When did this become a thing? I know it’s nothing new; one of the books is A Handmaid’s Tale, which is from the 1980’s if I’m not mistaken. But the tense works in that book. In the others, not so much. Three of the books are The Hunger Games Trilogy, which just aren’t very good books anyway (I’m ducking until people stop throwing things at me). One of the other two is Water for Elephants, which would have been a great novel if not for the present tense. It reminded me of Dune, which was otherwise fantastic, but I couldn’t finish because it kept switching POV within the same scene, sometimes within the same paragraph.
I’ve written in the present tense before. I wrote a short story about a gay teenage boy the night of the Homecoming dance in which he planned to come out. I wrote part of a zombie novel from the zombie’s POV. In both cases, the characters are stuck in the moment for completely different reasons. The same applies for The Handmaid’s Tale. The MC lives in the present; she has no future or past, at least none of either that she can latch on to. She’s a puppet of the state. All she can safely focus on is the moment at hand. That’s why it works.
In a story that takes place over several years or worse, one in which a character is remembering the past (talking to you, Elephants) it’s completely inappropriate. There’s something grounding about the past tense. This is what happened to me, and now I’m relating it, as opposed to, this happens, then I do this, then something else happens. It’s like listening to teenage girls.
“So, like, I go, ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Then he’s all ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Then Bethany goes berserk and drives away. And then later, she comes back, and she’s all…”*
Reading Elephants was like walking on ice or trying to scale glass; there just wasn’t anything to grab on to. I kept slipping out of the story. It was a good story, too. I really liked the characters and the world they inhabited.
Anyway, this is totally a personal preference. Apparently I’m in the minority since Elephants received a ton of critical praise, and The Hunger Games books are ridiculously popular. So what’s your opinion?
*No offense to teenage girls, of course.