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Past or Present Tense?

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I had a question about whether it's better to write historical fiction in past tense since it's in the past, or if editors would prefer present? For my last novel, which was a YA fantasy, many editors told me to change it to present. So I just wanted to double check. Thanks.

#1 - August 13, 2008, 07:14 PM

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I don't think whether it's historical or contemporary fiction figures into the decision. For your historical MC the time of the story is the present, just as it would be for a contemporary. Ask yourself what the narration needs, past or present? FWIW, my WIP is historical fiction set in the 20s and it's coming alive in present tense whereas in past it really didn't. One of the reasons I'm sticking with present is that my crit partners asked several times, "Does she know about the Depression?" In other words, is the MC narrating with knowledge of what came after the story's time? Past tense allows room for that question; present tense lets the reader know that the answer is No.
#2 - August 14, 2008, 05:01 AM
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IMO, there's no hard and fast rule. Use whichever tense serves each story best.

I made a deliberate choice to use present tense in my first book because I didn't want my MC to have the luxury of reflecting back. I limited her mental resources, experience, and perspective strictly to the current moment.
#3 - August 14, 2008, 05:06 AM


Thank you, Sarah and mrh. You two have been more helpful than the tons of answers from the other writing board I use. lol  :confetti :grouphug2

I think present tense would be best for this novel since we're telling the lives of two actual people in history as if it's happening right now.

Thanks so much!
#4 - August 14, 2008, 07:08 AM


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