1. Gigantic
    Offline

    Gigantic New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2013
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    The Scotlands

    Past & Present Tense In Prologue.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Gigantic, Sep 1, 2013.

    In the prologue, I'm telling the actions of an event that happened through the narrator's eyes and took place many moons ago. Is it okay to open using past tense, then immediately switching into present tense to tell the story as it unfolds - with occasional use of the past tense to keep it a balance. Or is it more proper to keep it all in a singular tense?

    I've typed this up as an example.

    I could see her screaming. Well, I think she was screaming, I couldn't hear her due to the windows being up on all the closed doors, with the sweaty palm on my left ear muting all noise except the muffled audio coming from the speakers, as my right ear is being pushed against the window so hard that I’m wondering why my head hasn’t already burst through the thin icy sheet of glass. She looked shocked, like a cheap haunted ghoul mask that’s only purpose is to be bought last minute on Halloween, with her twisted jaw frozen open, but her eyes showing no emotion magnified under those thick glasses.

    Any advice is appreciated.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Your tense is mixed and needs cleaning up.

    Make all the tense the same, past or present but not both.

    "I could see her screaming. Well, I [thought] she was screaming, I couldn't hear her due to the windows being up on all the closed doors, [and] the sweaty palm on my left ear muting all noise except the muffled audio coming from the speakers[. My] right ear [was] being pushed against the window so hard that [I wondered] why my head [hadn't] already burst through the thin icy sheet of glass. She looked shocked, like a cheap haunted ghoul mask that’s only purpose [was] to be bought last minute on Halloween, with her twisted jaw frozen open, but her eyes showing no emotion magnified under those thick glasses."

    You could do the same thing but instead of past tense, change it to all present tense. It's not my thing but it seems to be popular to write in present tense these days.
     
  3. Gigantic
    Offline

    Gigantic New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2013
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    The Scotlands
    Thanks for replying. I know to keep writing all in the same tense, I was just wondering if there was ever any exceptions that could be made when it comes to prologues, if they are set in the past, but the writer wanting to put the reader in the action of the present. But I understand if that's too mixed, it's easy enough for me to put in the one tense.

    As a side note - why isn't writing in the present tense your thing? Is there a common opinion on this way of writing vs past tense?
     
  4. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    My novel is first person, narrated in past tense, but it includes present tense thoughts and dialogue. Since my narrator talks out loud to herself, I use regular dialogue quotes and tags for that and italics to separate internal dialogue (thoughts) from narration.

    See the "Italics for Thoughts" sticky thread in Word Mechanics. Some people don't think what I do is correct but it is commonly done and, I believe, a changing convention that has wide acceptance. It works for me.


    I think it reads awkwardly. It's not a big deal, it wouldn't stop me from reading a piece. It's just not the tense I feel like writing in.
     
  5. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,911
    Likes Received:
    10,102
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Strangely, the book I am reading now has this tense shift at the beginning of the first two chapters. The book is A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham. It almost made me not read the book because 1st person present tense is not to my liking. But Cunningham is a Pulitzer Prize winner, so his writing won me back. Regardless, the present tense was used to introduce the main players as their inner selves and then slides to past tense as the actual narrative takes over. It's beautifully done. I myself could never have written it.
     
  6. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    I shift tense all the time in kind of a weird way. When I write, it's more like talking in first person/present tense. So you get something like (hastily typed off the top of my head)

     
  7. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    see below
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2013
  8. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Present tense narration.

    This all sounds like internal dialogue.

    Since that's all dialogue except the first sentence that is in present tense, it's a different issue from narration. A person who is speaking/thinking can shift back and forth without a problem.

    It happened. What do I care? What should I care? Will I care tomorrow? No. I will not. I do not.
     
  9. Gigantic
    Offline

    Gigantic New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2013
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    The Scotlands
    How does that differ from the example gave in the origional post?
     
  10. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    Are you by any chance mixing the tenses of the auxiliary verbs in your head? You know, could and can't?
    Because GingerCoffee's example makes sense while yours is still a mismatch.

    I couldn't hear her due to the windows being up on all the closed doors = PAST
    as my right ear is being pushed against the window so hard that I’m wondering = PRESENT

    In Ginger's example, the protag looks back to some event, but we read about him/her in the now. In your example, you give the reader "the now", but you show it in past and present, and it's a little disorienting to some if you mix and match. Of course you can do it if you want, you can do anything, it's your story.
     
  11. Gigantic
    Offline

    Gigantic New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2013
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    The Scotlands
    What Ginger Coffee said about the difference between narrating actions, and inner dialogue - I think that's where I've mixed myself up.

    But then what is the true difference between inner dialogue and a narrator describing past or present situations? If a story takes place through the eyes of the main character, that makes them the narrator too - so where is the line that separates things like mixing past and present tense while narrating?
     
  12. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Cue the italics for inner dialogue thread...;)

    There is a difference between narration and inner dialogue, just as there's a difference between narration from the inclusion in the narration the repeating of other's dialogue. The narrator can either say, "[insert thought], I thought to myself," or, the narrator can just insert the thought into the narration in italics without the tags. I like the italics to let the reader know the narration is a direct thought without having to use the tags.

    One can make the direct thought clear to the reader without the tags or the italics. It's clear in Alesia's example where one sentence is narration and one is a thought. "A small moan escapes my throat. This could really suck... Bad." You can also see from those two lines the difference between narration and thought.
     
  13. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    But if you italicized inner dialogue, pretty much my entire novel would be in italics lol. I know some people hate that style of first person/present, but personally, I love writing it. Just becoming the MC and talking/thinking like them as if they were actually talking to the reader.
     
  14. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I think that's a good case for not italicizing inner dialogue. The point still holds, tense was not wrong in the paragraph you posted because thoughts as opposed to narration allow for switching tense.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,993
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    Or, often, he can insert it without italics or tags. :) No, I'm not trying to start the whole italics thread again, I just wanted to note that it isn't either tags or italics; you can very often get away with neither.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I didn't mean to suggest the third option was unavailable but since I noted it in the next paragraph, I didn't edit what I'd said earlier.
     
  17. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    The way I usually do definitive thoughts in my narratives are like this line ripped from my latest project: (context MC waking up hungover)
    "It feels like a dog shit in my mouth. Beautiful"
     
  18. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,993
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    Huh. Yes, it appears that I was napping when I read your post.
     
  19. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    Not to hijack the thread, but on the note of italics: I've often seen italics used to really emphasize a word like "I don't even feel like getting up yet." Can you still do that while italicizing thoughts/inner dialogue and have it not be confused with a thought?
     
  20. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Yes, you just reverse it and don't italicize the emphasized word.
     
  21. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Emphasizing a word is a proper use of italics. Italicizing unspoken dialogue is not.
    However, if you insist on italicizing thought, the convention for italicizing something within italics is to render it without italics.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Define "proper". :rolleyes:
     
    Alesia likes this.
  23. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    So would the convention for someone like me be to not emphasize words then? Because I don't use thought tags like "I'm thinking to myself..." etc...
     
  24. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    No no no, Cog and I are both saying one thing the same, if you use italics for internal thought, emphasized words are not italicized and that is recognized the same as italicizing a word amidst regular text.

    At least Cog admitted one thing we agreed on.

    I do believe, however, that long passages in italics can be problematic. People use it to show ESP communication and you mentioned long stretches of internal dialogue. I do think that when paragraphs and paragraphs of italics are needed, one should look at alternative to italics for showing unspoken dialogue.

    At least Ginger admitted one thing she agreed with Cog on.

    ;)
     
  25. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    I'd just be careful with those emphasis...es. Nicola Barker used them way much, multiple times per page, in her novel, Five Miles from Outer Hope (written in 1st person). My brain just stopped registering the italics altogether after a while, so I wonder what the point was with the overabundance? To somehow make the protagonist's narration stand out?
     

Share This Page