1. Star1et
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    Star1et New Member

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    Narrative tenses

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Star1et, Jan 14, 2014.

    First post here! Not sure if I'm posting in the right section. If it should be moved, please move it but please let me know!

    Whenever I write in narratives I tend to change from future tense to past tense. I think I've always done it, even in research papers. So I'm wondering if it's a huge issue in creative writing. Or if I should keep writing straight and worry about it later?

    Also, I don't ever notice it. It's always pointed out to me. Anyone know if there's anything out there that can help me identify when I'm doing it or how to fix it later! I suppose that's what an editor is for?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It would seem (pure conjecture on my part) that you are forcing a present tense, for some reason, against your personal innate nature to write in past tense, hence the slide in one direction. Perhaps starting in past tense may alleviate the inconsistency.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Future tense?
    An editor might point it out for you, although you might have to change it yourself I guess. Why don't you just re-read it and try to spot the problems yourself? That would save you a lot of money... I understand that it's easy to slip into another tense while writing, but do you mean you can't see it when you look at what you've written either? In that case maybe let someone you know read it, someone with an eye for these things. And of course, what Wreybies said. Sometimes we have a tense that feels more natural for us to write in.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If you write in a present tense POV, the narrator has to be the main character and it would be hard to inject another present tense POV narrator though it's an intriguing idea.

    Wouldn't all other narration be past tense (though the narrator can relate present tense conversation and thought)?
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Actually the book I am reading now, The Terror by Dan Simmons, is 3rd person present tense.
     
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  6. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    A perhaps philosophical question: if your goal is to make the reader live the story as the protagonist, and thus have their emotions stimulated as a means of entertainment, why would they want the tense to change? How can I experience a story, on the scene and in real time, if the tense says it hasn't yet happened?

    You mention that you tend to switch tenses in your academic writing. You should be aware that fiction for the printed word is not at all like that kind of writing. Papers are almost invariably fact-based and author-centric. They're reports, and focus concisely and dispassionately on fact because the goal is to inform. But fiction is designed to entertain, which must be emotion-based to succeed. It should also be character-centric if it's to place the reader into the protagonist's POV. That requires an entirely different approach, and set of compositional skills, which means that your background and writing habits might work against you.

    A bit of research into the structure of fiction and how the various elements contribute might make sense.
     
  7. Star1et
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    Star1et New Member

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    I think what I do is start by writing about something that is happening in the here and now (or at least from the character's prospective) and then I switch to the past as if the character is remembering it. I think it's hard to explain. But these are helpful thoughts. Things to keep in mind. So thank you. Even if it's more confusing for either you or me.

    Sometimes I just need a different perspective.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. Good book, too. You don't need the main character to narrate a present tense novel any more than you do a past tense novel. I know I've read present tense novels that shift point-of-view characters, but I'd have to do some digging to see which ones they are.
     
  9. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Barbara Kingsolver's Pigs in Heaven comes to mind. Though I liked the book, I wasn't particularly fond of the use of 3rd present tense, especially since The Bean Trees (its predecessor) was predominantly 1st past tense.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    why do you write in future tense at all?
     
  11. Star1et
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    Star1et New Member

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    It's just the natural flow of my writing.
     
  12. Glacial
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    Glacial Member

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    Are you sure you mean future tense? It sounds impossible to write anything coherent that keeps switching from past to future. Do you have a sample of your writing I could take a look at? I'm very confused.
     
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  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that... please show us an example...
     
  14. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Yes, please. I'd like to see how you're using future tense and how you're switching to past tense.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Me too.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I just finished Hyperion and want more Simmons even though the ending was a huge let down. The guy is an incredible writer. I'll take a look at it.
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's really good so far. I normally detest present tense narrative. I didn't even realize it it was until a few pages in. He knows how to make it work. ;)
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    I normally detest it, too... and so few do know how to make it work, wrey!

    but, believe it or not, I was just asked to mentor a new writer the other day who did such a masterful job of it, that I found myself not wanting to stop reading her novel's opening pages despite the tense I hate, even though there were a variety of goofs and glitches in need of a fix mainly due to her setting it in NYC when she's in south Africa and never been to the US...

    and she's only FIFTEEN!

    watch for her... I'm predicting she'll have become a major mystery maven a couple of decades from now...
     
  19. Star1et
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    Star1et New Member

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    Hmm... Sorry for the delay. I've had a lot of work lately :/ I'm not really if there's an example in here. But it's certainly an area of writing that I keep staring at that doesn't look right.

    "Elaine sighed as she pulled her faded green Camry in front of their shabby home. The paint on the siding had certainly seen better days as the blue was more like gray with spots of blue. The lawn hadn’t been mowed in weeks and the overgrown grass was probably hiding some vicious raptors. The driveway was another mess, it was covered with potholes. While I had lived in the house for nearly three years I still managed to drunkenly trip over one of the smaller potholes. Barely stopping to notice, Elaine hurried up the front porch where the screen door hung open and unlocked the door. I clambered inside after her; I wasn’t planning on sticking around for another lecture and hurried off to my linen closet sized bedroom.

    Exhausted, I perched on the edge of her bed, with my fading Disney princess comforter on it. I looked around my quaint room trying to recall everything that had happened that night. Where had we gone wrong that it led to an arrest? The cops in this town knew me all too well.

    It was Saturday night and as usual the gang and I had been down by the docks. But something had been different; I had been more heavily intoxicated than other weekends. Jarod had brought Goldschlager, something I had never had before. And it was like cinnamon bliss. It had brought me to a different world but it had also made me see in double. Things had eventually become hazy and I lost a large chunk of my night to a blackout. And by the time I had come to, I was in the backseat of a police cruiser. What had I done in those hours to get arrested, I had no idea but I was sure to hear about it in school on Monday.

    A soft knock on the door made me jump; I looked to see my baby brother, Cameron at the door. He wasn’t my real brother, but Elaine’s son and he adored me. He was a cute kid, with curly red hair taking over most of his head. He had these great blue eyes that were filled with so much innocence. I had to sigh some as I saw him in his footless Spiderman pajamas carrying a glass of water and ibuprofen. The kid had really grown over the last three years. I smiled weakly at him and took them from him.

    “Jazzy, what’s that?” Cameron pointed to my ankle. Cameron had seemed to almost always call me Jazzy, it was either for him to say when he was younger. He had never grown out of the endearment."

    I'm sorry I don't know how else to input it. my file didn't have the right extension :/
     
  20. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I don't see any future tense in that excerpt. Appears to be all past or past perfect.
     
  21. Star1et
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    Star1et New Member

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    Maybe I'm lying to myself? It's also quite possible that I'm just paranoid. I'll have to look at home. I have more writing available there :)
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    I agree... there's nothing there in future tense... future tense verbs would be:

    will
    shall
    going to

    and so on...
     
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  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You might look at The Terror, which is a great book of his. Actually, everything I've read of his has been good. His old horror stuff like Carrion Comfort is also a lot of fun.

    As for future tense - I've come across it, I think in an Angela Carter short story, but it is not very common. I also don't see future tense in the posted excerpt.
     
  24. drewhosick
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    drewhosick New Member

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    If it makes you feel any better(it probably won't), I started writing again and I found myself going from past tense to present tense when I shouldn't be. I have a feeling during the review process and editing process I may have some serious editing to do and look out for these problems.
     
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  25. Star1et
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    Star1et New Member

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    Ok then I must be just kidding myself. I'm glad to have cleared this up. Thanks for everyone's help!
     

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