Fiction Writing: Present Tense Problems

While I see shifts in this trend recently, with more books being written in first person than ever before, the majority of fiction books are written in third person, past tense. The reason for this is because it’s an easy style to write in where omniscient POV or multiple POVs (points of view) can be used, giving the writer more flexibility while allowing the reader to ‘see’ more in the story.

After all, if you write first person, you can only write it from the POV of that one person.

Now, when writing in past tense, there are a few words that you need to be careful of that can cause you to slip into present tense without realizing you’ve done it. The obvious slips, like using ‘is’ instead of ‘was’ or using the ‘s’ version of a verb instead of the ‘ed’ version (grins instead of grinned, talks instead of talked, etc), are easy to find and edit.

These words I’m talking about are words that you might not realize are present tense.

For example, ‘now’ is present tense. You can’t do ‘now’ in past tense.


Think about this… in the descriptive text, the writer cannot say here and still have it in past tense, third person and use ‘here’.

Here pretty much insinuates ‘now’.

Example: The cave was dark and damp, here on the side of the cliff.

See, when I say ‘here’ it means ‘where I am currently’. If I’m writing in past tense, something cannot be where I am currently and be in the past tense at the same time. Additionally, ‘here’ would be author intrusion of a sort if the writer is writing in third person with a limited point of view. After all, the ‘here’ insinuates ‘with someone’, typically the person ‘speaking’, but in the descriptive text of third person, there either is this ‘unseen writer’ who is NOT a narrator. Thus, ‘here’ doesn’t work in third person, past tense.

Rewrite: The cave was dark and damp, there on the side of the cliff.

The only way that ‘here’ would work is in the dialogue, if you are writing the manuscript in past tense, third person.

As for the word ‘now’, it should really make sense why ‘now’ cannot be used in past tense.

These are two that I’ve run across recently in editing I’ve been doing. Can you think of other words that might inherently be past or present tense all by themselves?

Keep writing!

Love and stuff,