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  1. Abraham First

    Abraham First Member

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    Grammar Present Tenses in non-linear narrative. Is it acceptable?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Abraham First, Jan 9, 2017.

    The present tense is good when used with the first-person POV as it gives the feeling of 'senses of happening' in the story. The characters are almost in the same situation as the readers, they (the character) doesn't know what will happen next.

    So you can't give some kind of possible spoiler at then end of a chapter like 'I never knew that what I did that day would to a massive event that would eventually change my life latter'.

    Now, the question is as it stated in this thread title, is it acceptable to write using present-tenses in non-linear narrative in terms of rules of writing? Or is it even applicable? I never try it before.

    Please give me your advice and opinions as expert, writers, and readers.
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just FYI, this is usually equally true in past tense. Present versus past tense are just a matter of grammar; they don't change the facts of the story or the knowledge of the characters.

    Again, this would normally not happen in a past tense story either. Edited to add: At least, not in most modern past tense stories. It has the feel of an old-fashioned novel.

    I feel the need for an example. Are you asking if you can do the same thing as your example above in present tense? Sure, yeah.

    I reach to open the door. I am unaware that what I learn will change the course of my life. I open the door. And my life changes, in that moment, forever.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel the need to come back to talk about this.

    The narrative tense of a story and the "wrapper" explaining how the story got told (if there is any such wrapper) don't need to have any relationship.

    For example, a story can be clearly happening in the past, but told in the present tense:

    See, January third, last month, I'm headed for work, on my first day at a new job. I'm late--really late. The city is covered in snow, and none of the buses are running.

    But I don't know that, see? I'm standing at the bus stop, and this car rolls up to the curb and this guy leans out and asks, "You want a ride?"

    "Sure," I say, and I get in the back seat. "How much to take me downtown?"

    "Sixty bucks," he says.

    Well, I'm not happy about it, but I get out my wallet and...

    It's told in present tense. It clearly happened in the past.

    Similarly, a story can be presented in past tense, without the characters having the faintest idea what's about to happen. I don't really need an example for this, because that's how most past tense books are.

    Edited to add: But I've occasionally pointed out that in real life, we use the past tense for events that just happened, that are only the tiniest bit in the past.

    They were out of fries, so I got onion rings.

    The light turned red. You gonna go?

    Hey! That guy just stole my wallet!

    When you say these things, the fact that you use past tense doesn't mean that you know what's going to happen next. You don't know if you're going to recover your wallet, you don't know if you'll get hit by another car if the driver runs that red light, you don't know if you'll get food poisoning from the onion rings. Even though you use past tense, you don't have the faintest idea. That's how most modern past tense books are. Edited to add: You're balanced on the narrow edge between the just-barely-past behind you, and the future in front of you.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
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  4. Abraham First

    Abraham First Member

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    Maybe I am wrong, but Isn't that frame story? So the character is telling the event last month, whats he doing presently?
     
  5. Abraham First

    Abraham First Member

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    No, what I am asking is can use present-tense in a story with non-linear story.

    For example, I am writing a book. The story depicting a whole month of a man (the protagonist) day by day. But, the chapters isn't written in chronological way. First chapter is day 8, second chapter is day 25, chapter 3 is day 4 and so on (randomly) until the last chapter would be day 1.

    The question is, am I allowed to use present tense for the book while the story isn't told chronologically?

    I am thinking it might be weird to read and wrong to write in terms of writing rules. I was planning on writing it first and ask people opinions, but I don't want to work two times (scraping and making the new ones using past tense) if it turns out to be unacceptable.
     
  6. Abraham First

    Abraham First Member

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    PS: Sorry for so many typos and left out words.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Allowed to? Who is going to stop you?

    Yes, of course you can do this. Just do it well. It may take a bit more skill to pull something like this off, but no harm in trying. See how it comes out, and that'll answer whether you, as an author, can pull it off.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, we can lose the word "last month" and change it to

    January 3 of 1969, I'm headed to...

    Or it could start with,

    So, something happens that changes my life forever. I'm headed to...

    My point is that you can use the grammatical present tense for a story that happened in the past, and you can use the grammatical past tense for a story that's happening now. The tense doesn't determine anything about the story.
     
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  9. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree with Steerpike. It really boils down to the writer. If you think you can write well using present tense, go for it. At the very least, it'll be a good learning experience.
     
  10. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Honestly, a story that hops around like that is going to be a bit non-traditional anyway, so I think present tense might actually suit it really well.

    I can't see why present tense would be any less effective than past tense, for sure.
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hate present tense narrative with a fiery passion, but I see no reason why it couldn't be used for the story in question. I wouldn't read it, but it doesn't break any rules.
     
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  12. Abraham First

    Abraham First Member

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    Thanks everyone.
     
  13. Asphyxiates

    Asphyxiates New Member

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    That is deff plausible, every chapter in present tense, non linear. Just make sure to add the proper header at the begining of each chapter. The reader will be smart enough to sort the days sequentially for the month.
     

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