Help A Sister Out - Thoughts on an excerpt and present tense

I’m gathering my notes on a new story I plan to start updating once my WIP is complete. After playing around with it, I decided to try going for present tense because it felt more impactful to me. This would be my first time using present tense.

What I’m looking for:

  • Feedback on this small excerpt (because it’s my first time doing present tense)
  • Feedback/opinions on present tense (in general. Likes/dislikes, etc.)
  • I suppose I should open up the floor to internal monologue as well, as there would be a lot of it in this story

Excerpt and General Story Idea:
(Click to open them)


Suddenly, one of the jurors glances back. I can see his aged skin from my seat. His hair is salt-and-pepper, gray and black, and he looks old enough to be my dad.

He has a daughter, I can tell by the way he’s looking at me.

I see something in his eyes - recognition. The lightbulb flickers on. I could be his daughter, I could be one of her friends. I could be his mother or his sister or his niece.

He has put a face to my story, because my face wasn’t good enough. I am not human until I matter to him.

Story Idea

The story follows a woman who has left her abusive boyfriend and is pursuing charges against him. It picks up in the ER after he had attacked her. By that point, she had already left the relationship but he was attempting to get her back.

The court case that follows spans the entire book and it ends with the verdict. There will be a really, really, really slow romantic sub-plot with a friend who supports her throughout.

Thanks to anyone willing to take a look :heart:

do you have the exercpt? i’d be willing to take a look :slight_smile:

present tense can work really well. especially in genres that already have a lot of other works with present tense because it doesn’t feel bizarre to the reader (compared to, for example, high fantasy where virtually nothing is written in present tense and it might feel really weird to some of the readers because it’s not what they are used to). Present tense can make what is happening feel more immediate can really drag a reader in.

When it comes to internal monologue I would advise to err on the side of caution. There are definitely writers who can pull it off exceptionally but without reading your writing first it’s hard to say if it suits your style. Generally when it comes to writing, action and people actually doing things is far more interesting to a reader than reading someone’s thoughts play out. And you also need to be conscious that internal monologue is often a cheap way to tell rather than show the story unfolding. A little bit here and there, just a couple sentences at a time is definitely OK, but if you’re planning paragraphs after paragraphs of monolugue be aware that it can get kinda boring particularly if it occurs early on before we are properly invested in the character(s).

1 Like

I have the excerpt and story idea both hidden with “hide details”, just click the black triangles that say “Excerpt” and “Story Idea”

Yes, this is exactly what I’m hoping for. The whole story is really intense and raw, and I just feel like present tense would push that a little further. That’s the goal at least.

I would say it would probably be more than just here and there, but not paragraph after paragraph. Right now it’s just notes and several scenes written out, so I haven’t fully incorporated everything just yet.

The reason I’m thinking there will be a good amount of it is because I’m hoping to cover those really emotional thoughts that go through her head during some of the tense moments in the story. For example, the excerpt takes place in the courtroom. The first chapter is in the ER.

It’s not going to be stuff like descriptions of the room she’s in or anything like that, it’s more going to be what someone who has actually been in that situation is thinking and feeling and worried about. Does that make a difference, do you think?

I’m usually not a fan of present tense because a lot of authors are absolutely horrific at writing them, lol. They cram too much in there and it becomes jumbled.

Luckily that wasn’t an issue with yours. If you keep it simple and streamlined like this throughout the book, I wouldn’t have an issue reading it.

And everything is internal monologue when you’re writing in first person pov, lol.

1 Like

Weeee this makes me happy. Yeah, it’s not going to be some pretty, poetic writing so I figured it couldn’t go too horribly. Just genuine thoughts and feelings as they happen.

:joy: I meant like, as opposed to a ton of dialogue and a lot of information being revealed in that way (she’s not doing much talking in the ER until the police arrive, for example. There will be more of that throughout when she’s expected to tell her side of the story though.)

Which is what works for first person pov anyways, regardless of tense. So that’s a super good direction.

Ooohh, hmmm… I’d find a middle ground. Don’t let it all be down to narration, and don’t rely on dialogue for all the infor either. It works especially well with dialogue because it’s in present tense.

1 Like

oh whoops i didn’t notice i could click it. ahaha. I is idiot.

your present tense is fine. you even have a bit of monologue here in the excerpt i think it can work pretty well with your style actually. as long as the monologue is meaningful and you intersperse it nicely with stuff happening i think it will read really well.

as long as you keep to using the monolgue to demonstrate her emotions rather than saying exactly how she feels it’s gonna read really well. stuff like “I am not human until I matter to him.” shows us a lot about how she is feeling without every telling exactly how she feels. Keep this sort of thing up and you’re golden.

(also - this is such a tiny tiny note but it is my most major pet peeve so i am going to tell you - try to avoid the word sudden or suddenly. by adding that extra word you are padding the sentence out more and it feels less sudden than if you just said what happened, if that makes sense? in this case if you want the juror looking back to feel even more sudden, try replacing “looks” with a really vivid verb)

1 Like

I’ll try to keep that in mind and not go too crazy with it :joy: thank you!

That’s the goal! I plan to not use it for just any old description or to tell what’s going on, it’s more for the thoughts similar in tone to that last sentence.

I have a couple of other examples if that would be helpful:

Looking around the ER:

This is what I imagine prison to feel like. Real prison, not the one I’m already trapped in inside of my head.

While making her statement to police:

I don’t feel anything. I am numb, I don’t know if that’s comforting or frightening.

At the beginning of the court process:

In the United States, we swear by ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Unless you’re a victim of rape, of course. Then you’re just a liar until proven innocent.

After the famous “why didn’t you leave” line (could be triggering):

“Why didn’t you just leave?” It’s an innocent enough question, and fair if I’m being honest. But my insides twist and I want to fucking scream.

They don’t understand what happened when I tried. They weren’t there for those times. They didn’t witness it so they can’t even fathom the consequences.

I can’t tell them about when I tried and he’d beat me so badly when he found out, that I wondered if my only way out was a bodybag. I can’t tell them about the times I actually escaped only to have no money, no anything, to get me away from that hell. I can’t tell them anything, so I don’t.

This makes me feel a lot better. That’s what I’m hoping to keep up throughout the entire story, but I definitely think I’ll be popping in here to get feedback on things like this along the way. This means a lot to me, and I really want to do it justice.

Haha noted. Thank you! I actually just realized I used “look” twice as well.

Good luck! :four_leaf_clover:

Also, I really like the sound of the plot and how you wanna execute it. I’ve always admired authors who could jump back and forth between storylines and plot progressions without losing the readers.

1 Like

Thank you! Haha lets hope I can pull it off. I have it all laid out, I just have to make it work.

My biggest concern is, since it starts after she has already left the boyfriend, nailing those glimpses into the past without it sounding forced. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks because they always feel so forced to me. A lot goes down with the ex in the present, after the initial ER scene, but so much of the story is dependent on their past relationship as well.

What you can do is write them in past tense, as they come up during the court procedure. So, they start talking about this and that date, and she starts telling about it. Kind of a lá Interview With the Vampire. (I can actually really recommend you read that one as it’s doing the same with its plot structure as you’re planning)

1 Like

You know, this has to be like the tenth time someone has mentioned this. Maybe I should take it as a sign :joy:

1 Like

Hahahaha, it’s a damn good book! But especially for what you’re trying to accomplish, I think it’d be a marvellous reference and inspiration :smile:

1 Like

I will definitely check it out then. Thank you!!

1 Like

i like the last two on that list quite a lot.

for the ER one - i think “this is what I imagine prison to feel like” stands well on its own. talking about the prison of your mind veers a little towards cliche and can come off as a bit cheesy.

and for the one about the statement - generally you should try to stay away from “I am…” statements about emotions unless the person is saying the opposite of/not what they actually feel. readers like subtext and they like it when things aren’t laid out as simply as “i am” because it gives them nothing to really think about. that doesn’t mean there aren’t situations in which it is appropriate to do this, and from the sounds of it this might be something she actually says to the police (?) in which case keep it as it is. But just bear in mind this one is telling rather than showing and that will not feel as compelling to your readers because of that.

1 Like

I, personally, detest present-tense. There are only a handful of authors I can read that actually use it without me realizing it.

Your excerpt is fine, though. Nothing too distracting for me. Just find a balance between monologue/dialog. Vary your sentence structure. And show action just as instant and impactful as the tense you’re using.

1 Like

Hi there,

I like present tense, but I don’t find tense a big issue either way. Most works in past tense can be transcribed to present tense with little effort, and vice versa, and there is no major change (for me) in how it feels to read.

Some readers hate present tense, though. In some cases, that might be because the writer lets the style become overly introspective - as though the present tense gives them licence to do so. In other cases, the dislike of present tense is due to a strong reader aversion that doesn’t have a clear basis and cannot be fixed by anything short of changing the tense. One reader once told me that anything written in present tense made them feel like a breathy sports commentator was narrating everything, and that feeling intruded to the point of destroying their enjoyment.

Some folk can’t get around the fact that the character can’t have had time to write anything, so how do the words appear on the page at the same time as the action? (“I swing my sword at him.” But wait, you’re typing/writing that, so you’re not swinging your sword now; you did it in the past.) In the past tense, it can be imagined that the writing happened later, once the action is over. This line of thought has no appeal to me - I’m aware it’s fiction, and I don’t need to imagine that the character got a chance to write it.

I wrote some stuff in present tense years ago and got so much negative feedback about the tense I changed the tense of the whole novel to keep the readers happy. With my current work, also in the present tense, no one has even mentioned it. Maybe it’s because I am writing YA fantasy, where it is reasonably common.

1 Like

I do find when I write in the present tense that I shift back and forth between past and present sometimes. And I’m far from perfect. It’s usually when I use my MC to describe what’s happening at that moment compared to how that same instances made him feel in the past which lead to a different end result.

In your except you point out that one of the jurors has a daughter. How does she know that? Perhaps you could describe a subtle expression on his face that reminds her of her dad and that he could be one too.

1 Like

For me Present Tense works for some writing, particularly stream of consciousness.

I think your writing sample meets the stream-of consciousness kinda thing, but on another hand, the character voice does not have the smooth, coating, tender embrace of the successful present tense narration because all the sentences are short, most of them starting with ‘I’ or ‘He’ and the character driving in facts like nails into the board.

I would suggest more personal musings and opinions to soften the piece and take out that drumming feel that really draws attention to the pitfalls of the present tense, rather than takes away. At a minimum, I would suggest eliminating the filters, like ‘I see, I look, I think’ etc.

I like the contrast of the junior and an image of old man though :slight_smile:

1 Like