Reader Interview Results: Tensing

As I’m finishing my first book and a number of supplemental stories, I’m hearing a lot about this. Some readers can’t get passed the first page because it is written in present tense, while others have been draw in to the point of distraction. Obviously this has had me reflecting on the books I’ve read as well. It’s left me with the question: What tense do most find appealing? To resolve this curiosity, I conducted informal interviews with many avid readers about the topic. I’ve included information from 3 of the lengthier conversations I had.

After speaking to one avid reader she stated that present tense makes her feel like she’s reading a screen play, instead of a book. The actions she reads in this context leave her feeling as though the page is full of screen direction. Obviously, screen directions is for actors not readers, which makes the books set in present difficult for her to digest. For this reader, telling a story should be done in past tense, because the story has already happened. The difference can be as disjointing as several badly spelled words on a given page and disrupts her ability to enjoy the book.

For another reader I discussed this with, tense isn’t the focal point of her choice. She illustrated this by walking me through her bookshelf and showing me the different kinds of books she’s enjoyed. One that was a first person present tense had her in tears, while she dismissed another that was in the popular past tense. She and I spoke at length and what she settled on for herself is that the book should be clearly written, with little to no errors that draw her out of the book. The three book series she is currently reading is all in past tense and she’s loving it.

When speaking with one of my beta readers, she found the format of my book, Xarrok: Birth of an Empire 1, effective in conveying the story. She was among those drawn to distraction by it. The book, as it stands, is written in both past and present tense. One reflects memories, while the other looks at the story unfold. She was another who said that she typically preferred the past tense setting in any novel and could find present tense difficult to get into. In her mind, the design of this book makes sense and therefore, she’s drug through the story without being put off by it. As such, she concluded that if a story flows well, characters are built and developed well, and the plot is well established, she will enjoy any book she picks up.

So, three readers and each with a unique take on the subject. What’s yours? Does tense matter to you? Can you get into the rare first person present tense? What are your priorities when you select your next book to read?

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