Present Tense, Past Tense and the Oral Tradition; OR “This Guy Walks Into a Bar…”

No, I’m not turning this into an adults-only blog.

Last night, I finished presenting Novel #2 to my very helpful writing group.  After the comments were finished, our grammar nazi and certified DFW (Damn Fine Writer), whose day job is being an editor, did one of those Ahems that often precede something heavy.

“Umm, why did you write it present tense?”Present tense

She continued, “You know, it being a thriller, editors are going to expect past tense.”  Across the table from me, another editor and DFW was nodding agreement.

I summoned up my response, preparing an explanation that would be both incisive and erudite, “I dunno. It just came out that way.”

I’ve been churning on this for a day.  Of course, the editors are right.  But it’s not a small task to move from present to past for an 88,000-word work, so I have employed a variety of arguments, justifications and self-serving excuses.  But I still come up with, “It just came out that way.”

So, why did it come out that way?

I have to blame the Oral Tradition.  See, I came to writing from music.  I’ve been telling stories and playing music for many years, and most of that is in present tense, so I guess I just naturally moved into the story-telling mode I was familiar with.

Present tense is pretty limiting, though.  88,000 words?

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