1. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    Have I used tenses correctly...advice please

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Agatha Christie, Apr 19, 2012.

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  2. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I'm not sure this is posted in the right section - it maybe belongs in spelling and grammar, or even the novels section as it contains an except and invites critique.

    Anyway, I'll give my tuppence worth.

    Fine so far.


    I don't know whether this is part of the flashback or the framing scene. It should perhaps also be in itallics if it's internal monologue?


    Do you see where I'm going with this? The trouble with flashbacks is that they often rely on the past perfect tense to describe something that has already happened at the point of the main past tense narrative. The main problem with the past perfect is that it is BORING to read because it gets very repetitive. My advice would be to rewrite all the above flashback in simple past tense - there really isn't an issue with keeping it separate as a flashback, you just have to manage your time transitions carefully so we know when the flashback starts and ends.
     
  3. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    thanks for that. Yes there are a couple of bits of internal monologue but wasn't sure how to get it in italics here. Wasn't sure which section to put this.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    internal dialog does not have to be in italics... and in fact, along with many others, i believe it should not... a least not in the ms, if you intend to submit it to agents and paying publishers...

    good writers don't have to resort to fancy fontery to let readers know when a character is thinking...
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    The shift from simple past to past perfect suggest change in time. So, I think you have got it right, but too many 'had' can be a problem, because it suggest you are 'telling' too much. To overcome that problem I suggest you convert the quoted portion below into exchange of dialogues.

    P.S. didn't see the above posts, so I am sorry if I am repeating anything.
     
  6. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Meh, it's a style/fashion/faddy thing. Was a time when EVERY writer was told to put inner monologue in itallics. Maybe it's fallen out of fashion again. I guess it's a non issue coz stuff like that is not a deal breaker to agents. Oodles and oodles of 'had writing' is generally a massive red flag though. I avoid it like the plague now.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Too many is a problem because it's repetitive. -- nothing to do with showing or telling.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    A typical way a writer uses past perfect is to set up the flashback, then she uses past simple, then comes out of the scene with past perfect again, e.g:

    He was transported back to the weeks following his illness when the doctor insisted he undergo psychotherapy treatment.
    The worst bloody thing he had ever got involved with. He had turned up at an almost uninhabited Victorian mansion, a spooky place – very quiet, no-one about, and sat in a strange little room painted in a sickly institutional green, waiting for something to happen. Now you have established the flashback, you don't need to keep using past perfect. Out of nowhere, a very tall man appeared at the door. He was dressed casually and, for some reason, reminded Peter of a janitor.
    .................. etc.........
    Then come out of the scene with past perfect.

    what Peter had found even more annoying was the lack of questions from him.
    The strangeness of that situation had totally unnerved him. In the end, they had agreed to part. The whole experience had knocked Peter's confidence. He sat in the library ..... etc...

    I suggest you avoid using 'thought about' 'remembered' etc as much as is physically possible.

    And, although I know that technically, grammar-wise, past perfect is normal for the 'time before' in a past narrative, the trick of dipping in and out of it is used frequently and makes for an easier read--just as long as the flashback situation is really clearly established. IMO, don't confuse things with thrown-in internal thoughts, incorporate them a bit more.
     
  9. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    Yes I've gone with what you have suggested, start off with past perfect, then into past, and back into past perfect before ending the flashback. It doesn't sound so laboured. I would prefer not to use 'he thought' etc. but put these phrases in to confirm it is still Peter's perspective. Would much prefer to miss these out
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Remembered' etc is really not needed in the places you have used it,
    e.g
    The tall man had stood silently in the doorway. Peter remembered how puzzled he had been and, in the end, asked if he was the psycotherapist.
    The tall man stood silently in the doorway. Peter was puzzled, and, in the end, asked if he was the psycotherapist.

    Is it so important that Peter is remembering that he was puzzled? IMO, saying so just makes for wordiness. The important thing is to establish that Peter was puzzled on that occasion.
    You could 'show' he was puzzled, rather than say 'he was puzzled', although sometimes a writer doesn't want to spin out the detail, and employs 'telling', of course.
     
  11. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    thanks Madhoca. I will check through my work generally for the 'remembered' and 'thought' and see how these can be eliminated. No. I don't want to show in this piece. Don't want to make too much of it.
     
  12. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Absolutely right.

    Once inside the flashback, and especially when dialogue occurs (since dialogue always seems to happen in the present), you simply write it in past tense and treat it like any other scene.

    Constantly using 'had' reminds us that this is a flashback, and you don't want to remind readers of that. Because readers want to feel like they are always moving forward in a story, and flashbacks certainly can feel like they are moving forward when done right.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    I agree that there's no need to keep repeating that Peter is remembering. The transition into and out of the flashback should be clear (though not over-explained), but there's no need to keep reminding the reader that they're in a flashback.

    I'd also say that there's a lot of repetition in this piece - you often say the same thing in slightly different ways. Below, I've grouped phrases that seem functionally redundant. I realize that they're not _absolutely_ identical in meaning, but they're similar enough that, IMO, you don't need more than one of them.

    decided to flick through
    started turning the pages

    his mind began to wander
    He was transported

    almost uninhabited
    very quiet
    no-one about

    He had sat
    waiting for something to happen
    I swear I'd still be sitting there

    dressed casually
    reminded Peter of a janitor
    Jeans and a casual leather jacket

    more medical appearance
    dressed in a white coat and carrying a clipboard

    asked if he was the psycotherapist.
    if I hadn't said anything

    maintained his silence
    been aloof
    refused to answer
    lack of questions from him
    (Yes, "refused to answer" and "lack of questions" are different, but they both seem redundant with "aloof" and "silence".)

    totally unnerved him
    knocked Peter's confidence.

    ChickenFreak
     
  14. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    yes, you're right....more work for me to do!!!!! lol
     
  15. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I guess you are right. Thanks. But my experience is that when I am using a lot of 'had' I find myself telling a lot.
     

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