I was recently quoted in a friend’s blog post. I had responded to a question on facebook, and of course, I was so stark that my comment was quoted. I said I hated present tense. Now, that’s my preference as a reader. I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to what I read. Present tense and first person don’t make logical sense to me, and they don’t feel like a story to me. For me, both present tense and first person are a barrier, an extra layer between the reader (me) and the story. They remind me I’m not actually experiencing a story, I’m just reading some fiction some person wrote.
That said, occasionally, first person and present tense are done very well. I thought present tense was a good choice for The Hunger Games (though it didn’t work as well for me in the sequels). Since it was present first person, I didn’t know if the main character would make it or not. I was genuinely worried about Katniss, so I really got into the story. The present tense jarred me out of the story only every seven pages or so instead of every other page, ha ha.
I had never read third person present tense until I (finally) got ahold of a copy of my friend Adi’s book, Strange, Sweet Song. I was not jarred out of the story once. As a reader, I thought Adi’s use of present tense was the most well done I have ever read. The book takes place in two different times, past and present. The alternation of tenses gently let me know which branch of the story I was reading without awkward chapter titles.
As several people have said—and I quite agree—often, if a tense (or person) is done well, the reader won’t notice it.