How to Write a Story in Future Tense?

The idea of writing a story in the future tense is highly unusual. Most stories are written in the past tense as if they happened. This even applies to stories set in the future – the narrator is writing as if they have already witnessed the events in the story.

The present tense is increasingly being used in novels. This device is often used when a story is set partly in the past and partly in the present. The author changes tenses to differentiate more clearly between the two-time settings.

But are stories ever written in the future tense? There’s no reason they can’t be, and several experimental authors have taken on this task. But if you want to know how to write a story in the future tense, you need to understand the different types of future tenses and how they work.

What are the different types of the future tense in English?

There are four types of the future tense in English. These are:

Future simple

The future simple tense describes something that will happen at some point in the future. It comprises a verb plus the modal verb ‘will.’ If we use the example of the verb ‘to go’ in the future simple tense, it becomes ‘I will go.’ You can also use the contraction ‘I’ll go.’ To form the negative, use ‘will not’ or ‘won’t’ (‘I won’t go’).

If you’re asking a question in the future simple tense, it takes the form ‘Will you go?’.

We can also form the future simple tense by using the modal verb ‘shall’ instead of ‘will’ (‘I shall go’).

Future continuous

The future continuous tense is formed by adding ‘will be’ to the ‘-ing’ form of a verb. We use the future continuous tense to talk about something that’s happening at a specific point in the future or within a definite time frame. Some examples of this are, ‘I will be going on holiday next week’ or ‘I’ll be working in the shop over the summer.’

We can form the negative future continuously in the same way, as in, ‘I won’t be going to the party tomorrow night,’ or use the end to continue to ask a question (‘Will you be having a party?’).

If we’re using the future continuous tense, it’s important to remember that we can’t use stative (non-action verbs) such as ‘be’ or ‘seem.’ ‘It will be being’ doesn’t make sense, so we need to use the future simple here.

Future perfect

The future perfect tense is used to talk about actions that will be completed by a particular time. We form this tense by using ‘will have’ with the past participle of the verb. For example, ‘I will have done my homework by dinner time’; or, in the negative, ‘I won’t have cleaned up by the time you get here.’ We can also ask questions in the future perfect tense (‘Will you have finished eating by seven?’).

Future perfect continuous

To form the future perfect continuous tense, we use the ‘will have been’ plus the present participle (‘-ing’) form of the verb. An example is, ‘I will have been traveling for six hours by the time I get there.’ In the negative, it looks like, ‘I won’t have been sleeping much because I’ll have been on holiday.’ An example of a question in the future perfect continuous would be, ‘Will you have been working that day?’.

As you can see from these examples, we use the future perfect continuous tense to talk about something that will happen until a particular time or to express cause and effect.

How to write a story in the future tense

Now you understand the different types of future tense; it’s time to put them into practice within your creative writing. But this task isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s extremely rare to find a novel written entirely in the future tense simply because it’s hard to write. It can also be difficult for the reader to follow. As you’re writing about the future, you can’t describe anything that’s already happened. This makes it very difficult to add any exposition or backstory into your writing, so you must find different ways of fleshing out your characters and situations.

It would help if you also remembered that the events haven’t happened to your characters yet, so they can’t know anything about them. As the plot unfolds, it has to be as much a surprise to your feelings as it is to the reader.

These are a few reasons why writing a story in the future tense is very difficult. The plot and character development difficulties take so much effort to overcome that many writers wouldn’t even attempt it. However, there are several ways we can incorporate the future tense into a past or present tense narrative.

Ways to use the future tense in your writing

In speculation

Many characters think about the future, even when the story is set in the past or the present. So we can express our thoughts and worries by writing them in the future tense. This is a technique regularly employed by Jane Austen, as we can see in this quote from Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

‘And now here’s Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all? The Collinses will turn us out before he is cold in his grave, and if you are not kind to us, brother, I do not know what we shall do.’

Mrs. Bennet is speculating about the future, and using the future tense here heightens the dramatic tone, illustrating her panic. But, again, this gives us a great insight into her character.

In prophecy

Many fantasy and science fiction books have a prophecy at the story’s core, which drives the action forward. These prophecies are often made by a character who predicts the events that will unfold. A famous example of this is the prediction made by Sybill Trelawney in the Harry Potter series:

‘The one with the power to defeat the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies, and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have powers the Dark Lord knows not and either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.’

Trelawny sees the future when she says this, so she’s talking naturally in the future tense. This device sets up the final battle between Harry and Voldemort, making us realize there’s no other way to resolve the conflict.

In poetry

Poetry lends itself particularly well to the future tense. Perhaps this is why Shakespeare chose to use rhyme when writing for the three witches in Macbeth, as we can see here:

First Witch: ‘When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning, or the rain?’

Second Witch: ‘When the hurlyburly’s done,

When the battle’s lost and won.’

Third Witch: ‘That will be ere the set of sun.’

The future tense is used cleverly here, as the first witch is questioning while the second and third are making predictions. This shows us that the future tense can be used in several different ways within the same passage of text.

Whichever techniques you use, the important thing is to create an interesting narrative that readers can easily follow. This frees you up to use the future tense within your story to heighten the tension and progress the plot.

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