Using tenses in fiction writing

Home learning focus

To explore how experimenting with grammar can aid your fiction writing.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos to help you see how the past, present and future tenses can be used in fiction writing

  • three activities


Watch this short clip to recap your knowledge of the different tenses you can write in.

Watch to find out how to use tenses in your own writing.

When writing, it’s important to use the correct form of a verb, to give a little more context to your reader. Remember, the verb is the part of a sentence that shows the tense - it shows when something is happening.

Most novels are written in the past tense. Readers are more familiar with this tense because they are used to being told a story that has already taken place.

Many make the mistake of confusing their use of ‘was’ and ‘were’. Remember, for a single person you would use ‘was’‘I was’, ‘she was’ etc. However, for more than one person, you would use ‘were’‘they were’ or ‘we were’.

When writing be aware of your verb tense. Carelessly switching from one tense to another can confuse the reader. If you choose to switch tense, make sure it is as part of a deliberate plot choice.

Watch the following clip to see the past and present tenses in action in a scary story.

Watch to find out how the past tense can create a sense of urgency.


Activity 1

Check your understanding of using tenses in your writing. Take this quiz to find out how much you know.

Activity 2

Using this picture for inspiration, write two paragraphs.

Start with one in first person and in present tense – describing the moment as it happens. Then, have a go at writing in third person and in past tense – describing the moment as though it happened before.

Take a look at the picture above for inspiration.

Top tip!
When writing in first person, become the woman in the image. Consider what she would feel, what she would want to say, what she would see, what she would hear etc.

When writing in third person, imagine you are watching the woman and describe her movements. Consider the fact that you may not know what she is feeling or thinking, but you would be able to describe her movement and expression in clear detail.

First person, present tense – ‘Sitting on this case, I feel cold and lost. Birds chirp behind me, but I cannot bring myself to look back’.

Third person, past tense – ‘Rain pelted down on to her sodden umbrella. Her face looked as though she had not smiled for some time. Behind her was the sound of birds chirping, but sadly she did not look back’.

Activity 3

Test out your grammatical skills with more quizzes from SAM Learning.

Test your knowledge with today's quizzes

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about the role grammatical choices can play in fiction writing.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you make your writing interesting, engaging and accurate.

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