Conventions of Composition Rule 155
Rule: The characters in fictional books exist only in the present, so you must always use the present tense to write about what they’re up to.
Note: If something happened to a character before the story you’re reading begins, you may use the past tense to refer to that event.
Wrong: McMurphy was faking being crazy. (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
Better: McMurphy fakes being crazy.
Wrong: Jane went from place to place making documentaries about meat. (My Year of Meats)
Better: Jane travels from place to place making documentaries about meat.
Wrong: Jay Gatsby discovered a beautiful dream. (The Great Gatsby)
Better: Jay Gatsby discovers a beautiful dream.
- Holden met up with his sister and told her what was going on in his life after he left Pencey. (The Catcher in the Rye)
- Humperdinck loved hunting more than anything else he did. (The Princess Bride)
- Elizabeth's mother and father gave her opposite ultimatums about whether or not to accept Mr. Collins' proposal; her mother didn't abide by her own threat after Elizabeth sided with her father. (Pride and Prejudice)
Resources for further explanation of the fictional present:
Texas State's Verb Tense for Analysis of Literature
Collect Cengage's Present Tense