Present tense or past tense in chick lit? by Megan Just
When you read chick lit, do you prefer present tense or past tense?
“It’s the crack of dawn, and for some god-awful reason someone is giving us a wake-up call…I croak out something that’s a cross between ‘Hello’ and ‘I hate your guts, whoever you are’ only to be greeted with ‘Good morning Mrs. Johnson! Stand by for Mrs. Lovejoy, please!” --The Baby Planner by Josie Brown, 2011
“The next day I awoke with a dry tequila mouth and a searing headache. I checked my watch; it was nearly noon. The night before seemed like a dream. A blurry, good dream. I couldn’t wait to see Marcus again.” --Something Blue by Emily Giffin, 2005
To me, it seems that books written in present tense occur more often in chick lit than in any other genres I read. Personally, though, I prefer the chick lit books that stick to good, old-fashioned past tense.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I don’t like books written in present tense (Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic comes most immediately to mind as one I adored). It’s just that when starting a book written in present tense, my brain, which longs to be on auto-pilot, always rebels against me.
ME READING: “Do you have salt for the margaritas?” he asks when I pick up the phone.
BRAIN: You mean, “He asked.”
ME: No, it says, “He asks.”
A few pages in, the pages read as smooth as past tense, but if I put the book down for a day, I still sense small glitches as I read the first verbs when I pick it back up.
The main reason I prefer past tense, though, is that it adds a level of complexity to the narration of the book. How long after the events of the book is the narrator speaking from? Why has the narrator chosen to tell us this story?
Now, it’s not like I plop down on the beach with a book that’s meant to be a light read and speculate about the main character’s motivation for sharing her story. This is something the author handles behind-the-scenes, but it does make the book more enjoyable to read.
In a present tense book, the story is unfolding as we read it and my suspicious mind wonders, “How does our heroine know she’s going to have a story to tell if the story hasn’t happened yet?”
Now, to be fair, present tense does have some advantages over past tense. One advantage is the line between things that happened in the past and things that are happening in the present of the story is always clear. Another advantage is in action scenes and moments of high tension between characters where the present tense can really help a reader be right there in the moment.
We’d love to hear what you think. Which do you prefer in chick lit? Present or past tense? What are some of your favorite books written in present or past tense?