I have several young people around me, (family and friends), who like to write. Sometimes a few collaborate, more often, they write on their own. Either way, they often ask me to proof-read or edit.
I usually chastise them for attempting to write in the Present Tense: “I go to the…”, “I see the…”, etc.
I understand that this is perhaps a matter of taste and possibly prejudice on my part, but I find that form very harsh and difficult to read. It’s generally also done grammatically very badly. (Which is a sentence that also may have been done grammatically badly.) After all, if you were actually describing as you went along, you’d say, “I am going down the stairs”, not “I go down the stairs”, right?
The only time that it would be acceptable is if you were describing a recurring dream: “So, when I go down the stairs, I look out the window and I see a monkey in a tree playing an accordion”. (No, I never dreamt that and have no idea why I thought of it.)
The first time I ever noticed a story written in present tense was during a TV review of the book “It’s Like This, Cat”, back when I was a kid. For that reason, I never wanted to read the book, (and also because I was sure something was going to happen to the cat. I found out decades later that I was right).
My mother also made it clear that that was no way to write. She herself had dabbled in writing and her word was law. In fact, my sister gave me a Peter Rabbit book of her grandson’s for my own grandson, which our mother had decided to edit.
The first time I read it, I laughed so hard I cried, and it is one of my favorite possessions:
Mom could never stand the often used headline: “Firstname Lastname dies”.(“How often are they going to do it?” , she’d ask anyone who was unlucky enough to be nearby.)
When The Young People send stories or chapters for me to proof-read which are written in present tense, I try to change their minds. Often they will see the logic; but one very often does not and at times has insisted on writing in that manner. So when her stories come to me to look over, I have gone along with her style and only sometimes offer alternative wordings. However, a problem arises every time; present tense seems to be impossible to maintain.
Past tense is so much easier to write and to read. “I go down the stairs, I look out the window and saw a monkey”, is the type of sentences that occur in the works I receive. “Go”, “look” do not agree with “saw”. I have to point out that if the writer insists on present tense, they will have to say, “and see a monkey”. So then I usually will get back a revision like this: “I go downstairs, I look out the window and see a monkey. I thought, ‘What is he doing there?” Then I send it back with the notation: “thought doesn’t agree with the tense.”
Do you see the problem? The kids will usually go back and rework the story into past tense, which is so much easier on all of us.
What do you think? Do you like to read stories written in present tense? Have you written in ‘present tense’? Did you have trouble maintaining the tense?