I am writing a fiction story in first person with the narrative in past tense but I find I want to use many words that indicate present time such as now, this, tonight, tomorrow, etc. I've seen this in some fiction novels, but I've heard from some people that this is mixing tenses. Here are some examples:

"Now, I didn't know what to think."

"I knew this time, once school resumed..."

"He was supposed to start school today."

"They were now happy to remain on the easy runs."

"She was now practically running."

"This would give me a full day... "

I would like the novel to have a present feel rather than feel it is being told about a distant past... but I want to be grammatically correct.

  • 3
    Now and today can refer to the characters' present-time set in a fictive past. That's OK.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 11:04
  • 1
    None of the phrases you've posted sound awkward, and I think they convey the timing you want
    – Peter
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 4:07
  • I agree most of these phrases sound right. But I think "He was supposed to start school today" could use "that day" or "the same day" instead of "today", otherwise it sounds as if you are referring to persent time (it could be OK in a newspaper headline). Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 15:04
  • I think this may be correct if it appears between inverted commas meaning that you are reproducing exactly the words someone said, referring to someone else who did not turn up on that specific day.
    – lalynacar.
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:50

1 Answer 1


In normal writing mixing tenses is frowned upon as bad grammatical form. For example, one wouldn't say:

I run to the store and picked up some food.

In the case of narratives and stories in general however, often times the narrator and the characters speak in different tenses entirely. It is not uncommon to see things like this:

She cranked the ancient lever heaving its weight high above her head. She shouted "Why is this so heavy!"

In short:

Your use of character dialogue is correct, you can "switch" tenses in this case.

  • I think you miss the point of the OP. One example by the OP makes their point clear, "He was supposed to start school today." Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 21:22
  • @DamkerngT. I think this poster is saying that that's correct. It's fine in narrative situations, no? Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 21:26
  • @Araucaria I don't see how this answer can address the main point in the question, which is mainly about using words such as now, this, tonight, tomorrow with the past tense in a narrative of a story. Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 21:29
  • @DamkerngT. The reason, from my point of view, is that this (first or second time poster) has pointed out that this "general rule" might be handy, but doesn't always apply. Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 0:53
  • Did I miss the point of the question? I will edit my answer to fit the context of the question better if that's the case @DamkerngT. Please explain what you mean
    – R.DeRienzo
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 1:45

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