Tense Usage in Creative Writing

Past tenses are commonly used in literary works. They allow readers to view events as they happen and explore characters and past events in detail. 

However, that doesn’t mean the other tenses can’t be used in creative writing. Use the following guide to help you use the past, present, and future tense forms when writing in a creative or storytelling manner. 

Using Past Tenses in Creative Writing

Past tenses, which show that something happened or was happening in the past, are the most common tense found in various creative publications. Take a look at how you can put it to use:

Narrative Control

Many stories are narrated in the past tense concerning events that have already happened. This helps the author and reader feel more in control since the past tense describes situations that are already resolved. It also allows the author to create a more detailed context for the storyline and its setting. 

Provide History, Reflection, or Information About Past Events

The past tense enables deeper reflection on the past events leading up to the current story. It allows for reflection and making connections to previous circumstances.

Create a Backstory or Context of Current Events

A backstory or past context is typically written in the past tense. It contributes to character development, offering deeper insights into previous behaviors and actions. These details can help a reader understand why a character speaks or acts a certain way. 

Manipulate Time

With past tense, you can manipulate time to explain when something occurred. You can briefly summarize months or years in just a few sentences if they’re not important to the story. Or, a few minutes can be stretched out over pages of text to let the reader experience what a character may be feeling. 

Using Present Tenses in Creative Writing

The present tense creates a sense of immediacy in a written work. It involves readers directly in the action and helps them connect with the characters and the story as it happens. This is often used in crime stories, thrillers, and young adult genres.  

Create a Sense of Immediacy

Using the present tense makes readers feel like they’re witnessing the events as the characters experience them. 

Help Make Connections with Characters

The use of the present tense allows readers to connect more deeply with the characters because they become invested in the story’s actions. 

Drive the Action or Drama

Using the present tense makes the action or drama feel more intense and real because the characters’ responses are immediate and unexpected. It adds a sense of urgency to the action and drama. 

Explore Characters’ Thoughts

Present tense helps readers to deeply explore the characters’ internal dialogues or thoughts, helping them better understand their reactions and feelings towards the events in the story. 

Using Future Tenses in Creative Writing

The future tense is rarely used in creative writing, but it can still be used effectively. Use the future tense to show events that haven’t happened yet and to create suspense to engage your readers. 

Foreshadowing and Building Suspense

Authors use foreshadowing to create suspense and build anticipation for future events, keeping readers engaged through plot twists. 

Show Character Intentions

The use of the future tense allows you to describe a character’s intentions, plans, or goals and dreams. 

Introduce Changes and Development 

The future tense can also be used to highlight changes and developments in the story. 

Using Mixed Tenses in Creative Writing

While consistency in writing is important, mixing tenses can work well when properly used, especially in creative writing. It can add detail and depth for a unique literary experience. 

Flashbacks and Past Context

If you’re writing in the present tense and want to include information about a past event, switch to the past tense. This is also how you create a flashback. 

Narrative Shifts

Use mixed tenses when you change perspective from one character to another or change the narrative. This practice often creates deeper, more meaningful storylines.