Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why go with present tense?

Last week I came home for the holidays. However, my copy of The Hunger Games did not. Total head-smack moment about five hours into the eleven-hour drive when I realized that I'd forgotten it. So until early January, I'm not going to have any chapter analysis.

But, there is a subject about The Hunger Games that I've been meaning to blog about. And that is tense. It's really popular at the moment to write in present tense. When The Hunger Games was first released in 2008, it was the beginning of the trend that's been going on for the past few years now. But, my question is, how long did it take you to notice that it was written in present tense? I didn't realize it until I looked back in retrospect. My creative writing professor had finished the books a few weeks before and didn't know until I pointed it out to her. The present tense flows so naturally, that many people, even those who read a lot and study writing, don't notice it.

With so many books being written in the present now, it's my opinion (and again, this is just my opinion, and I'm not an agent or editor or anything) that to do present tense it really needs to work in favor of your book and not just be for the purpose of being part of the trend.

So what is it about The Hunger Games that makes present tense work?

  • Pacing. THG is a fast-paced book. By having it told in present tense, there is an immediacy to the story, an urgency that is somewhat lost if the book had been in past-tense.
  • Character. Strange enough, I do think that character is a part of the present-tense decision. Katniss isn't one to open up much. Even her flashbacks are need-to-know, and so having her tell things right then and there is more in-character. And given the state she's in at the end of the third book, her voice after the fact looking back would have changed how the events would have been portrayed.
  • Style. There's something about THG that makes its present tense subtle, something in the style. It doesn't flaunt itself as being in present tense, which makes it easier to read through.
Of course, present tense doesn't work for every book or every author. Experimentation is key. But these are the reasons why I think that The Hunger Games is able to work so well in present tense.  


  1. I was made aware of the present tense of Hunger Game before reading it so I went into it with that knowledge. It didn't impact my enjoyment of the novel. It helped me realize that when done well, present tense can help add the tension by drawing the reading into the immediacy of the moment.

  2. I love this so much. I JUST read The Hunger Games for the first time over the last week or so. I did notice the present tense when I first started, but that was most likely due to the fact that I had just read a bunch of novels held in the past tense.

    I definitely agree that the present tense is ideal to a character like Katniss and a novel with such a fast pace.

    Best wishes from one blogger (writer) to another,


  3. Ooh, this has to be my favourite post! Like Zabrinah, I noticed the present tense very early on because I've been used to reading past tense in previous books up until then. I LOVED the feeling present tense gave to the overall thrill of the novel, although I didn't realize the point on character till I read this post (thank you!). The Hunger Games definitely (consciously) influenced how I write some of my own stories because I thought present tense was such a powerful tool to use, if one applies it correctly.

  4. Amen, girl. In Seventh-Heaven, time is non-existant. Lemme xx-plane...

    Rather than sending me to Hell (I was a naughty-naughty boy), God chose to send me a head injury! YeeeHaw, Paw!! Lemme wanna fill-you-up withe avant-gardeness and wisdom necessary to achieve Heaven with ANOTHER dry, succinct commentary of our predestined existence determined by U.S. ...

    Wanna find-out the fax, Jak, in a wurld fulla the 'power of cowards'? Wanna wiseabove to help a 'Plethora Of Wurdz' [POW!] which are look'n for a new home in thy novelty??

    Q: But [gulp] can anyone tell me the difference between K2 plus IQ? A: Nthn. In Heaven, we gitt'm both for eternity HeeHee Need a few more thots, ideers, wild wurdz (whoa, Nelly! easy, girl) or ironclad iconoclasms?

    VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI: As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go thro in this lifelong demise, I wanna help U.S. git past the ping-pong-politics, the whorizontal more!ass! we're in (Latin: words to wise).

    "This finite existence is only a test, son," God Almighty told me in my coma. "Far beyond thy earthly tempest is where you'll find tangible, corpulent eloquence". Lemme tella youse without d'New Joisey accent...

    I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET! any moe curly, party-hardy-endorphins, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs (in [the] end without end -Saint Augustine) when my o-so-beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girly passed-away due to those wry, sardonic satires.

    "Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity" -Daniel 12:3, NJB

    Here's also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you' -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

    Go gitt'm, girl. You're incredible. See you Upstairs. I won't be joining'm in the nasty Abyss where Isis prowls
    PS Need summore unique, uncivilized, useless names? Lemme gonna gitcha started, brudda:

    Oak Woods, Franky Sparks, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, Roman Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Penelope Summers, Sophie Sharp, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zacharia Neptoo, Mercurio Morrissey, Fritz & Felix Franz, Victor Payne, Isabella Silverstein, Mercedes Kennedy, Redding Rust, Phoenix Martini, Ivy Squire, Sauer Wolfe, Yankee Cooky, Young Kook: -blessed b9...

    God blessa youse
    -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL