This is a question that I have been pondering for a while.

As anyone who has read stories written in English can tell you, most stories are written in past tense. Why? Well, the main reason is that writing stories in past tense has been the convention for as long as anyone can remember. Moreover, stories written in the present tense have a reputation for being poorly written.

That doesn’t mean you can’t write a good story in present tense. “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens (written mostly in present tense and includes sections written in past tense) and “Rabbit, Run” by John Updike (written entirely in present tense) are considered to be classics.

The following are the pros and cons of writing in present tense. The cons also hint at other reasons that most stories are written in past tense.

The pros of writing in present tense:

  1. Stories written in present tense feel like a movie
  2. Present tense creates more intense emotions
  3. Present tense works well with a deep third-person point of view
  4. Present tense is the best choice for short-time frame stories with constant action
  5. Present tense works well with unreliable narrators

The cons of writing in present tense:

  1. Some people simply hate reading stories written in present tense
  2. Present tense is not as flexible and it can be awkward to shift to past events or future events
  3. Present tense is hard to use effectively, because it is not as flexible
  4. There is little to no narration in stories that are written in present tense.
  5. There are 12 verb tenses in English, and you will be limited to 4 verb tenses (simple present, present progressing, simple future and sometimes simple past) if you write in present tense.

By the way, you can write stories in future tense in English, but they are very rare. I know of only two stories that are written in future tense, and they are “The Book of Revelation” and “Gylfaginning”. Both stories give details on the upcoming end of the world and its subsequent rebirth.

I got the above from this source: (https://thewritepractice.com/past-tense-vs-present-tense/).

That’s how English stories are written. So how about Japanese stories? The few Japanese stories that I have read so far seem to be written in present tense, but they have some parts written in past tense. I am willing to guess that there are probably no Japanese stories written in future tense. The Japanese language treats the base form of verbs as having present or future tense and the reader has to rely on context to figure out which tense is being used, so trying to write a Japanese story in future tense would be difficult at best.

I look forward to your answers!

1 Answer 1


This employment of present tense is called historical present (or 史的現在 in Japanese). I think Japanese novels tend to use it more often than English ones.

In Japanese novels, past tense and present tense are often mixed even within one paragraph. It's hard to generalize, but I have heard that past tense is typically used to "move the story forward" while present tense is mainly used to "describe the current scene vividly". For example, please see my previous answer.

See also:

If I understand correctly, there is no grammatical "future tense" in Japanese.

  • Thank you so much! I think you answered my question quite well! I had a feeling Japanese stories were written differently from stories written in English, and it looks like I was right. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 12:50

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