What tense should a literary essay be written in

Subscribe to our FREE email newsletter and download free character development worksheets! Guest Column March 25, When the literary historians of the year write about the fiction of our time, I believe they will consider our use of the present tense to be its most distinctive—and, perhaps, problematic—feature.

What tense should a literary essay be written in

January 31, by Fiction Editor Beth Hill last modified January 31, One of the first decisions for a writer beginning a new story is the choice of narrative tense—will the story be a look into past events or will it race through the present? That is, will the writer use past or present tense in terms of verbs and the action of the story?

The writer must decide what is the when of story. Although some readers and writers might have no true preference, most are firmly in one camp or the other.

Either they insist using the simple past is the only way to tell a story or they say present tense has much to offer and is as equally valid as past tense. And that you face the expectations of readers, readers who include agents and acquisitions editors. Do narrator and viewpoint characters see actions and events as happening in the past or do they act as if the events are happening right now?

Do they say— Marlboro raced through the forest. I fear the man who is my father; his voice alone demands respect. The setup for both is simple; the effects are vastly different.

What tense should a literary essay be written in

Stories using the past tense are written the same way stories have been told for years—once upon a time, sometime before the present time, these marvelous characters existed and lived out a fantastic adventure. When I say most stories, I mean the great majority of stories.

Oral stories as well as written fiction are told using the past tense. The present tense—is, walks, drinks, hopes—on the other hand, is rare. Yes, we all know wonderful stories told using present tense. Yet in comparison to the number of novels that use the simple past, present-tense novels are few in number.

Present-tense narration is also much more recent a practice. From what I can tell from a quick survey of Internet articles, readers notice when stories are told using the present tense. We are saying that its use is noticeable.

Let me stress that neither choice is right or wrong on principle. You can use either present or past tense for telling your stories. The present tense is often associated with literary fiction, short stories, students in writing programs and workshops, and first novels.

Verb Tense for Use When Discussing Literature

The past tense is used in most genre novels. There might well be an adjustment period for readers of present-tense stories.

Readers may also end up paying closer attention since the format is one unfamiliar to them. They may develop a deeper involvement in the story. Immediacy Some writers and readers believe that use of the present tense makes story action and events more immediate.

On the other hand, proponents of the past tense may find that verbs used in the past tense make story events seem more immediate. Yes, readers can get over this incongruity, but reader perception is something to consider when you choose your narrative tense.

While the present tense is not common in fiction, some writing uses present tense as a matter of course— Scripts and plays A synopsis Essays that use the literary present tense When writing about the events of a story: Alex then demands a declaration from Stella, but she refuses to humor him.

When writing about what a writer says: Try present tense if you want readers to notice the narrative tense or you want to see if you can make story events even more immediate.

Keep in mind that readers might have to make adjustments. Weigh the benefits against the costs—are the benefits, whatever they are for your story, enough to compensate for that adjustment period during which readers will not be fully involved in either characters or plot events?

Be prepared to change from present tense to past in order to see your manuscript accepted by a publisher. You might have to do it; would you be willing to make the change if it meant being published?

Quick Answer

Could you do it? Know that readers might not accept your choice. Know that publishers might ask you to change your narrative tense. Use the narrative tense that works for the story, the genre, and your readers. Know what narrative tense can achieve.HOW TO WRITE A LITERARY ESSAY SUGGESTED LENGTH: WORDS THE TITLE should be specific.

Even though a story is written in the past tense, This latest edition includes reflective questions after each chapter and discussion of visual and webbased sources, . The Verb Recognize a verb when you see one.

Verbs are a necessary component of all rutadeltambor.com have two important functions: Some verbs put stalled subjects into motion while other verbs help to clarify the subjects in meaningful ways.


The literary present is customarily used when writing about literary nonfiction as well as fiction—essays and memoirs as well as novels, plays, and poems.

For example, when writing about Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal," we write, "Swift argues. Which is better for fiction, past tense or present tense?

A look at options for narrative tense. Accordingly, when you write using the literary present tense, you use the present tense to discuss fictional events (e.g., things happening in a novel or short story) while the past tense is used to discuss historical events (e.g., things that happened in the life of the writer).

USING THE PRESENT TENSE TO DISCUSS LITERATURE AND FILM. When you discuss film or literature of any kind (such as a novel or an essay or a poem), always discuss the action and events in the present tense.

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