A couple of years ago at a writing workshop I heard a book reviewer of a prominent Australian newspaper berate an emerging author over her use of the continuous tense. 'You never, ever should use it,' he said, slapping her work on to the table like some theatrical arsehole.
The reviewer was not alone, many writers demonise the continuous tense, often falsely labelling it passive.
But I use the continous tense now and then. Why? Because when used cleverly it works. It can:
- Place emphasis on time and place. It implies that the act istself is important.
- Add richness to a literary piece in a poetic sense and it can slow the narrative pace
- Highlight the character in action.
'Mark knows she is looking at him, knows she is running her finger over her lip, which means: nervous, unsure, undecided.'
The above achieves all the before mentioned points: time slows down to capture that moment and this further highlights Mark's observations, emphasising the sense of attraction. Of course, change it all into the present simple and it still functions well (albeit at a quicker pace) but I think that Murray chose the right tense for that particular moment of the story. And moments are a writer's chief focus - how long a writer lingers on them is debatable and dependent on style, pacing and taste.
No matter what you might have been told, the continuous tense is still a great tool to have in your writing arsenal.