I’d like to relate a little back and forth I’ve been having with a fellow member of our little group here, Sean Grigsby, regarding the use of tense. Several of my more recent stories have been written in present tense, much to the chagrin of young Sean, who doesn’t feel present tense is proper for a work of fiction.
Here’s the interesting part: What Sean didn’t like about a couple of my present tense stories were exactly the things I did like about them. Here was my explanation, specifically regarding a short called ‘Muscle Memory’, a comedy about bodyswitching that begins with a guy waking up to discover he now inhabits his wife’s body, and he’s not alone. The dog and cat have switched, his next door neighbors have as well. There’s a scene where our main character, Billy, is trying to breastfeed his young son while his neighbor, Tucker, now inhabiting the body of his wife, can’t stop staring at the bare-breasted spectacle…
What I like about present tense is its immediacy, the sense of urgency it implies. I guess we’ll just have to disagree here because I feel it’s perfect for this story. The plight of the characters, to me, feels more urgent and helps put the reader right there at the table with them, staring at the guy’s tits and sharing in their bewilderment. After awhile, past tense just gets too damn old. Every story that I wrote in past tense began to sound and read and feel the same to me. You need to experiment sometimes, see what else is possible.
The point of this amiable exchange would be, there is no right way, just as there is no wrong way. There are certain rules to be followed in writing, but rules were made to be broken, too. Personally, I think it would be wrong not to experiment from time to time. Try a different tense, or bang something out in 1st person. You never know what might happen. It’s like when you go to your wife’s closet and try on her lacy dainties, you know, just to see how they feel. Or, uh… so I’m told. By Kevin Wallis.
– Steve Lowe