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
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 4:36
  • 1
    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. Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


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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