I am writing a Young Adult novel with narrative in the past tense however I want to include some words such as now, this, tonight, etc that indicate present but don't know if I can. However, I am reading many YA novels that do. For example, "She lived in Seattle now." "Now, I didn't know what to think." "His appearance was so altered, now dressed in... ". "I was now in a boat.'"Tomorrow would be a nightmare." Should I remove all these references to the present to make the grammar correct. Or should I keep them as some authors are doing?

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    You need to bone up on narrative (reference) time. If you're referring to the "present" moment within the context of the narrative time, you can call it now. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 18:36
  • Thanks for the feedback, but I'm not sure what you mean by "within the context of the narrative time". Believe me, I have been researching this issue. Another example would be "I questioned our teacher for bringing us here. But this trip was way different." The "here" and the "this" makes it seem like the narrator is there, but she can't be if telling the story in past tense so wonder if I need to change to "there" and "that" which makes the story seem more distant to me.
    – Christy G
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 19:02
  • In narratives (unlike ordinary isolated sentences) time doesn't stand still but moves 'forward'. So there can be a concept of "now" within the narrative (and by the same principle, a concept of "here"). Have a look at this answer on English Language Learners - if you still have questions, StoneyB there is your "go to" man. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 20:05
  • Thanks again. I may follow up with StoneyB. But what I think you are saying is I can say these words meaning them to be true of how the narrator felt in the past when the events were unfolding rather than how she feels now in present day. Narratives can always be running just a few minutes or hours ahead of the time of the story... so I don't have to tell the story from the time when the story was over (months or years later). This is what I want because I want it to feel present without using the present tense which has different drawback.
    – Christy G
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 20:25
  • You're approaching the situation too literally. It just so happens that some narratives are written in first person, where it's meaningful to talk of "what the narrator felt at the time". But although most narratives aren't first person, this in no way constrains them regarding the use of "context-specific" words like now, here, this (technically, indexicals, I think). The "context" is within the narrative, not what's around you as a reader/audience later. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


Those are all correct, and not just in YA. Thankfully grammar has a lot of room for nuance when it comes to tense. As paradoxical as it seems, words like "this" are often preferable to words like "that" in past tense. If I read "But that trip was way different" during a portion of the narrative in which the narrator was on a trip, I would start wondering if the narrator was referring to the trip he/she was currently on or some other previous trip. The "now" or "this" or "here" refers to the moment in the past currently being recounted in the story.

For example, take this hypothetical passage: "Two years after the breakup, I looked Anna up on Facebook. She had lived in Portland, but she lived in Seattle now." Anna's living in Portland and Anna's living in Seattle are both past events, so they're in the past tense. Maybe by the narrator's present Anna lives in San Francisco. But from the point of view of the moment currently being recounted in the narrative -- in this case, two years after the breakup -- only Anna's living in Portland is the past. Anna's living in Seattle is the present of that moment, so it's okay to use words like "now."

The only thing you wouldn't want to say is something like "She had lived in Seattle now." That would be contradictory and confusing because the "had lived" implies that she lived in Seattle before the moment being recounted, while the now implies that she lived in Seattle during the moment being recounted. But "She lived in Seattle now" is fine.

By the way, to back up my statement about this being extremely widespread accepted usage far beyond YA, here's a passage from Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," high literature by most anyone's definition: "As the years of exile passed one by one it seemed to him that his chi might now be making amends for the past disaster. ... He sent for the five sons and they came and sat in his obi. The youngest of them was four years old." (p.172) The youngest son is four in the moment currently being recounted in the narrative, just as his chi seems to now be making amends for the past disaster in the moment currently being recounted in the narrative.

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