1. NovemberRose
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    NovemberRose Member

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    Past and present tense in novels

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by NovemberRose, Oct 23, 2012.

    I am having trouble deciding how to go about this. I am in the process of rewriting my novel. Each chapter begins with a telephone conversation between two of my main characters. Then, one of the characters goes on to recall a memory from their earlier life together. In my first draft, I was writing the phone conversations in present tense, to give a sense of immediacy - and the memories were written in past tense. A few weeks ago, I had a brainwave, I felt I should make the phone conversations in past tense and that the memories should be written in present tense, to make them feel like flashbacks. I think this could potenially work, if done well - pulling the reader in, etc. I would like some opinions, please! Could this work? What would you prefer if you were reading this book? :)
     
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, if your phone conversations are done in direct speech - eg. it's written inside quotation marks and probably with some dialogue tags like "he said" etc - then it should ALWAYS be in the present tense. If it's a conversation, it'd be plain confusing and wouldn't even be grammatically correct - how on earth would you even do this...?

    "Hi Charlotte, I was coming to see you today."
    "Oh great! I was looking forward to it all day! We would've had such a great time!"
    "I bought a chocolate cake. I knew that was your favourite."
    "Oh you were the best! That was my favourite indeed!"

    Just an example.... o_O Weirdest and most awkward piece of dialogue I've ever typed up.

    Another note - if something's a "memory" then by definition it simply CANNOT be happening now, thus the present tense would also be confusing. The reader will be left thinking the phone convos are the memories and the real memories are current events.

    Overall, I'd say, don't do it.
     
  3. NovemberRose
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    NovemberRose Member

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    Maybe I should give a brief example

    Phone conversation:
    2001
    I picked up the telephone and dialled the number I'd jotted down on the back of a takeaway menu. He picked up before the first ring had even finished.

    "Hello?"

    "Hi, Sam. It's me."

    "Kate, I was wondering when you'd phone," he said with a laugh.

    "I'm sorry," I said. "It's been manic at work and Paul's got the flu."

    etc

    1980
    In the distance, I see him. My friends laugh, but I wave them aside and walk up to him. Tall, dark and while not exactly handsome, he has a certain something that captivates me. When his eyes fall on me, I'm the only girl in the room. I ask him a stupid question. "So, what kind of music do you like?" He smiles.

    The first night of the rest of my life. The day I first meet Sam.

    etc.

    I just made this up so please don't be too harsh! It's just to explain what I've been trying to do...

    I thought the memories in present tense make them feel more like flashbacks.
     
  4. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Strangely I'm working on a story that uses everything. It is told in 1st person, but she also tells stories in 3rd person about other people, and speaks through the narrative to a character in 2nd person, while also working in the present tense with the now, the past tense with what happened in her past, and the future tense with her dreams and ambitions. And then they all ger mixed together, with 2nd person future tense, 2nd person past tense, 3rd person past tense etc etc etc.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't mistake narrative tense (the time perspective of the narrator reporting the story) and grammatical tence (the tense of individual verbs).

    In your example, the narration is in past tense. But would the observer's perspective change the verb tenses in characters' dialogue? Of course not! So if the conversation is in present tense, it will still be in present tense even if the narrator is looking back from ten years in the future.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true!... so you didn't actually do this:

     

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