By David L. Brown
I’m a writer, as anyone who has followed this blog may have realized. In recent years I’ve gotten seriously into fiction. Of course, the novel The Star Phoenix was the inspiration for this blog (the original novel is now available as a two-book Kindle version on Amazon under the title “Promise of the Phoenix.” You can find them at bargain prices here and here). The Star Phoenix was written in the mid-90s, and a lot of liquid’s gone under the overpass since then.
About two years ago I self-published my second novel, Quantum Cowboy (available as both print-on-demand trade paperback and eBook formats on Amazon and other sites. The $2.99 Kindle edition can be purchased here). At about the same time I published a non-fiction book titled Dead End Path: How Industrial Agriculture Has Stolen Our Future, also available at various online sites including here.) In the past year I’ve written another as-yet unpublished novel and am about three-quarters of the way through yet another. The first is a murder mystery and the current one is a science fiction novel.
Now you may wonder why I’m bringing all this up, and there’s a good reason. You see, I’ve had a kind of epiphany about my writing style and I wanted to share my discovery. You see, both of these newest books are written in the present tense. Yes, as if the action is taking place right now, not at some time in the past or in a galaxy far, far away.
Until recently, for the most part writing fiction in the present tense was considered a no-no. We’re all familiar with the common past tense format of nearly every story or novel we’ve ever read. It’s de rigour, it seems, to take the position of a storyteller relating something that happened once-upon-a-time. It’s interesting that even science fiction stories set in the far future are written in…wait for it…the past tense. Well, of course, because that’s just the way books are written.
But does that really make sense? Well, maybe not. After I started experimenting with the present tense in my murder mystery, Retirement Man, I soon learned to love telling a story that’s happening in the here and now, just as the story unfolds. It puts the reader right into the middle of the action, and I like it.
Now many old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud writers and critics have a problem with fiction in the present tense, and they’re quick to tell you why. It’s unnatural, they say. It doesn’t give the writer enough latitude, stuck in the present. It’s just not the way writing is done. To all of which I say bushwah and codswallop.