Past, Present, and Future: Exploring the Literary Effects of Tense

The contemporary popularity of the present tense in narrative storytelling has been critiqued by authors such as Philip Pullman, who have argued a preference for the tone associated with the past tense. Popularised by figures such as Jane Austen, the past tense can be used to achieve a ‘classic’ tone in narrative writing; today, however, authors are freely experimenting with tense.

This article will address how, in today’s world, the aspiring author make sense of tense. Is it a matter of personal preference, or do choices of tense play into more complex sociocultural aesthetics? If tense matters, how important is it to take a stance on the subject? Is tense a purely relativist construct, its validity being subject predominantly to the whims of the author?

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