Very early in its history, The Water’s Edge, or the first few chapters of it, was written in the present tense. I can’t remember why I did this, except that it was very much a first draft and I was in experimental mood. Not long after, I decided against present tense, although I did keep the first person point of view. I know that one reader commented that the tense did put him off initially, although before long he had become acclimatised, as it were, and stopped noticing it. All the same , I think I felt that in an extended narrative, the tense was beginning to seem unnatural, or even affected.
I’ve been mulling this over because FPPT (this is Claire King’s handy acronym) has become a hot topic following comments on the Man Booker shortlist in which half of the nominees use present tense. Sadly I haven’t yet read any of these, but I’m inclined to agree that it’s a style that is likely to pall with the reader and shouldn’t really be necessary except in true stream of consciousness writing. As Philip Henshall says (or said!)as quoted in Saturday’s Telegraph ,
“Writing is vivid if it is vivid. A shift in tense won’t do that for you.”
Claire , on the other hand, feels it can be justified in particular circumstances, and reminds me that The Time Traveller’s Wife was done in this way, a comment which sent me running to the book shelves to check, and of course, she is right. Although maybe a book that plays with time has special needs, tense-wise! (It also signposts the actual chronology very clearly, creating breaks and jumps that deliberately disrupt the flow of ‘present’ experience).
And so where does this leave me? Hoping, I think, that FPPT does not become the norm, but determined to read at least some of those Booker nominees so that I can judge for myself if it has been put to good use.