Skip to main content

Forums » RP Discussion » Why past tense?

Legit, I'm new to RP via writing (literally started in October, all tabletop before that). I've never really been in writing circles, and don't know much about common practices, etc. And English isn't my first language.
So I can put two and two together re: first vs. third person, post lengths, etc. But why past tense?

No one said anything when I started my first 2 RPs without using past tense.. until I noticed it and fixed it myself. Then because I made the connection, I've noticed it mentioned everywhere. And that's totally cool, I've adjusted, except I'm not sure why?

Is it a grammar rule, a philosophical thing, just for consistency, or what?
It was something I was taught to do while I was writing essays in English and writing short stories back in high school. So, in my experience, I got used to it. It also was very flexible to me because you could use it both to refer to the past events and previous actions, and oddly, present ones too. There were certain and niche cases where I would use present and future tenses, but I would always just default to past tense because of how versatile it is and it can be used in almost all situations.

Even right now, I'm mostly writing in past tense with some rare present tenses here and there, which my teacher would scold me for if I'm inconsistent with my past tense usage.

So to me, it's not really either grammatical rules, philosophical, and whatnot. I think it's just practical to type in overall.
present tense is really only suited for script/sentence rp because it describes a character actively taking an action. when you write a character doing multiple active actions...it starts to get a little weird and hard to follow.

past tense works for longer format rps because they operate on a sort of "fluid time," if that makes sense. that sort of just means everything isn't happening all at once in a post. the end of the post might be five or ten minutes after the beginning of the post, which can't be done in present tense. why?

well, it's sort of in the name. present tense is for...right now. (; not five minutes ago, or five minutes from now. you're limited solely to what is happening that exact second. which is restrictive for rp.
Hi Silent,

like you English isn't my first language and doing table top RP as well as in game RP with MMORPGs I've done a lot of present tense RP since the RPed was happening in the moment and that was the verb tense fellow RPers were using. When I started doing forum based RP I continued writing in the present tense and I was lucky enough that none of my RP partners seemed to mind. I noticed that most wrote in the past tense and adapted to do the same, but I sill tend to mix them up from time to time. I still don't mind both because depending on the RP it can be seen as happening in the moment.

I tend to go with the tense most people in the group write. I'm not one to come down on someone if they write third person, present tense. I dislike first person since it feels as though there isn't enough of a separation between the writer and character when I read it unless it's the characters brief thoughts or a journal entry. I think it comes down to partner preference and best to ask the people you RP with. Preferences tend to greatly vary.
silentruth Topic Starter

Torag1000 wrote:
It was something I was taught to do while I was writing essays in English and writing short stories back in high school. So, in my experience, I got used to it.
I was never taught this looll (or probably more likely, I was and I wasn't paying attention lol I'm old and can't remember my school days)
Luscinioide wrote:
present tense is really only suited for script/sentence rp because it describes a character actively taking an action. when you write a character doing multiple active actions...it starts to get a little weird and hard to follow.

past tense works for longer format rps because they operate on a sort of "fluid time," if that makes sense. that sort of just means everything isn't happening all at once in a post. the end of the post might be five or ten minutes after the beginning of the post, which can't be done in present tense.
This makes perfect sense. I just needed it articulated like that and it clicks!
Falyn wrote:
like you English isn't my first language and doing table top RP as well as in game RP with MMORPGs I've done a lot of present tense RP since the RPed was happening in the moment and that was the verb tense fellow RPers were using. When I started doing forum based RP I continued writing in the present tense and I was lucky enough that none of my RP partners seemed to mind. I noticed that most wrote in the past tense and adapted to do the same, but I sill tend to mix them up from time to time. I still don't mind both because depending on the RP it can be seen as happening in the moment.
Heheh yeaaah post match for all things~ I actually quite enjoy writing with people who write differently from me. I end up picking up all sorts of cool things, and learning from them. Legit one of my favourite things about RPing here in the last few months is how much I've learned about writing in such a short time. So I tend to not be too strict about my own preferences, and just let myself try new stuff, see what sticks.
silentruth wrote:
Torag1000 wrote:
It was something I was taught to do while I was writing essays in English and writing short stories back in high school. So, in my experience, I got used to it.
I was never taught this looll (or probably more likely, I was and I wasn't paying attention lol I'm old and can't remember my school days)

Well, can't blame ya. You're like over your mid 30's now. I'm in my late 20's though. But yeah, it's something we would learn during English classes. We all wrote in past tense at most.
If it helps to contextualise my answer, I am in my early 30s.

When I first was introduced to creative writing, third person past tense was the standard. When I began exploring online role-playing, same thing. I first started on forums, then Furcadia, and now back to forums again, as well as Discord (and Furcadia still). Across all of those, third person past tense has been the consistent majority.

I personally don't write in first person as I'm not my character, therefore the distinction established by third person works.
okay

ehahaha

okay because

AHAHAHAHA

because ... i mean only for me, it's because i read mostly news and journalism articles; AND THEN i'll hav read some fiction or another in past tense... and i wILL GET THEM CONFUSED.

i am also married to present tense for fanfiction writings because... i got bullied into it idk, some fics i have completely overhauled to be in past tense because it loaned a distance to the reader that was necessary for the style, and some i have rigorously scrubbed into present tense because the mixing of tenses (which i felt was organic and also a style choice) got called out as lazy or confusing.

i mean, short answer, because the relentless march of standardization, that's why.

long answer because print media is just plain wacky, is why.
silentruth Topic Starter

oven wrote:
i mean, short answer, because the relentless march of standardization, that's why.
ROFL I just.. listen....LISTEN.. the moment I hit post on this thread, I knew you had something to say about it.
LIKE THE MOMENT IT POSTED, I WAS LIKE.. OH WAIT OVEN ALREADY ANSWERED THIS IN THE FORM OF A RED RANT AT OUR DROID
silentruth wrote:
oven wrote:
i mean, short answer, because the relentless march of standardization, that's why.
ROFL I just.. listen....LISTEN.. the moment I hit post on this thread, I knew you had something to say about it.
LIKE THE MOMENT IT POSTED, I WAS LIKE.. OH WAIT OVEN ALREADY ANSWERED THIS IN THE FORM OF A RED RANT AT OUR DROID

LMAO

something something write what you know
i know i'm not the only hick on the planet who thinks academia is inherently classist, like from the ground up it's just order and labels and, while useful, could also just learn to chill about some things some times ok ok

I did get better at tense changing, in that the tense has been used to express when a thing has happened at a distance to the reader / without thought that the character might otherwise hold for his own present self; AND then the present stuff is for closer scenes / scenes of action or faster pace (or introspec / emotion).

like yeah it helps to know 'the rules' before you break them, but like, breaking those rules isn't inherently bad or unskilled or w/e.

(i can't tell time. it's an actual handicap. im sensitive abt it.)
(/lying)
Okay time to get the old lady rper out... back in the day... (mid 90s) with text rp we would use past tense to help separate the real from the rp. because at first people had an issue with this. Same reason why 3rd person is more common then first to help separation.
silentruth Topic Starter

oven wrote:
something something write what you know
i know i'm not the only hick on the planet who thinks academia is inherently classist, like from the ground up it's just order and labels and, while useful, could also just learn to chill about some things some times ok ok

I did get better at tense changing, in that the tense has been used to express when a thing has happened at a distance to the reader / without thought that the character might otherwise hold for his own present self; AND then the present stuff is for closer scenes / scenes of action or faster pace (or introspec / emotion).

like yeah it helps to know 'the rules' before you break them, but like, breaking those rules isn't inherently bad or unskilled or w/e.

(i can't tell time. it's an actual handicap. im sensitive abt it.)
(/lying)

AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN IN ACADEMIA FAR TOO LONG.. I cannot agree enough so we'll just.. leave it at that lol
Learning the rules before breaking them is exactly the point.. I just.. apparently have never learned this rule... somehow.. I slept at lot in school..
Masquerade wrote:
Okay time to get the old lady rper out... back in the day... (mid 90s) with text rp we would use past tense to help separate the real from the rp. because at first people had an issue with this. Same reason why 3rd person is more common then first to help separation.

Ah ok - see the first/third person to help with separation made total sense to me. It did not connect for me that past/present tense did the same thing.
Masquerade wrote:
Okay time to get the old lady rper out... back in the day... (mid 90s) with text rp we would use past tense to help separate the real from the rp. because at first people had an issue with this. Same reason why 3rd person is more common then first to help separation.

thank you for this wisdom, i had no idea

(and i forGOT that different pov rp is also A Thing, wow yeah that makes a lot of sense)

Silent you have my condolences, and hopefully not too much (or any) student debt. <_._._<
ca323bb08c448b000cdf9e438c095e4f.gif

Glad I could help!
oven wrote:
Masquerade wrote:
Okay time to get the old lady rper out... back in the day... (mid 90s) with text rp we would use past tense to help separate the real from the rp. because at first people had an issue with this. Same reason why 3rd person is more common then first to help separation.

thank you for this wisdom, i had no idea

(and i forGOT that different pov rp is also A Thing, wow yeah that makes a lot of sense)

Silent you have my condolences, and hopefully not too much (or any) student debt. <_._._<

it is weird because it is the only type of RP those points are a thing. Table top, or LARP trying to get immersive as possible.

The source of the separation concept in the 80-90s there where a lot of issues with D&D and stories of people and people where loosing a sense of self and hurting themselves or others. (most of them were BS)
I think this is very much a second language thing! I have adjusted to past tense as well, because people generally do it. My guess is that it is more common to write fiction in present sense for some languages, and the other way around for others. English fiction is almost always in past tense. I my language (danish) a lot of fiction is written in present tense. It generally sounds better, the present tense sentence structure is more simple, and has a better flow.

After I have gotten used to writing English in past tense, I can see why people prefer it, but in my own language, I still prefer present tense. Maybe it's the same for yours? :^)
I started off with past tense as a writer, due to learning it in school. Then I got really involved in Homestuck RP, where more the norm was often second person present tense (as this is how the comic is written); I think I really liked the immediacy of everything, it made the flow feel comparatively rapid to me. I ended up moving back to third person after I moved to other RP genres again, but for a long while, I kept the present tense, because again, I just liked the flow of it. It felt like telling a story verbally, which helped a lot with getting my thoughts down quickly. Does that make sense?

Anyway, once I started RPing with my husband, I shifted back to past tense, since that's what he's always written in with me. I was surprised to find that past tense made me a lot more thoughtful about my writing and diction. I highly agree with Oven regarding overvaluing of academic "correctness" being classist BS, but by "thoughtful" I mostly mean that it makes me actually think instead of just throwing words at my partner and hitting send like I used to. XD I think it just gets me into a "writing" mindset and out of a "talking" mindset, which for me is what I default into with present tense. Nothing wrong with more colloquial writing at all, and I use it stylistically as a choice sometimes, but I usually stick with past tense nowadays cuz I like how it feels.

Not sure if any of this made sense. XD I will say, I did have fun with a piece of writing for my character Ambrose wherein I used present/past tense in the same paragraph to indicate what part of a repeated experience was happening again, and which part was a memory, if that makes sense? I think there are a ton of really interesting uses for mixed tense. But yeah, I usually just stick to past tense besides stuff like that.
silentruth Topic Starter

G-zus wrote:
I think this is very much a second language thing! I have adjusted to past tense as well, because people generally do it. My guess is that it is more common to write fiction in present sense for some languages, and the other way around for others. English fiction is almost always in past tense. I my language (danish) a lot of fiction is written in present tense. It generally sounds better, the present tense sentence structure is more simple, and has a better flow.

After I have gotten used to writing English in past tense, I can see why people prefer it, but in my own language, I still prefer present tense. Maybe it's the same for yours? :^)
Hahah Chinese has no tenses! We just.. refer to time. We make up for the lack of confusion from tenses, but having 9 (Cantonese) different pronunciations of every character LOOLL
Although, I am not good enough with the language anymore for creative writing, so I can't really say if there's a flow difference compared to English.
Every language has their nonsense, I suppose XD
ogle wrote:
...by "thoughtful" I mostly mean that it makes me actually think instead of just throwing words at my partner and hitting send like I used to. XD I think it just gets me into a "writing" mindset and out of a "talking" mindset, which for me is what I default into with present tense. Nothing wrong with more colloquial writing at all, and I use it stylistically as a choice sometimes, but I usually stick with past tense nowadays cuz I like how it feels.
Absolutely make sense!! (just quoting the part I want to highlight, but everything you said makes sense)
So much of creative writing is completely new to me, so I have no pride and will try out a million different things just to see if I could pull it off (most of the time)... and whether or not I can pull it off more than once (probably not).. ((I wrote something super descriptive and atmospheric of a mountain once, and was like.. welp, that was fun while it lasted, never doing that again. LOL- I mean, I'll probably try again if it comes up.))
I find myself 'picking up' my RP partner's writing styles without noticing, like sentence structures and pacing.. like picking up an accent while in another country looll... but ..I've lost my point.
POINT IS - YES - it ABSOLUTELY informs mindset - and makes me more intentional about what I'm putting on paper/screen.

You are on: Forums » RP Discussion » Why past tense?

Moderators: Keke, Cass, Claine, Dragonfire, Ilmarinen, Ben, Darth_Angelus