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  • Writer's pictureChyna T.

Mastering the Art of Tense and Voice


Writing is not merely the art of weaving words together; it is the craft of shaping thoughts, emotions, and stories. Among the myriad elements that constitute this craft, two fundamental pillars stand tall: tense and voice. Authors, both budding and seasoned, must wield these tools with precision, for they can profoundly impact the narrative's tone, pacing, and engagement.


The Dance of Tenses: Past vs. Present

The choice of tense is the heartbeat of your narrative, dictating when the story occurs and how readers engage with it. Authors have two primary options: past tense and present tense.


Past Tense: This is the traditional choice, offering a sense of retrospection. It's a storytelling vehicle that comfortably transports readers into the realm of "once upon a time." It allows for a degree of detachment from the immediacy of the narrative, granting the author space to reflect and interpret events. Past tense is the preferred mode for many fiction novels and historical accounts.

Present Tense: In contrast, present tense immerses readers in the moment. It fosters an intense connection with the story's unfolding events, creating an "in the here and now" sensation. This can infuse a story with immediacy and tension, as readers witness events as they happen. Present tense is often found in contemporary fiction, suspenseful narratives, and first-person accounts.


Understanding when to use each tense is crucial. Past tense may suit epic tales or retrospectives, while present tense can make readers feel like they are active participants in a story's events.


Voice: Active vs. Passive

Voice determines the relationship between the subject and the action within a sentence. It shapes not only the sentence structure but also the reader's perception of events.


Active Voice: In active voice, the subject performs the action. It's direct, concise, and typically more engaging. "The author wrote the book" exemplifies active voice. It places emphasis on the doer of the action, creating clarity and immediacy.

Passive Voice: Passive voice, on the other hand, reverses the order, making the object of the action the focus. "The book was written by the author" is an example of passive voice. It can sound more detached and abstract, potentially distancing readers from the narrative.


The Art of Choice:

Choosing between active and passive voice is about more than sentence structure; it influences the narrative's rhythm and impact. Active voice can quicken the pace and enhance readability, making it the preferred choice for most fiction and non-fiction. Passive voice, however, can be valuable for shifting focus or highlighting the recipient of an action.


Why It Matters for Authors:

  1. Reader Engagement: Tense and voice influence how readers connect with your story. The right combination can draw them in, making them active participants in the narrative.

  2. Narrative Tone: Tense and voice can shape the mood and atmosphere of your story. Past tense might create a sense of nostalgia, while present tense can evoke tension and immediacy.

  3. Character Development: The choice of tense and voice can reflect a character's perspective and personality. A character telling their story in the first person might favor present tense for immediacy.

  4. Pacing: The pace of your narrative can be controlled through tense and voice. Past tense can provide reflective pauses, while present tense can maintain a relentless tempo.

  5. Clarity: Active voice and the right tense can enhance clarity, making complex narratives more accessible to readers.


In conclusion, mastering the art of tense and voice is essential for authors seeking to craft compelling narratives. These tools are not merely grammatical constructs but powerful instruments for shaping stories, engaging readers, and bringing words to life. By understanding the nuances of past vs. present tense and active vs. passive voice, authors can elevate their writing and connect more deeply with their audience.

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