Friday, December 26, 2014

Historical Present Tense (Part 8 of 9)

Using the historical present tense is a helpful device to create a sense of immediacy to your writing. You write about an event that took place in the past but in the present tense.

We often begin stories in the past tense so readers know when the event happened, and then transition to the present tense.

* Abraham Lincoln once took a vote in a cabinet meeting on whether to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. (We started with the past tense, took.) All his cabinet secretaries vote nay, whereupon Lincoln raises his right hand and declares: 'The ayes have it.' "[1] The second verb, vote, is in the present, as well as raises and declares.

* Jesus has been speaking for a long time and it's getting late in the day. He turns to his disciples and says, "Give them something to eat." (Notice the tense shift between the two sentences.) 

As a device to make my writing more vivid,
I use the present historical tense to relate past events.

[1] Peter W. Rodman, Presidential Command. Vintage, 2010)

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Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit

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