In the beginning, cinema took its inspiration from older forms of narrative including literature. But even in the 19th-century, realist writers were comparing their work to photography, and during the 20th-century many prose authors, including Wyndham Lewis and Christopher Isherwood, took inspiration from film. Published in 1960, John Updike’s present-tense novel Rabbit, Run was subtitled originally, “A Movie”, and he was explicit that “The present tense was in part meant to be an equivalent of the cinematic mode of narration.” From what I’ve seen, the cinematic mode of narration often dominates Creative Writing classrooms. But what is it? What are its limitations? And what are our alternatives?
Any sensible person would probably accept that the past tense and the present tense are equally good and which is best will depend on the piece of writing and the author. After all, one needn’t look far for fine novels in the present tense: think Cormac McCarthy, J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, and many others. But D.D. Johnston is not a sensible person. In this video, he argues for the superiority of the past tense.