Present tense gives the illusion of being hands-off: just tracking, like a camera.
(A camera itself, of course, gives the illusion that it records “reality.”) Sometimes it’s a way of pretending the writer is on an equal level with/equal footing with the character(s)—just a bunch of us hangin’ out, moving through “real” time. If something is going on moment-to-moment and not assessed with a narrative fix or grip on it, the writer is pretending not to know (or truly doesn’t; how various writers create first drafts varies, of course) how things will unfold, so the writer and the reader are at least temporarily aligned, as they are engaged in speculation about the future.
Ann Beattie: I suspect that it’s used so often, in part, because of things that unfold right before our eyes, or seem to—the obvious example being movies, when something happens, and happens, and continues to happen, until finally it has happened and then the movie ends.
The experience of a movie is that you, and the movie, exist in the present tense, and that you are observing what is happening moment-to-moment.
But either way, this, along with the previous complaints, really begs this question: What exactly are writing professors teaching about the present tense?
Do We Write Essays In Present Tense
* * * * I approached a number of authors who teach or have taught writing to students at a variety of levels and asked how they taught the present tense.He insists the present tense was rarely used before that year, and is better left that way.Gass then adds, re: women, “And they hand me a list of a hundred authors each named Ann (or Anne).” And of course, includes a dig at Jay Mc Inerney’s .Hensher went so far as to write an op-ed—in the present tense—complaining the present tense was “everywhere, like Japanese Knotweed.” His complaint is at least among the most generous I’ve come across—it acknowledges some historical examples of the present tense like Dickens’s , as well as that it is used in both English lyric poetry and the vernacular, as well as in journalism and screenplay treatments.Phillip Pullman did much the same, his op-ed citing the verb tense’s use in also, as well as, occasionally, in Jane Eyre.Many said they didn’t, which certainly encourages one theory—that the present tense may be the current preferred mode of the self-taught writer.Regardless, here are a few approaches and theories on usage.Related: what seems to be the writer hanging back and not judging, because there is no time for that if something appears to be happening in the instant.The writer, for better or for worse, is always present in the material (whether you want to call the writer an invisible—or sometimes quite visible—character, or not) but can appear to be just casually noticing what is unfolding, how things are proceeding.* * * * In my experience, most conversations about the present tense go as follows: “the present tense” “complaint” “good point that some of the writing is good” “it’s really only good if people use it well” [awkward silence, no further discussion] As a part time professional ‘creative writing tutor’, I can say I only ever teach the present tense as one tool among many.I do not urge it on my ‘sensitive and artistic storytellers’, or any of the insensitive ones either.