Tense in story telling

Hi there, when someone asks me to describe a character from a story or explain the story briefly, should I use "past tense" or "present tense"

Here's the the character of the novel "Devi chaudhurani" (written by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay) from which I have been asked a question:

  • Prafulla is married but is shunned by her wealthy father-in-law, Haraballabh, because of a spat between him and her father on the day of her wedding. By custom prevalent at that time, a girl, once married, could not be divorced or remarried. Heartbroken at the fate of his only child, her father died after a few years, leaving the family in penury.

 

  • Prafulla takes the drastic step to flee in the middle of the night to find the house of her in-laws whom she has never known, without any money, with knowledge of only the name of the village and name of her father-in-law.

 

 

Here is the question that was asked in the exam "Who is Prafulla? Describe her character briefly." Should I answer in past tense or present tense in the answer?

 

 

 

 

  • Prafulla is the main character of the novel Devi Chaudhurani. She lives/lived in a small village of Bengal. She is idolized in the novel as an Inspiration to women in Bengal that time. Prafulla is/was shunned by Haraballabh, Her father-in-law. This made/make her father feel heart broken and depressed which leads/led him to death. This made/makes Prafulla more stronger than ever. By the character of Prafulla the author described/describes a hard and successful life of a woman.

 

I think both tenses are correct but not sure. Could you please explain? Can I use both tenses?

 

 

Here is the link that explain the novel and the character "Prafulla" briefly.

Original Post

Subha,

Thank you for providing the link.  I hope I'll have the opportunity to read this novel.  It will have to be in translation, though.  I seriously doubt I'll learn Bengali in this lifetime.

Generally speaking, in English, as well as the other languages I'm familiar with, we speak of the events in works of fiction, be they novels, short stories, or films, in the present tense.  This is because we, the authors and readers, exist outside of time as it is perceived by the characters.

For example, in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the title character, Victor Frankenstein, attends the university at Ingolstadt, makes a man-like creature, and dies aboard a ship stranded in the ice of the Arctic Ocean.  These things all happened to Mr Frankenstein when I first read the book as a schoolboy.  They will all happen again if I read the book when I am seventy years old.  And, depending on which page I flip to, each of these events is happening now.

There are a few exceptions, though.  We can say that Victor Frankenstein was born in Geneva, since we first meet the character as an adult, and his birth happened long before the crucial events of the narrative.

Birth is funny that way.  I wasn't expecting mine at all.  When it happened, I was so startled that I didn't speak for days.  Those bright lights really bothered me.  I believe my first two words were "what the ..." upon which my mother slapped me and told me to shut up.

So, Subha, please allow me to offer some suggestions.  I assume that the paragraph that begins "Prafulla is married but is shunned ..." is not of your own creation, so I will not bother with it.  However, I assume that this one is your own:

Prafulla is the main character of the novel Devi Chaudhurani. She lives/lived in a small village of Bengal. She is idolized in the novel as an Inspiration to women in Bengal that time. Prafulla is/was shunned by Haraballabh, Her father-in-law. This made/make her father feel heart broken and depressed which leads/led him to death. This made/makes Prafulla more stronger than ever. By the character of Prafulla the author described/describes a hard and successful life of a woman.

Here's my take:

Prafulla is the main character of the novel Devi Chaudhurani.  She lives in a small village in Bengal.  She is idealized in the novel as an Inspiration to the women of Bengal at that time. Prafulla is shunned by Haraballabh, her father-in-law. This makes her father feel heart broken and depressed which leads him to death. This makes Prafulla more stronger than ever. By the character of Prafulla, the author describes the hard and successful life of a woman.

DocV

PS:  I often jokingly refer to Wikipedia as "The Ultimate Source Of All Knowledge" (or sometimes, just "TUSOAK" for short).  Please do not look to it as an example of proper English grammar.

There may be other errors in your paragraph, but I've done my best to confine myself to answering your question.

 

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