All men want to be me. All women want to be with me....
Now where was I. Ah yes, present tense.
I have recently noticed that several authors I've been encountering have been jumping into the present tense pool without waiting an hour after eating. As a result they splash their readers and ruin a perfectly good afternoon. Here is an example, just so we're all clear, what I'm talking about:
"I'm standing on the corner, waiting for Tillet, listening to a song inside my head. It's begins with a raucous bass line and some outstanding guitar. I tap my feet and hear the first growl of lyrics..."
When I see someone using tense like this my first thought is WHY? I believe in deliberate writing, and I hope that when they started working that they had a deliberate purpose. I hope they thought: "I'm going to use present tense for reason "A" and "B". Too often it's a marker, an overused literary device where the author is actually jumping up and down screaming: “Look at me, I’m a serious writer. I’m stepping outside the box and being bravely literary.”
More often than not, it's probably laziness.
The author just comes with it, not bothering to worry about structure and offering a defense of spontaneity. Others will defend this pretentiousness by lamely offering: "It breaks down the wall between the reader and the author. It's what James Wood, the literary critic, would refer to as 'free indirect style'."
Yesterday I read about two chapters of Nancy Mauro's "New World Monkeys". Mauro was an advertising creative director and copywriter in Canada and the United States. And then most recently, she received an MFA. Now, she writes in present tense. To be fair, I'll probably return to her book and see if I can fight my way past this distraction, but as I read through the opening I kept asking: "What? Why are we in present tense? Why? WHY? WHY?!!!!"
Writers, stop distracting the readers by stepping outside the box when stepping outside the box is an empty gesture. Stop trying to break convention for the sake of breaking convention. You owe it to the reader and to the form.