Introductory to Narrative Present:
From different sources we know that the Present Simple and Present Progressive can be used in narration to emphasise the recreation of the event or situation and to represent it in an active (dynamic) manner, as if it is happening now:
When telling a joke or story, we use present and present progressive tenses to recreate the event in an active (dynamic) manner. The joke or story teller relates the story as if it is/were happening at the moment.
Unlike the Past tenses, which are used to report "what happened", a completed event, in the Present tenses the narration is told as if it were happening at the moment.
A progressive tense is commonly used to set the scene for the events that follow. This use of tense is often called "backgrounding".
The Present Progressive is used to set up the scene and is usually followed by the Present Simple to show events that happened during that time.
- A young man is walking home one night when he suddenly sees two hooded figures, each holding a large bag, run out of a shop.
The narrative present is often introduced interrupted by a remark (commentary) made by the narrator at the time of narration.
- The woman came back shortly after. She was sad and her eyes were filled with tears. I have to admit this is the first time I saw that she'd cried.
Even though most narratives are told in the narrative past, they are frequently interspersed by statements of general application in the present tense. This use of the present tense is called gnomic present. This gnomic present is grammatically speaking no different from the narrative present, but it does not represent a tense switch in the same sense. In narrative present the action of the narrative is given. By contrast, in gnomic present, generic statements are made that claim general validity (Chatman 1978: 82; Stanzel 1984: 108)
The present simple is regularly used depicting past narratives for informal storytelling. It can create a sense of immediacy, urgency or informal friendliness, so it may be used for dramatic or comedic effect. This is common in spoken English.
The present tenses in narration are also used to put the listener in the moment of the story or in a particular scene or state of mind. This technique is sometimes used in creative writing, as well as in spoken language.
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