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Author Topic: Past Tense vs Present Tense  (Read 614 times)

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Offline BlackStoneTopic starter

Past Tense vs Present Tense
« on: September 03, 2014, 10:53:15 PM »
This is something that confuses me, and I think it is because I do not have all the information at hand for me to understand the pros and cons from each side when it comes to telling a story.    I understand why other players shy away from first person point of view writing, as you really are putting your head into the character's and seeing them through their eyes, and there are some people that we have all run into that can't separate the character and the writer behind the screen.

But past tense writing preference over present tense is confusing me and I would like to understand why there is this preference for past tense and a discouragement of present tense.

Also while I can be as snarky as the next person, I am going to ask that the snark be left at the door.   This is not a troll type question but a real one so I can better understand players preferences and to be a better writing partner in the future.

Thank you for you time and your input, it is appreciated in advance.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Past Tense vs Present Tense
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2014, 11:55:44 PM »
I think that because storytelling is usually done in past tense most people are more comfortable with it.  Trying to tell a story in present tense is a narration of current events and feelings as they happen.  It's doable but much too easy to revert to the past tense method.  I've done it for a short story and had to be very careful.

Offline Cassandra LeMay

Re: Past Tense vs Present Tense
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2014, 01:09:54 AM »
For one I think it is a matter of convention and what people feel comfortable with because they are used to it.

But one big problem I see with present tense is that it makes it difficult to switch between scenes, as everything would be written as it happens right "now". Lets say you write about some guy going to work. You can easily tell that in present tense (he walks, he steps into the subway train, etc.). But suppose you also want to switch to his kids going to school at the same time. If you used present tense for that too it might run the risk of implying that both scenes happen at the exact same time, in the very same moment. Sooner or later you are bound to put things in context with past-tense constructs like "after her dad had left for work..." and so on, but getting back to present tense from there would make for a rather uneven read.

I think it's the same when it comes to roleplaying, only that it has the added problem that present tense can come close to godmodding - or at least give that appearance. The moment you say "X does Y" you set it in stone. It happens. There is nothing that can be done about it. We see it happen, therefore it is what it is, no way around it. Of course things written in the past tense still stand as they are written, but I would say they don't have the same "in your face" quality present tense conveys. You can not interrupt what is happening right now until the post is finished and that makes everything written a fact, without any way to get back and change it. Past tense feels more fluid, less set-in-stone, which might make it preferable for roleplaying where several people interact in a format that has to be chronological by nature but where past events can still be influenced by actions that are posted later.

Online Oniya

Re: Past Tense vs Present Tense
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2014, 01:18:21 AM »
I'd have to say that most of the books I have read are written in past tense - even the ones that are in first person.  I think a few notable exceptions have been in the horror genre, with the effect of constraining the reader's world to 'right-then-right-there', especially when combined with a narrator that only seems to be aware of their immediate surroundings and personal thoughts.

Of course, if that's the effect you want, then it might be something to discuss with your partners so that they understand the 'why' of it.

Offline Madriv

Re: Past Tense vs Present Tense
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2014, 08:35:02 AM »
I use present tense in IM-style roleplay and past tense in forum-style roleplay. For me it has to do with the immediacy of the situation.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Past Tense vs Present Tense
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2014, 09:01:39 AM »
Past tense is the tense de jour of most fiction writing. Present tense is the must for academic works. Tense is is not as important as voice. Works written in the active voice are always better than those written in the passive voice.

Offline ImaginedScenes

Re: Past Tense vs Present Tense
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2014, 02:38:39 PM »
Might sound weird but when I read a story or post that is written in present tense it messes with my imagination. Feels like there's something I need to rush through reading it. Past tense is like history. It's always there so I can pause and think about what might be between the lines. No need to rush. Same thing happens with punctuation, yeah? Commas and periods are pauses. Use less of them and you're kind of telling the person to read quickly. Use more of them and you're kind of telling the person to stop and think about your meaning.

Also weird to read something present tense and respond to it in the present tense. Doubly true when you respond to different parts of a post separately. Like if they jumped at you and then spoke to you later on. You write a reaction to the jump, then there's a gap in time when they act, then you react to what they said. Doesn't work right in my brain.