1. payelK
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    payelK Member

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    Help with present and past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by payelK, Jul 26, 2009.

    While writing short story in 1st person is it better to write it in past tense of present tense? I am very confused! Can anyone help?

    [NB: I am not even sure if I can post a thread, as I am a new member]
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I like reading past tense better then present. But I suppose it really doesn't matter and its completely up to you.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't like the idea of there being a "better" tense. Choose the tense of your work based on the context. Consider the effect it will have on your writing. Consider how it will affect the reader. Consider te huge range of ramifications that will result from choosing past to present, or vic versa.
    The most important thing is that whichever tense you decide is right for your story is written accurately and consistently.
     
  4. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Me neither.

    However, I can't ignore the fact that I really dislike reading stories in present tense. So, unless one has a really good reason to use it, I generally suggest sticking with past tense.
     
  5. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    You're the one writing it :p
    I would in past, but that's me not you :)
     
  6. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Present tense is harder to get published because it is not popular. I image a lot of editors cringe upon seeing it.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have to agree with anders and arch!

    my best advice is to stick with past... reading present is a royal pain for most readers and agents and publishers do cringe when they see it [usually, just before they toss it into their round files!]
     
  8. chrisrozwod
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    chrisrozwod Member

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    It totally depends on the story. If the story doesn't have very many things going on, I think it's easier to pull off present tense, which can sometimes feel frantic; the steadier scene will ground the tense. If it seems like a more chaotic, busy, or complex story, I might shy away from the present tense.

    It's good to know how to write in both.

    If you're writing with the intent of getting published, then take the time to write both, and decide later if you're still having trouble. That's something I actually do even if I know how I want to write it. Something about that process really exposes plot holes, filler, and other blemishes that need attention.

    How about this, write it in 2nd person. That's the one publishers love. ;)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    maybe i'll develop a 'fourth person' pov, just to keep things interesting!
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes a shift can occur. A story told in past tense can involve things about the narrator that carry beyond the story and thus become present tense. Describing absolutes, that weren't just there at the time when the story took place.
     
  11. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Would you believe...

    Clearly, it would be painfully difficult to write a story in the fourth person.

    "One steps to the doorway. Sweating, one wipes his or her forehead, and pulls out one's automatic, slipping on one's silencer."

    You're on your own with that one... and I won't even attempt the fifth person with that limited information!

    Edit:
    Okay, I couldn't resist. The fifth person... what we know is, archaic language, foreign bodies, alienable...

    "Thou art from thine outer space, thou bug! Doust thou thinketh with thine antenna, thou creature in thine flying saucer."

    Unfortunately, "thou" is archaic second person. It is alienable though, and archaic. Ah, I give up.
     
  12. payelK
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    payelK Member

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    haha......that would be funny! :)
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Isn't "one" still third person? The verbs are all conjugated the same as third person....same with french, "on" is third person indefinite...
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, it is... can't see why anyone would think it needs a number of its own...
     
  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    The first time I read a story in present tense I thought I'd never get along with it, but within just a few paragraphs it seemed such a natural way to hear a story. I still favour past tense, particularly for novels, but I do find present quite enjoyable given the right kind of tale.

    But now I've just remembered you stress you'll be writing in first person, so I would say without doubt, go for past. I don't recall having read anything in first person and present tense.
     
  16. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I would think so. But then, I didn't write the wiki entry.

    Charlie
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Wikipedia is hardly authoritative. There is a lot of crap/questionable content there, and what is quoted above is an example.

    If you'll note, just below that passage you quoted, someone annotated it with [citation needed].
     
  18. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Three Words. Bret. Easton. Ellis.

    (A few more words: Best. Writer. Of. The. 20th. Century.)

    (And a few more properly puctuated words to clarify: All of BEE's writing is first person present. I'm not suggesting its an easy mode to master, but it certainly can and should be used if you feel its right for your piece.)
     
  19. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    You think? Not that I don't think he's very good, mind, but best writer of the 20th century? In a world that's also contained Nabokov, Banks and Garcia Marquez?

    Anyhow, back on topic, assuming you're writing this for yourself, can't you try a few paragraphs both ways and see what works best for the story? Most times one will clearly be better suited, and if it's not, then flip a coin.

    If you're writing for publication, then see what else has been published by that house/magazine. If they've only ever published things written in second-person future, write your story in second-person future. Or find another publisher: that one sounds bizarre.
     
  20. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I agree that wiki isn't authoritative. I think I posted it more for humor than anything else... although I imagined there might hypothetically technically be some "other" person than the three we all know about, what was described in wiki made little sense.

    Charlie
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It makes a great point though. There are far too many people who go straight to Wikipedia and consider that "research." Wikipedia does have reviewers, but it has, predictably, become so large that junk information can persist almost indefinitely.

    Looking it up on Wikipedia is not research. Don't rely on any single source. Cast your research net wide, compare results, and follow reference links. And don't just walk away in triumph when you find the first document that says what you want to hear. No matter how many articles you might find to the contrary, Elvis is dead. :)
     
  22. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    :eek: Elvis? Dead?

    Oh, go and burst my bubble, why don't you?

    Charlie ;)
     
  23. LivvieLove
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    LivvieLove New Member

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    Hmm, in my opinion, and mine alone (This is MY preference) I find present to be so much easier to write in, just because sometimes I forget which tense I'm in when I write something else and then loose my train of thought trying to figure out how to word something, so I would say it's whichever you are more comfortable writing in (Though every now and then you should try to totally mix it up for something new to expand horizons) for now, just write it in whatever you think would be best, then if you want to change it you can always rewrite it that way. ;) hopefully that helps. Even though I probably just told you what everyone else has just said.
     
  24. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    It is easier to write in past tense than it is in present, but i think both are acceptable depending on the story you are trying to tell. My current novel i am working on uses both tenses, primarily because the story often refers to past events and flashbacks all of which have some relevance to the present so this seems the most natural way to present it
     
  25. Kaltica
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    Kaltica New Member

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    payelK:


    My advice is to use the present tense for immediacy, the past tense for distance. This may explain why prose writers prefer the past tense while poets prefer the present.


    HTH,

    K.
     

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