August 25th, 2010

red rose

Feeling tense?

In addition to red roses and a Kindle, I got an Amazon gift certificate for my birthday, so I splurged a little. Consequently, I am currently reading two books at once, both YA/MG, and both spec fic (one is fantasy and one is science fiction). Both are also very popular, although with different reader groups. The science fiction one has a teenage female protagonist and the fantasy has a younger male protagonist. With me so far?

Both are well written but I'm having a much easier time with the fantasy, in spite of the fact that the protagonist is a different gender and younger than I usually read. Want to know why?

Well partly it's because the fantasy is funnier, but mostly because the science fiction YA is The Hunger Games, which is told in the present tense. The MG fantasy is The Lightning Thief, which is told in the past tense.

Gah! I HATE present tense in novel-length. It is so hard to read! I can manage it in a story, but in a novel I keep expecting the tense to change, as when an author uses tense to show time has passed in some way. Present tense verbs make me so conscious that I am reading that it's really hard for me to lose myself in the story.

Which makes me wonder why authors use it. Suzanne Collins is not the only highly successful novelist to write a whole book in present tense. Michael Chabon used it in The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which won all kinds of awards (I never did finish that book). So, am I a total aberration? Is there no one else out there who finds that a present tense novel makes them grit their teeth and (all too often) move on to another book?

I wanted to know, so, naturally, I created a poll. -) Please feel free to weigh in with your opinion in a comment, especially if you don't have an LJ account or if the poll options don't adequately convey your opinions, and let me know how you feel about present tense.

Poll #1610752 When is the present not a gift?

Please describe how you feel about reading present tense fiction

I rarely notice the tense of the story; I just read it.
I notice present tense but I don't mind it.
It's OK in short stories, but I don't like it as much in books
I can live with a present tense book only if it's really well written
A present tense novel? No, no, no! What was the author thinking?

Do you ever write in present tense?

Only in emails; I'm not a writer
I write fiction, but I only use present tense for synopses, where it belongs
I write fiction, and I use present tense in short stories but never in novels
I write fiction, and I use whichever tense I think works best, regardless of word count
I prefer to write in present tense

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