1. Windatone
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    Windatone New Member

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    Grammar Mixing present and past tense in stories?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Windatone, Nov 30, 2013.

    Hey guys. Is it acceptable to mix present and past tense in fiction and dialogue? Here's a snippet of what I'm writing:


    "You should really lock your door." With a concerned look, he added "I've been telling you this since that robber incident".

    "Which one? I lost count." She said jokingly, sitting back down on the bed.

    "I don't want anything to happen to you, that's all."


    Would "sitting back down" be okay, or should it be "and sat back down"? I know this is a really oblivious question — I'm not a writer, don't hate on me!
     
  2. lasm
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    lasm Member

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    The -ing form of verbs (like "sitting") is a present participle but it is not necessarily in present tense; rather, it indicates that this action is happening at the same time as the other verb ("said"). If she speaks and then sits, you'd say "and sat back down" instead. So you're not mixing past and present tense in this sentence; the verbs are fine.

    You should work on punctuating dialogue, though.
    he added, "I've been telling you this since that robber incident."
    I lost count," she said jokingly
     
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  3. Windatone
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    Windatone New Member

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    Ah, I see. Thanks for the advice, it helps a lot. :)

    Why would "I lost count," be a comma instead of a period though?
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Because a dialogue tag is a dependent clause of the independent clause contained within the quotes.

    "I lost count," she said jokingly.

    Remove the quotation marks and it becomes apparent:
    I lost count, she said jokingly.

    If you make a period, you get:
    I lost count. She said jokingly.

    See now how the tag is a fragment in this last form? It is a syntactic part of the sentence that is dialogue. Don't let the quotation marks fool you into thinking it is automatically disconnected.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    tenses are mixed all the time in both good writing and bad... just make sure you do it properly...
     
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  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, it is appropriate. Don't ask whether something is appropriate in fiction - it is. Just do it right.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If you know what you're doing, it's acceptable to mix tenses in the narrative as well, though I should mention that it's not done that often.
     
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