Tell a story in the present tense that starts when your character enters a new environment and ends when they exit.
This story could be a single episode from a larger quest, that illuminates something about your character (useful for those of you who have a longer work-in-progress on the go), or it could be a standalone story.
I’m encouraging you to tell the story in the present tense because it makes the story so much more immediate AND leaves the possibility open for absolutely anything to happen at the end of the story.
Want your character to drift off into space uncertain of their fate? Want them to die at the end? Want to keep the reader on the edge of their seat? These things are all easier to pull off when your story is in the present tense.
If you start your story “I’m walking down the middle of the road, traffic roaring past in both directions on either side of me, pulling the folds of my long gown this way and that, like hands grabbing at my dress…” the reader has no idea if this character is going to survive or not.
If the same story was told in the past tense, (“I was walking down the middle of the road…”) there is an implied ‘later’, an older version of the character who survives to tell us the story.
You don’t have to be out to murder your character, to use this perspective, but it can be very useful in stories where you want to ratchet up the suspense and the sense that anything could happen.
It’s also good practice to mix up our natural inclinations from time to time.
If you’re feeling resistance to any of these ideas, remember: I’ve lost count of the number of writers who told me they hated (HATED) a particular prompt, and write to it anyway, only to have it turn out to be the most interesting (and often published) story they wrote that year.
Julie Duffy is typing this prompt on an ergonomic keyboard. The large maple tree outside her window is being buffeted by spring storms, reaching its branches towards her windows as if it wants to come inside. Wait, what was that noise?
Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!
22 thoughts on “Day 10- Stick With Me by Julie Duffy”
This was sooooo hard! I am a very descriptive writer so it’s very easy for me to get carried away with setting up the scene (environment, feelings and all that) I had to pull myself back once I realised that the story would get too long if I followed the trajectory. I even ended up changing the ending but it still worked out. Thanks for the challenge!
Gold star to you, for rising to the challenge and stretching yourself!
I wrote a story about myself in which I became younger. It was wonderful to imagine I was in my 30’s again and had the energy and wonderful feeling of a different future.
Great time writing today!!!
In spite of a busy day ahead I sat down for the free half hour I had and wrote to the prompt.
I had an idea for a chapter in a book I’m working on. This first person present-tense scene would be perfect for an inserted chapter I need with a change of POV. This chapter will reveal a secondary character who up until this point will be hidden.
I surprised myself by getting 500 words on the page. It’s not the whole chapter I need but it’s a great start and more than I had without this prompt.
That is awesome!
My story is about a youngish man whose family owns a home that is on the National Register of Historic Places. He discovers a secret room that no one knows about. I’m 2500 words in and the story is not letting go. The title is “Party Like It’s 1865.” I just came up for air and discovered I switched to past tense three pages ago. Aargh! Great prompt, it’s really stretching me as a writer.
I love using present tense for all of the reasons you mention in the prompt, Julie. I used today’s prompt to figure out the details of a scene in which one of my main characters makes an important discovery and then a life-altering decision. I knew the beginning and the end, but not the middle. Using present helped me decide how to connect them.
Wrote an in-the-moment, 1,250 word story called “Murderous Thoughts” about a middle-aged man who joins a Tai Chi class to exercise and make new friends. But he soon spies an older man, whom he thinks brought his father to ruin. As he’s going through the motions in class, he fumes about what to do, then follows the man to the parking lot after to confront him. It doesn’t go as he thought it might.
Loved the exercise. Fun to keep the character even-keeled throughout the exercises despite his thoughts that threatened to throw him off course.
I wrote 912 words. It was hard to stay in the present tense. I relived the first night I played pool (billiards) on a league.
The smell of smoke assaults me as soon as I open the door of the Thirsty Turtle. I still can’t believe I’m walking into a bar. I don’t smoke. I don’t like the taste of beer. And I don’t know how to play pool.
(Ten years later, I’m still on the same team, but not much else has changed.)
Finished an irreal flash-fiction piece entitled Present Tense. It was fun!
Gathering more scenes / background for Wraiths (urban fantasy novel). Today I got to play with Darjeeling, the sister commonly known as Jeelee, because I realized my readers haven’t met her in person yet. The storage room in the Greek diner where she works turns out to be more than first meets the eye … or is it Jeelee who holds untold mysteries?
Oooo… you got me curious!
ME, MILU & GOD
I have always believed in God. I may be looked upon as a spineless man but my belief has only grown stronger over the years.
If I were Shiv Khera, I’d have modified the poem
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
Have faith in God; Your worries will be over,
Your hurts will be healed.
Anyway today is an important day for my daughter, Milu, as she is going to her new workplace. For those of you who don’t know her, let me give a brief sketch. Milu is in the final semester trying to major in Journalism. Good looking, tall for a girl of her age, she has straight, long, jet black hair. The best thing about her is her eyes. Adorned with the kajol, they are just hypnotic and pull you towards her. Besides, she is a brilliant student. Naturally, guys, especially those at her college, fall head over heels for her.
She has landed up with this part-time job by courtesy of a friend, Samrat. I don’t know much about him but have a feeling that he is fida for her. Naturally, I don’t like him.
I have decided to accompany Mili on the second day to her office as well I am worried as parents in this part of the world normally are.
A small room on the ground floor of a two-storied building serves as her office. Inside there are two desks placed side-by-side against the wall opposite with a chair each in front. There is a shining, black Canon scanner in the middle connected to the two computers, one each on the desks. Milu’s job is to scan popular novels and upload them online for her Company for readers all over the world, like what Kindle or Amazon does, you know.
As she opens the main gate, someone calls her on the phone. I hear her ask, “Who’s calling?” and then she listens to the speaker at the other end.
“Who’s that?” I ask Milu.
“What does he want?” I ask irritably.
“He was telling me about a few errors I made yesterday.”
I keep quite. A part of her salary will be deducted for any errors she makes while working. Milu has started working due to her desire to stand on her own feet despite my related warnings to focus on her studies. Any untoward incident at the work place, I feel, is bound to have long-term repercussions on her.
“Our Boss,” she continues, “isn’t professional. Had he been so when Samrat talked to him about the error, Boss ought to have asked him to talk to me first.”
“I don’t like your Boss. The man is partial to Samrat.” I whine out.
“He’s known Samrat for quite long. Samrat is trying to be in his good book by pointing my errors. I don’t try to take such advantage …either of friends or relations. Some people have no sense of ethics.”
I don’t know if there is a hurt or worry in her voice. For a moment, Milu not sitting on the seat in bus meant for the Senior Citizens, or the Handicapped flashes through my mind. She is a girl different from most others.
“Don’t worry. Often the shrewdest people are the ones most insecure at heart.” I try to comfort.
As soon as she unlocks the office door and pulls out a chair from beneath the desk, there is a call from Samrat again. I can’t hear as my daughter speaks in a low tone but I hear my daughter reply :
“You took the book without even bothering to inform me?”
There is a silence again before the connection gets cut off by Milu as she seems visibly upset.
Sitting on the chair next to her, I feel sad. I am a man with no power or connection. Her friends must have known that. That’s why this chit of a boy is trying to take advantage of my daughter.
Milu in the meantime, switches the computer on and starts working at it. Within an hour, she has finished scanning some 200 pages. She has to make a folder next for each chapter of the book, enter all the folders in a bigger one. At the rate she is going, I surmise, she will finish her work within 4 hours.
At around 2 in the afternoon, she breaks for lunch. We share the home-made sandwiches her mother made. As Milu goes to the washroom to wash the plastic container, I go out for a cup of tea and a cigarette from a nearby tea-stall.
She calls me after some 15 minutes.
“Baba, I’m done. Can you come over? ”
That’s when the thought of God crops up in my mind. People like Samrat may be clever, opportunistic, manipulative and so on, but I don’t need to worry about them. So long as they don’t mend their ways, God won’t come to their aid to reduce their worries, heal their hurts.
I used the first-person present tense approach last week, in the story featuring a flash of light. My plan was for the flash to be the last thing the narrator ever sees. I started writing in the usual past tense, but realized about half way through that I either had to switch to third-person or to the present tense. I opted for present tense because I liked the narrator’s voice.
For today’s story, I tried to have the present tense suggest that the main character is living in the moment, and won’t or can’t think about the future. At least not his own.
That’s a great use of it, because it tells me so much about the character.
I was like Fallon. My first sentence was in past tense. “I was late.” I changed it to “I am late.”
Then I had to go through the story and find all the verbs that were past tense and switch things around. Very interesting prompt. I have never tried to write in present tense before
Writing in present is something that I’m not accustomed to doing lately, sometimes it slips in my writing, but for a short brief time. It’s usually hard conscious work. When I started writing, I wrote like that, in present (I just say present because I’m unaware of the difference between all the existing presents), and I didn’t know another way of writing until I knew some people that told me they didn’t understand my writing. It was then when I changed it, to always past, to always third person.
While reading this prompt something somehow clicked on me about my actual story, I felt something wasn’t working, and maybe it’s because I’m writing something that should be in the present in the past. I will try to rewrite a few scenes to see how I feel and how it changes but thank you for letting me have this realization.
Isn’t it funny how something as seemingly simple as tense can hold they key to making huge changes in how we tell (and read) a story?
Present tense is very difficult for me. First sentence and I’d already slipped into past tense. I did better after that, but I had to keep reminding myself to stick to present tense. I wrote a 345-word story with a character I just brainstormed last night and the first time xe meets Lee. It…doesn’t go well.
And look, you kept to the present tense for that last sentence too!
This was a fun prompt. I wrote a 916-word first draft about someone who steps back into the unfamiliar environment of a corporate office. She has to endure the stale afternoon breath and dry air-conditioning of office folk while trying to justify her time away from corporate with a little bit of a twist at the end. (Though as much as I wanted them all to be aliens at the end I restrained myself)