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When someone asks me to describe a character from a story or explain the story briefly, should I use "past tense" or "present tense"

Below is the story about the character of the novel "Devi Chaudhurani" (written by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay) from which I was asked a question in the exam: Here is the link that expalins the novel and the character briefly here

  • Prafulla is married but is shunned by her wealthy father-in-law, Haraballabh, because of a spat between him and her father on the day of her wedding. By custom prevalent at that time, a girl, once married, could not be divorced or remarried. Heartbroken at the fate of his only child, her father died after a few years, leaving the family in penury.

  • Prafulla takes the drastic step to flee in the middle of the night to find the house of her in-laws whom she has never known, without any money, with knowledge of only the name of the village and name of her father-in-law.

Here is the question that was asked in the exam "Who is Prafulla? Describe her character briefly." Should I answer in past tense or present tense in the answer?

  • Prafulla is the main character of the novel Devi Chaudhurani. She lives/lived in a small village of Bengal. She is idolized in the novel as an Inspiration to women in Bengal that time. Prafulla is/was shunned by Haraballabh, Her father-in-law. This made/makes her father feel heart broken and depressed which leads/led him to death. This made/makes Prafulla more stronger than ever. By the character of Prafulla the author described/describes a hard and successful life of a woman.

I think both tenses are correct but not sure. Could you please explain? Can I use both tenses?

  • Sometimes certain examinations will include the use of certain verb tenses (such as the present) in their formatting guidelines. Is there any indication that a certain tense is required? From my experience, descriptions of the events in a book required the present tense. – Kman3 Sep 9 '18 at 4:36
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    Since the question is Who is Prafulla, the implication is that you should stick to the present tense. Had it been Who was Prafulla, the past would have been indicated. – Ronald Sole Sep 9 '18 at 11:55
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Narrative can be very complicated in its mix of tenses. But when speaking about a story that has been told by another person, such as describing the characters or summarizing the plot as it unfolds, it is conventional to use the present tense.

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