1. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    question about tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by starseed, Jun 19, 2009.

    Staying in the same tense is something I find really confusing about writing. My book is past tense, in general, but there are times I find using past tense feels wrong. I'll give an example.

    Women were complicated creatures. Some girls, like Jess, were like a serious of locked gates which only needed to be opened once. The moment he and Jess had shared their first kiss, the gate was unlocked and he felt completely free to lay one on her any time he pleased. But girls like Cora were more like a top secret military base. A soldier might be allowed inside when it served a purpose, but couldn’t simply return the next day and walk back in. Not without clearance.

    I'm debating whether to say "Women were complicated creatures" to keep with the tense of the paragraph, or to say "Women are complicated creatures".

    To me, women being complicated is a fact that transcends time, so wouldn't it be present tense? There are a lot of these little facts/thoughts throughout my book that seem separate from any certain tense. This is confusing to me. Any insight would be helpful.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think we can assume the speaker believes that women are still complicated creatures, unless he was hit by a flash of insight that made them instantly easy to comprehend.

    Therefore,
    The rest of the paragraph illustrates the point through reminiscences about Jess and Cora/ Presumably he only knows what they were like when he knew them. If they still are alive now, they coulde have changed a lot, so it's approriate to discuss them in past tense.

    In truth, you can have a complex mix of tenses in a paragraph, even in a single sentence, while still maintaining a constant tense with respect to point of view:
    This may be helpful: What's Your Point (of View)?
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You're right that that sentence would make more sense in the present tense, but even then I don't think it would fit properly. I would try to reword it to something like:
    (the guy) had always found women to be complicated creatures. (for example)
    so that you convey the same thing but without awkwardly changing tense.
     
  4. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Thanks guys. I changed it up. Instead of women are/were complicated I said:

    The complicated system of boundaries pertaining to the acceptable touching of a woman had always confused the hell out of Devin.


    I think it fits better with the tense and also leads into the paragraph better than the vague overall idea that women are complicated. What do you think?
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I like it, its so overblown and symphonic.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think it was better as the simple statement:

    Women are complicated creatures.

    It's direct, concise, and unambiguous.

    Don't get too tense over tense!
     
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  7. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    What are you trying to achieve as a writer? This rewritten sentence reads like an information statement with little emotional impact. The short sentence that Cog suggested above carries more impact. So, I wonder what you're trying to accomplish as a writer. Information or impact?
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I must agree with Saulty. Words and terms like pertaining and acceptable touching are sterile and clinical. They read like scientific notes, not the emotional confusion which the sentence seems to wish to convey.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Why not keep with parallelism? When you mention Core, you wrote: But girls like Cora were more like a top . . . here the past tense were works fine. Why not write the opening sentence the same, making both parallel?

    Girls like Jess were like a series of locked gates . . .

    This way we figure out girls are complicated creatures without you ever telling us. Just a thought.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you can solve it easily, with:

    btw, 'serious' should be 'series'...
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think the revised sentence carries more impact...the contrast between the formal sterility of the opening bit and the bluntness of the end is effective...it also reveals more about the character (assuming this is 3rd person ltd) and lets her flew her style muscles.
     
  12. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Excellent suggestion -- show, don't tell.
     
  13. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Hmmm that doesn't work really. I don't need to say "to devin" because the voice is sort of inside his head. Like a mindreader.

    The way I re-wrote it is supposed to sound sort of sterile. That's my humor. I guess only one person gets it but that's okay. I have a weird sense of humor eheh.

    That's what I think too, thanks! I'm going to keep it that way. :)
     

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