Q: We’ve been told to keep to a single tense and a single person (e.g., third person past tense) in our short stories. How useful is this advice? How strictly should it be observed? Consider the following tabulation from the anthology, Weird Tales 21st Century, Volume I. This book contains twelve stories. Based on analysis of first two pages of each story, and scanning of the remainder:
.. Stories predominantly * in present tense, first person: none
.. Stories predominately in present tense, third person: three
.. Stories predominately in past tense, first person: none
.. Stories predominately in past tense, third person: six.
Three stories were told without a predominant combination of person and tense, as follows:
.. First person present AND first person past: one story
.. First person past AND third person past: one story
.. Third person present AND third person past: one story.
* The tabulation above concerns the predominant person and tense used. Most of the stories made some use of both present and past tenses; a few, future tense; and another few, second person with past tense.
What conclusion can we draw? That consistency of person and tense, although useful as a rule of thumb, can and should be violated whenever doing so would benefit the story.