1. TheGreatNeechi
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    TheGreatNeechi Member

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    Changing Tense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TheGreatNeechi, May 4, 2011.

    It is a well understood convention to maintain a tense throughout a given work, but I find my mood and direction occasionally change from chapter to chapter. I prefer to write in the present tense, but the present becomes very unwieldy when I begin recalling a character's actions or events, because it seems as if I am changing tense.

    Is it acceptable to change tense between chapters, so long as each chapter is maintained in a given tense?
     
  2. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    But that's one of my favourite things about present tense. As soon as you want to describe a past event you simply write in past tense, and the reader instantly knows you're talking about something that has already occured. If your story's already in past tense you have to use other devices to express the fact that we're going back in time. I don't see the problem.
     
  3. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Not sure what you mean. Examples, please.
     
  4. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Not really, no.

    The times I've seen it work:

    Dealing with two different time-lines that are given parallel representation.

    Switching from past tense to present tense in a story that is reminiscent (meaning, the narrator is telling the story from 8pm, about things that started at 6pm, and then at 8pm the real-time time-line starts going forward in the present tense).

    Or sometimes, only because it's excused, a writer will switch to present tense for a climax under some, usually misguided, notion that it will make the action more alive or emotional.


    If you're just switching between tenses for the heck of it, because you got bored writing in one, I'd have to advise against it. Especially something as noticeable as that, when readers, agents, editors, publishers, etc will perhaps all be asking themselves, or maybe even you, why you switched tenses. If your reasoning is that your mood changed between chapters... ummm, not gonna sound very pro.

    And what do you mean by "begin to recall a character's actions or events?" To me, it may not be a tense issue that's occurring, but that you're stopping the action to explain things, which indeed can become unwieldy. If your character is going along in the present tense, then you as a writer are interjecting past-action, then I would recommend just being more clever and delivering those things through a character, instead of as external information.
     
  5. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know about changing the tense for an entire chapter, but I can't imagine it would be wrong to change the tense briefly within the chapter.

    I enter the hotel lobby and scan the small coffee shop. A couple hunch over a wooden table, their hands laced together, faces almost touching. They seem oblivious to the world. It wasn't that way yesterday though.

    When I stepped into the hotel last night James and Jessica were ready to use the cutlery as weapons. James was screaming so loud the entire room was fixed on him. Something obviously happened during the course of the night. Unfortunately.

    I'll just have to think of a new way to tear them apart.

    I head over to the coffee shop, careful to not let them see my approach until I'm right in front of them.




    It's not the best example, and you obviously need some clever tweaking to make a smooth transition, but I see nothing fundamentally wrong with switching tenses like this.
     
  6. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Ah, I see what you're saying. You were thinking in terms of grammatical tense, when I was thinking in terms of narrative tense. Meaning, you switch grammatical tenses, but not narrative, as the story is still a present-tense story, using past tense to depict the present-tense thoughts/knowledge of the character in that present tense.

    Still not sure what you mean by 'other devices' that need used in a story using a past tense narrative, which was what I was hoping for an example of, because I often write in past tense and don't recall using any 'devices' other than switching grammatical tense as you demonstrate in your present-tense examples.
     
  7. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    You can change tense within a chapter. What I'm writing currently does the with a little regularity. By the nature of the story it has to be present tense in all but due to some segments having better inpact if read in text of a present tense statement, it makes the whole section/scene/et al read as it is best suited.

    So, it's knowing the mechanism to do so.

    The answer is (as it would be printed by a publisher); italics.

    When you read a published work and the writer has created a story that is overall in present tense -but- wants a section or statement to reflect something that is best experienced written as past tense, the pst tense section is printed in italics. That's what the reader will experience. How you write that is a wee different. However example of the 'italics deal:

    I keep on thinking of the same song over and over. I can't get it out of my head. Jen sang it in my ear a few weeks ago. I remember looking at her and telling her; how can you be such a sweet little doll and yet be just a little bit crazy, Jen.

    Even now, the songs puts a smile on my face. Jen was quite the girl.


    etc....poor example but it makes the point.

    Now, when you are actually writing on the stuff, do not actually italicize the text you intend to be read as past tense. Underline the text. From my understanding, this is the recognized format for a publisher to know that the text will require being italicized.
     
  8. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see changing tenses as a problem in itself. Sometimes a present told story needs some past tense flash back scenes and the like, but don't do this too often. Your story should be focused on what is happening now and not what has happened then.
     
  9. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    It's your writing. Do what you want, but it's discouraged because it can send the story through a loop. I've read stories like that. Like recently. It started present tense and ended past tense, and just threw the whole story off. If you can do it masterfully though, so that it doesn't through off the story then go ahead and do it.

    It's discouraged because it can through the story off.
     

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