to pick one. Then nobody really pointed out the ‘issue’ until I published my first book. By then it was too late. Personally, I think that’s the best path because you want your writing to be natural. Copying somebody else can make your writing stiff and robotic. This is another reason why it’s fun to experiment with novellas, short stories, and anything that you might not even publish. As far as Present Tense goes, never hurts to try for writing and you just need to go in with an open mind when reading. If you keep thinking that the book is ‘wrong’ then you’ll never adapt and see the story that’s simply being told in a way that isn’t very common. One friend who used to only read Past Tense has told me that getting used to the other side opened up a lot of new books for him. Then again, I’ve had people tell me that I couldn’t write my way out of an open field, so what do I know?

Thanks, Charles for stopping by and entertaining everyone while I recover from my cold. **Cough, cough** and thank you to everyone who took the time to enjoy it. I think he made a lot of good points that definitely has me rethinking the whole past versus present tense debate. If you enjoyed his wit and reason–or lack thereof–please follow him on Twitter and WordPress. Don’t forget to check out his books on Amazon!

As always, have a fabulous Friday and a wonderful weekend! TGIF!


50 thoughts on “Writing in the Present Tense: A Guest Post By Author Charles E. Yallowitz

  1. Nice post. I echo the idea of action as it happens in the present. I just finished a book that is primarily past tense and I struggled with keeping it in the past. My brain is programmed for the present and it was difficult to stay focused. Thanks Kylie for hosting.

  2. More and more I find books using the present tense. It gives the story more urgency and can work very well for thrillers, especially psychological thrillers. I haven’t tackled writing my own books in that tense yet, but never say never…

    Great topic and discussion. 🙂

  3. Hope you’re feeling better, Kylie. Interesting point of view, Charles. (A little POV pun.) It only takes about a chapter to fall into the style. A big part involves the reader. Are you reading to have a good time, or to find fault? I read your first book and had a great time. I’ll read more of them too.

  4. Great post. I haven’t tried writing in the present tense, but plan to give it a work out in a short story to see how it feels. The only present tense I use is for internal thoughts in my books, and I’ve had to be very careful with the switch, since I tend to slip into my comfort zone: past tense.

    • My thought would be to write in the style of which you are most comfortable. I can read present tense but I can’t write it. Play around with it. Who knows, you might enjoy it.

    • Writing entirely in present tense is why I don’t do the internal thoughts too often. Writing fantasy, I tend to use it only for telepathy and spirits sharing one body. Though the internal thoughts do come out a lot smoother in exposition paragraphs.

  5. Great guest post, Charles. Writing in present tense was a challenge for me. I wrote one book in present tense and kept slipping back to past tense. So I admire the fact that you have so many books written in present tense.

  6. MRS N, the Author

    Feel better, Kylie! Awesome post, Charles! I have difficulty with present tense and it’s something I’m working on with my latest WIP. 🙂

      • That’s so true. I think anymore readers are so dubious of writers instead of open-minded to a good story. I don’t know where this snobbery started but it needs to end.

      • I agree on all counts. Part of me wants to say it started when indie publishing hit and people flooded in to make a quick buck. They became the more common ‘face’ of the indie world instead of those that wanted to tell a great story. A sense of caution was adopted by most when going for anyone that published through Kindle. It’s part of the stigma that is still around. Though that’s only a guess. I could be wrong.

  7. Kyle, feel better! Always get something out of Charles’s posts. I write in the past tense and it felt strange to write a Synopsis in the present tense. Had to pay attention to slips back to past. Now I’ll try writing a few paragraphs in the present as an experiment. Thanks for the thought! Christine

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