Friday, October 1st, 2010
A rise in the use of the present tense in contemporary fiction has sparked a lively debate amongst writers. For example, half of the novels shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize are written in the present tense. Some writers, like Philip Pullman of ‘Dark Materials’ fame – see it as nothing less than “an abdication of narrative responsibility” on the part of the story teller – a failure to tell us clearly what happened, what caused it and what the consequences were. He wrote this about the topic. Former Booker judge, Philip Hensher, is not a fan of the style either.
Laura Miller wrote this article on the current fad and on Tuesday’s Book Show, Peter Mares canvassed the topic with her, listen here. Laura Miller is co-founder of the online magazine Salon.com and a regular Book Show guest. The discussion produced a lively response from Book Show listeners. Here’s a sample:
It seems to me that the present tense has a place in fiction where appropriate. What really drives me mad is the way historians and discussions of history on radio and television use it. The so called “historical present” is hardly ever appropriate and so awkward and unnatural that those using it cannot do so consistently, but keep relapsing into the past and mixing the tenses. (more…)