Why are screenplays and video scripts written in the present tense?

The choice of tense in novels and movie scripts can be traced back to the different ways in which these mediums engage their audiences and the psychological processes that underpin the consumption of these forms of media. Furthermore, the use of past tense in novels and present tense in movie scripts reflects not only their historical evolution but also the cultural significance of storytelling, with past tense evoking myth, legend, and religious narratives.

Novels, as a literary form, rely on the reader’s imagination to create a mental representation of the narrative. Written in the past tense, novels convey a sense of distance and reflection, which helps readers immerse themselves in the story. This choice of tense allows for a richer exploration of the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and motivations, encouraging readers to empathize with them and form an emotional connection. Moreover, the past tense provides a framework that enables authors to delve into intricate details, foreshadowing, and the passage of time.

The use of past tense in novels also evokes a connection to the timeless nature of myth, legend, and religious narratives, which have been an integral part of human culture and history. These ancient stories often explore universal themes and archetypes, fostering a sense of shared understanding and cultural identity. By writing in the past tense, novelists can tap into the psychological resonance of these traditional forms of storytelling, imbuing their work with a sense of historical continuity and significance.

On the other hand, movie scripts, which serve as blueprints for films, are written in the present tense because they aim to create a sense of immediacy and urgency in the visual medium. The present tense helps to convey the idea that the events on screen are happening right before the audience’s eyes, fostering a more visceral and engaging experience. This immediacy aligns with the technical aspects of filmmaking, such as camera work, editing, and sound design, which contribute to the overall sensory experience and heighten the viewers’ immersion in the story.

The shift towards increasingly immediate and “now”-centered media can be attributed to the advent of digital technology and its impact on our consumption habits. With the proliferation of smartphones, social media, and streaming platforms, audiences have grown accustomed to receiving information and entertainment in real-time. This constant connection to the present has influenced the way stories are told across different media formats, with an emphasis on capturing the audience’s attention and evoking strong emotional reactions.

The increasing immediacy in media can be seen in the growing popularity of reality television, live-streaming, and social media platforms that revolve around sharing real-time experiences. Furthermore, this trend can also be observed in the literary world, with some contemporary novels adopting the present tense to create a sense of urgency and intimacy, departing from the traditional connection to myth and legend.