I am currently reading "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson and when describing a sequence of events, the writer constantly forms these sentences:

First, he separated the bulbs [...]. Then he cut each pink [...]. The air thickened [...].

All good here until now. Then, on the next paragrah, he writes:

Now he reached over and took an icepick [...]. He punched holes [...]

In this sentence, "Now" - present, that means present moment- is combined with "reached" - past tense.

He does this frequently. Is this correct writing? It sounds very odd.

2 Answers 2


"Now" can mean "then". Chambers confirms this ... "now: 5. (in narrative) then".

This is partly being used as a literary device to draw the reader into that moment. I suspect a contemporary writer might be tempted to use the present historic. I would urge them to resist this.

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    I agree that this is an equally valid reading (as good an answer as mine). An example of a similar usage of now is, The drunkard made his way down the street, now stumbling left, now right. Dec 12, 2023 at 11:06
  • @Paul. I was trying to think of an example, that's quite good. Dec 12, 2023 at 11:11
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    Feel free to add it if you wish. Dec 12, 2023 at 11:16
  • Thank you both for the answers. To sum up, it is grammatically correct, however, we can also agree that the suitability of this literary device is rather subjective. I find the repetitive use quite annoying. But opinion is not very technical, literarily speaking. Both answers are good, I've accepted this one because the author has less imaginary internet points. Dec 12, 2023 at 13:50
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    it's kind of jarring to shift between the simple past and the present historic.
    – Barmar
    Dec 13, 2023 at 16:17

The author is using now to mean something like “at the point in the story where you, dear reader, at this current moment find yourself.”

The usage is a bit unusual, but not tremendously so.

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