1. Dale McMullen
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    Dale McMullen New Member

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    I'm having a real problem with tense...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Dale McMullen, Sep 11, 2016.

    So I have finished the first draft of my novel, and I have the task self editing.

    I always have a bad habit of jumping between past and present tenses. I feel like the past tense stuff reads a bit easier. Let me give you an example:

    She slid the tray back through its purpose built slot, she heard the guard picking it up.
    VS
    She slides the tray back through its purpose built slot, she hears the guard picking it up.

    So basically I need to pick one and stick with it. But, which one? That is the question.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I feel like both of these sentences need work - they don't read correctly to me. As for which tense, it's entirely a stylistic choice and up to you. If the sentences were rewritten to be better sentences I don't think it would matter much.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Neither example shows the tendency to slip tenses that you mentioned in your OP. But in both cases, there should be two separate sentences. I agree with @Steerpike - one tense isn't inherently better than the other.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm caught by the comma splice as well. The tenses? Don't think it matters.

    There ARE people who really don't like to read present tense, so if you're writing for an audience you might want to keep that in mind. YA and literary seem totally fine with present tense, but other categories might be stickier.
     
  5. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like @EdFromNY alludes to, you seem to be asking two different questions here. If you're mixing the tenses then certainly you need to fix all the instances, but which to use is up to you. Past is more traditional, but other than bearing that in mind, please yourself.

    You said past reads easier to you, so why not go with that?
     
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  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Comma splice or not...

    most novels are written in past tense. I'd stick with that. Some believe that present tense gives more immediacy, but most will tell you it's just not true.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, when engaged in an art form one should always do what most people are doing. Never mind that we would lose a lot of good books to such narrow thinking....
     
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  8. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Meeoooww! :D

    Although I agree.

    Headlong by Michael Frayn; First-person, present tense, Booker Prize winner.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    So that's at least three Booker winners in present tense. I'm rereading Durrell's Justine, after mentioning it in another thread. A large part is in present tense. Didn't win the Booker, but the NY Times Book Review said it demanded comparison with the best novels of the [20th] century.
     
  10. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like both reading and writing in present tense. The weird thing is, after initially feeling a little odd, they both feel like the most natural thing in the world, within just a paragraph or two.
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    :crazy:

    One must learn the rules before they can be effectively broken, grasshopper. :)
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    But there's no rule against present tense writing...?
     
  13. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Is this about to turn into another one of those debates over something that's personal preference? C'mon.

    I'm on the same page as Jud. If you feel like past tense reads a bit easier, go with that. Unless there's some other reason you also like present that you just didn't mention. It's really entirely up to you - what would you rather read? Write that. But yes, you do have a comma splice in your example, so if it's exemplary of your work in general, I'd suggest you also brush up on some punctuation for an editing sweep. That stuff can be tricky.
     
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  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, this isn't a rule. It's just a stylistic preference. Not in the same category as so-called "rules" one should learn.
     
  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cat amongst the pigeons time.

    One could argue, could one not, that the comma splice is also a style choice?
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Sure, but it also pertains to a grammatical rule, and so lends itself to the "know the rules before you break them" argument, whereas tense does not.
     
  17. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Sticking just with tense - because that's what you asked ...

    I prefer past tense unless you are writing in first person. I can't get away with present tense if it's telling a story in third person or third/omni.

    And to make it simpler, I would just replace the comma and 'she' with 'and' and change 'picking' to 'pick'.
     
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could. But it's a style choice that annoys a lot more readers than present tense, and it's one that doesn't really have much of an argument in its favour, in the vast majority of circumstances.
     
  19. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well if you want to keep this going I suppose you could say it depends on who you're writing for. I use them - at least I think I do - but it suits the voice, so why not?

    Having just boned up a little on the comma splice, I'm even more confused as to whether or not I use them.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it's 50/50 and you're looking for a reason to go one way or another, I'd say that:

    - It appears to me that more people hate present tense than hate past tense.
    - If past tense reads easier to you, that suggests that you mostly read past tense. Therefore, all that "you need to be a reader to be a writer" stuff will lean toward you having learned more about past tense and therefore likely writing better in past tense.
    - If past tense reads easier to you, then you'll probably prefer writing in past tense more.

    Now, all of those could be overturned by, "I want to try something different!" It's entirely up to you.

    And I agree that the comma splice should be changed to either two sentences, or a semicolon.
     
  21. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Am I the only one who's having a hard time with "purpose built slot?" What is purpose built supposed to mean? Why isn't it just a slot? "Purpose built" is very jarring and awkward. If I was an agent or editor you were sending this to, I would stop reading right there.

    As for tense, you really just need to pick one and make sure it is consistent. I do think the tense a writer chooses does shape the story somewhat. If you were switching back and forth while you wrote your novel, there is going to be a lot of clean-up work. Hopefully, you stuck to one or the other for the majority of your story. But next time I would pick a tense and stick with it from the beginning.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe it's a different idiom? I agree that it jars, but 'custom built slot' wouldn't jar the same way, for me.
     
  23. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I don't thin custom built works either. I'm confused why it isn't just slot.
     
  24. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say it needs a hyphen either way: "purpose-built slot" or "custom-built slot".
     
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  25. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because then you wouldn't know that it was purpose built?
     

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