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Three Tenses

Past, present and future. The three tenses of everything. In writing, that’s where it gets more complicated. When do you use which? How to do so? Can you switch?

Past Tense

1) Most common throughout writing. Usually third and first person, lessly second.

2) Has a narrative flow to it, as if the story has happened and someone is now telling it to the reader.

Ex. It was dark that night, with rain the poured from sky like the tears she shed.


It’s dark tonight, with rain that pours from the sky like the tears she sheds.


It will be dark that night, with rain that’s bound to pour like the tears she has yet to shed.

Present Tense

1) Also common throughout writing. Mainly third or first person, occasionally second.

2) Has a dialogue-like flow to it, as if another character is telling you what’s happening.

Ex. She kneels, looking up at the man she loves. He’s taken aback, eyes wide and hands trembling. She smiles, opening a small box that holds nothing less than a ring.


She kneeled, and looked up at the man she has grown to love. He was taken aback, eyes wide as his hands trembled. She smiled, and opened a small box. It held nothing less... than a ring.


She will kneel, look up at the man she will love. He’ll be taken aback, eyes wide as his hands tremble. And she’ll smile, open a small box, that will hold nothing less than a ring.

Future tense

1) More rare than the other two tenses. Usually in third person nonfiction or second person.

2) Has a more prophetic flow; someone predicting what will happen.

Ex. The banshee will scream for you, too... won’t it? I wish it never had to call for her, for I know soon her wail for you will ring. A shame it will be to lose you.


The banshee screams for you, too. I wish it never had to call for her, for now her wail for you rins. A shame it is to lose you.


The banshee screamed her you, too. I had wished it never called for her, and moreso for you. A shame it was to lose you.

When to Use Each

1) PROLOGUE: Either or all. If it regards the story/character’s history, past. If it explains the story/what will happen, future. If it regards the mindset of a character/story, present.

2) STORY: Either or all. A fiction, most likely past, maybe present. A nonfiction, most likely present, possibly past. A second person, most likely present, maybe future. It all depends on the writing style and context in which it is written.

3) DIALOGUE: Most likely present or future, past when context calls for it.

4) FORESHADOWING: Either same tense as the rest of the story, or, if it’s a question for the reader/character’s reflection, future tense.

All of Them?

1) Well yes, but actually no.

2) Some setences are already in past tense, so other descriptions/words will have present tense particles. It doesn’t change the story’s tense.

Ex. She held tightly onto the sword as it swung, moonlight glinting off the blade with calm radiance.

3) Using the questioning/reflection foreshadowing tactic, change of tense is welcomed in the name of stylization.

Ex. I ran. I ran from my pack, ran from my mate, ran from it all. I ran from the blood I had spilt, ran from hate was bound to be made, ran from being Alpha. Would I have turned back, if I knew what came next? I’d like to believe I would.

4) In dialogue, the tense can often change. Whether is be the character’s speaking habits or context, tense change throughout dialogue has little to no (bad) effect on the story.

What NOT to Do

1) Change the tense in the middle of a paragraph.*

2) Use one tense for much of the story, then suddenly change it to another.*

3) Use all three tenses at once. All the time. Nonstop switching.

4) Use the same tense for every word, all the time, no matter what.**

*Unless context calls for it to be switched.

**Possible, but unlikely to work.

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