The Benefits and Drawbacks of Future Tense
Follows: Present Tense
When you write, there are numerous things that you need to decide. The tense you use in is one of those things, and choosing the right one for your story will set the tone and pace perfectly. This essay looks at future tense; what it is and the positives and negatives of using it.
Future tense is writing your piece with the view that these events are going to happen. You are literally writing about the future. There are four different types of future tense: simple future, future continuous, future perfect, and future perfect continuous.
Simple future tense is used to describe an event or action that will take place. It can also be used to express a prediction, a promise or a plan.
I will write a book.
Future continuous tense is used when the action or event that you’re describing will be interrupted by a shorter action, or actions that will happen at the same time as each other.
I will be writing a book while I think about books.
Future perfect tense is used to describe an event or action that will be finished before something else.
I will have finished my book by December.
Future Perfect Continuous
Future perfect continuous tense is used to describe something that has a duration and ends before something specific happening in the future.
I will have finished my book by the time I publish it.
Each different iteration of present tense can and should be used in your work if you are writing about the future. They should all culminate together.
I will smoke a cigarette while my friends tell me to stop. I’ll stop before I get ill from it. I will have given up by the time I’m thirty.
You don’t need to worry about the nitty gritty details of which type of future tense you are using for a particular sentence at one time, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind the differences between each and use them to convey the message that you are trying to convey. But is future tense the right one for your story?
It’ll get you noticed. With the rarity of published material being written in future tense, if you manage to do a good job, it’ll get you noticed for doing something different, for breaking the mould.
It allows you to play around with the concept of the events that you’re describing being remarkably fluid. They’re taking place in the future and, I’m loath to quote Terminator here, but the future isn’t set. It really is an unparalleled opportunity for you to make the reader question if the event has to happen at all.
Unfortunately, the fact that the events you’re describing haven’t happened yet is also a massive drawback. You can, and probably will, struggle to make your reader care about your characters or events because they haven’t happened and may not happen. It’s a very fine line to make that work and it’s not one that I’d particularly want to traverse, personally.
The rarity of future tense being used is also a drawback. Because people are unlikely to have read much, if anything, written in this way, it’s going to be quite jarring and it’s going to force them to take a bit of time for them to get used to it. While they’re doing this they’re not getting into your story, which is what you want them to be doing.
Every single sentence you write has to follow a very regimented pattern. There’s only so many ways that you can say that a character will do something. “He will,” “she is going to,” “I will be,” and so on. That will get annoying to your reader very quickly and it’s not easy to do without doing that.
Future tense is something that you probably haven’t seen before and probably won’t see very often. Also, unlike present and past tense, it’s not easy to overcome the drawbacks by writing well. Unless you really know what you’re doing, I’d avoid future tense, personally, and stick with one of the others.
I’ve been referring to writing your entire piece of work in one tense for the purpose of these articles. You can mix and match your tenses if you’d like. A vision of the future or a flashback can easily allow you to change tense. Having said that, it’s generally a good idea to stick to one tense. You can include others, and it can work well for your story, but you need to make sure that you avoid all of the tropes and clichés of doing that.
I hope that I’ve given you something to think about when you’re deciding what tense you should write a particular story in, and that I’ve given you a few pointers to help you decide. If you have anything that you’d like to add about your favourite of the tenses post your thoughts in the comments below.
© 2016 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.