Subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style Online
Usage and Grammar
Q. I am writing a short story in first person. Does the tense need to be in the present as I tell it or in the past? The story is a past memory.
A. You get to decide, but keep in mind that extended passages in the present tense can become tedious. It’s sometimes effective in conveying suspense (The doorknob rattles. I pick up the carving knife . . . ) or ennui (He sits reading. I sigh. He looks up, annoyed . . . ), but you should have a clear idea of why it would suit your story. Write a paragraph in the present tense and then rewrite it in the past, and see which sets the tone you want.