I’ve always written fiction in the past tense. I don’t know why, really – maybe it’s because the books I used to read as a child were written that way. Increasingly over recent years, though, authors have been using the present tense to describe the action. The events in the story are therefore “happening” as the reader is reading them. This creates an immediacy to things that often puts the reader in the moment.
For the short story I wrote last week, I tried properly writing in the present tense for the first time. I was sceptical about whether I’d take to it without a big adjustment in my writing style. But surprisingly to me, the new tense seemed to fit me like a glove. It was much easier to internalise character thoughts, and while first person immediate present tense demands a rigid fix on the narrator, that suited the story I was writing. After finishing it, however, I came to realise that because my novel Certainty shares the same kind of focus on the viewpoint of the main character, it might be worth a bit of an experiment to see how that story would react to being put in the present tense. I was dreading the results, but I went ahead anyway and was soon rather depressed – not because it didn’t work, but because it did. Too well, in fact. I “translated” a talky chapter and an action chapter, and both of them fair zipped off the page. The energy level was through the roof and it was like there was a direct conduit into the main character’s head – which, seeing as that’s such an important element of the book, left me wondering why the hell I hadn’t done this from the start.
I reckon it’s going to be about fifty hours’ work to convert the tense in the whole novel, and then countless further hours to tidy things up. Brilliant. Just what I need. But I really think it’s going to push me over the line, and even though I’m grumbly about having to spend so much time doing it, I’m pretty excited about how it’s going to transform what I already have into some crazy turbocharged version of its former self.