1. je33ie
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    je33ie Member

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    Is halfway through novel a bad time to change tense?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by je33ie, Dec 3, 2011.

    I'm halfway through my novel (55,000 words) and I've written everything so far in past tense (he said, we went etc.) BUT I've been thinking a lot about it the last few weeks and decided that the book would be better written in present tense (he says, we go etc.). It's a book with a lot of travel and movement and I think the momentum present tense provides would really help.

    But then it leaves me with a conundrum :confused:... do I:

    a) write the rest of the novel in past tense, then go back and change the tense across the whole book
    b) write the rest of the novel in present tense (giving me 50/50) then change the first half to present tense once I'm finished
    c) change the first half to present tense now, then continue writing the second half in present tense

    I'm also interested to hear your similar experiences, where you have decided to make a significant change to style or format halfway through...
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I wouldn't go with the third option- it runs the risk of getting bogged down in the editing and losing the passion for your story.

    Of the first two options, I'm not sure it matters really. Either one is going to be a pain in the arse, but has it's advantages. If you finish the novel in past tense, then you can get the story down now, whilst you still have the flow for it. But it'll mean more work changing tenses at the end (though, perhaps you could just incorporate it into your first edit?). If you write the rest of the novel in present tense, then a sudden change in the story like might jar you out of the flow of the story (and, I might add, mucking around with tenses can get confusing- I wouldn't be surprised if you lapsed back into past out of habit sometimes, and thus you ended up working your way through the second half to change portions of it to present anyway).

    I think, in the end, it has to come down to which you feel the more comfortable with.
     
  3. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would probably go with the second option, to keep the momentum going and finish the story first.

    Big task in any case. Good luck.
     
  4. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    You're not halfway through your 'novel'. You're halfway through your first draft. That first draft will require re-writing and editing to become your novel, so you can always change the tense in the first part later, after you finished the first draft.
     
  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I would personally go with the second option. This way when your first draft is finished you will have past and present tense to look at. Then you can decide once and for all which one you think will work the best and change it accordingly. I just think it might be a bad idea to change it all now, because you may end up not liking it. This way whatever way you lean towards will only be a 50/50 change.
     
  6. je33ie
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    je33ie Member

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    Thanks all for your comments. And good point Amsterdam that I'm not actually halfway through... I still have so much editing to do it's not funny.

    I started my next chapter yesterday and found I naturally want to write in past tense (as you predicted Banzai) so I think I'll keep going with past tense and consider changing it with my first edits once I've got it all down.
     
  7. je33ie
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    je33ie Member

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    I also just noticed that one of the 'tags' of this post (scroll down to see them) is 'king' :confused: but nowhere in the post I mention a king!!

    I mention 'thinking' which I guess is exactly the same thing as a king, hey? :rolleyes:
     
  8. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I actually like the editing part, but that's also because I write like many directors film - I write a lot of raw material, and shape it into a novel in the 'editing room'.
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    re Amsterdam: Yes, but we are all different. If you edit as you write, you don't have a 'first draft.' You have a finished novel that just needs one final check for typos, etc. I never had 'first drafts' of my essays at university, either. Just saying...
     
  10. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I edit as I write as well, my 'raw material' is often more polished than most finished novels. But I still need to edit. Then I let it read by b├Ęta readers, who will point out stuff I missed, because, due to the familiarity with the material, I tend to read what I'm supposed to have written, not what's actually on the page.

    Even if you edit while you write, the first time you tack 'the end' to something you've written, you have produced a 'draft'. A 'finished novel that just needs one final check for typos' is not a novel, but a manuscript. And I'm willing to bet I can read your 'finished novel' and point out stuff you've overlooked because of the over-familiarity you have with your material.

    I wouldn't compare a novel-length manuscript with an essay - I'd compare an essay with an article. I rarely have to re-edit or re-write my articles either, but I've re-written my manuscript's opening chapter some ten times, with some fifty intermittent tweaks.
     
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  11. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I write a lot faster since I stopped editing too much while writing. Editing requires a different mindset than writing, so I write until I run out of steam, then go over the material to edit. It's like having an idea and writing it down - when you write down the idea, other stuff comes to mind and you throw it all on the page, without thinking too much whether it'll fit the story or not. Then, when the inspiration stops, you change from a writer to an editor and start fitting the puzzle together.

    Another thing I do, is that I often get blocked when the right word/phrase doesn't come to mind. To unblock myself, I put a @ symbol after the word or phrase as a reminder that I have to check that later. When you start editing, you just CTRL+F for @ and find all the places where you got stuck. Most of the time, because the pressure is off, you can find the right word/phrase.
     
  12. je33ie
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    je33ie Member

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    This sounds like it would be an interesting read!!! But I'm glad to hear it doesn't take much to change during editing.

    Oooh I love this idea!! :)
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    present tense may be harder to sell as a new, unknown writer... third is preferred by readers and publishers alike... and few of even the best, most seasoned writers can write present well, anyway...
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seconded.

    I'd finish the thing in past tense (don't change horses in the middle of a stream), then on the first editing pass I would try doing a couple of key sections (at least one where you think present tense will help, and at least one where you think present tense will hinder, then see whether you think it's worth changing the whole thing on the first editing pass.
     
  15. digitig
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    Seconded.

    I'd finish the thing in past tense (don't change horses in the middle of a stream), then on the first editing pass I would try doing a couple of key sections (at least one where you think present tense will help, and at least one where you think present tense will hinder), then see whether you think it's worth changing the whole thing on the first editing pass.
     
  16. Froggy
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    Halfway through my first chapter I noticed that I mixed tenses. Looking at why, I had similar reasoning as you - present is now, happening, strong, oh and not to forget, cool. So why did I write 60% in the past? Because it is easier to differentiate between actions. I mean, it just doesn't sound right to say 'as we are going to the theatre, Michael screams...' - the whole set up of that sentence precludes prior knowledge of the interruption, therefore would render the POV as fake. If you tell it in the past, of course you already know what happens next... Just my opinion. Guess I can't do it well, so I justify :p
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, mixed tense can work very well -- look at The Great Gatsby. But it's probably the hardest of all to pull off and will usually just look like carelessness.
     
  18. Steve89
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    Steve89 Member

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    I had a similar experience where I started to write in a particular formatand decided it wasn't working. I changed the format half way through, noting where I had started to change, finished it and then went back to the start, changing the first half.
    At the end of the day, you will have to edit it anyway, so you should do it however you feel comfortable. There's no set way to write and edit, just make sure you get the first draft written. Then worry about it.
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I took mamma to mean present v. past. I don't think there's a clear advantage to either first or third person; it depends on the particular work.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I took mamma to mean present v. past. I don't think there's a clear advantage to either first or third person; it depends on the particular work.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good catch, craig!... yes, i did mean 'past'...
     
  22. madhoca
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    I agree with what the people above have said about past being good as far as novels go (with notable very well-written exceptions), but I have noticed that a lot of short story competition entries (and, indeed, winners) are written in present tense. I think it's perceived as being more 'arty' or original or something. Actually, this wannabe literary kind of writing annoys rather than impresses me. However, if something is good, the tense doesn't bother me either way.
     

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