1. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Grammar Sentence structure correct? past and present.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Kevin Murphy, Jul 30, 2016.

    Hi all just wondering could I get some help with this I'm writing a Fanfic at the moment and I'm looking through trying to get the flow of the writing right, but I'm noticing that in certain sentences I'm using past and present tense, So I was just wondering how does this sentence check out:

    The young Airbender had observed her momentary wavering and has turned his head to the side eyeing her from the corner of his vision.

    Notice the has and had, i'm trying to convey that he had turned and is now doing said action if that makes sense...
     
  2. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    You might agonise over the sequencing - in your mind's eye, yet discover that -

    The young Airbender had observed her momentary wavering and has [,] turned his head to the side[ ,] eyeding her from the corner of his vision

    ...is equally effective. 'Had' is an ugly word. Long trails of 'had' in prose = nobody will read your story. Try my way, read aloud, toss in a conjunction if you waver :)
     
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  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    What I've learned if I get stuck with stuff like this, is to remind myself that the sentence can be changed, chopped, rearranged. You don't have to adhere strictly to the sentence, worryingly solely about those two problematic words.

    However, if you're set on that exact sentence I suggest:

    The young Airbender had observed her momentarily? wavering, and turned his head to the side, eyeing her from the corner of his vision.

    The question mark wouldn't be there, of course. I'm just questioning whether the word should be 'momentarily' as opposed to 'momentary'.

    Also observe the commas I've inserted. I'm sure someone will come along and tell us they're splices, but I think it helps the rhythm.

    If you're open to changes, then I would do something like:

    The young Airbender had observed her momentarily wavering. He turned his head to the side and eyed her from the corner of his vision.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's the tense of the entire work--past or present?

    I put the sentence into context, and tweak it a bit:

    Past:

    Joe wandered into the bar and looked around. He put his hat on the back and took a stool, the better to watch Jane. He had seen her momentary wavering, so he turned his head to the side, eyeing her from the corner of his vision.

    Present:

    Joe wanders into the bar and looks around. He puts his hat on the back and takes a stool, the better to watch Jane. He has seen her momentary wavering, so he turns his head to the side, eyeing her from the corner of his vision.

    But...I don't like the present-tense version of the sentence. I think that the difficulty with making smooth transitions between past and present is one of the down sides of works in the present tense. But that may just be because I've read very few present-tense works.
     
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  5. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure your present-tense example is truly present tense.

    Joe wanders into the bar and looks around. He puts his hat on the back and takes a stool to better watch Jane. She momentarily wavers. He turns his head to the side to eye her from his periphery.

    Probably, I'm arguing semantics, and I'm not really one to give grammar advice. But "He has seen her" is not present tense in my understanding of the term.

    ETA: I'm realizing I may have missed the point of this post. If that's the case, ignore my comments here.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I think that you're right. I was trying to get more of the structure of the original example into my example, but I don't like it; I had to twist and fold it to get it in there. Your example is more purely present tense, and the fact that it's hard to gracefully sit in the present and look in the immediate past, as opposed to just walking through time and observing it as it goes, is, IMO, part of the problem with a present tense narrative.
     
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  7. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    It is definitely one of the challenges of present-tense.

    I think the story dictates the POV. The novel that I wrote is in present-tense. I did it because the entire story takes place over the course of a few days. Personally, I can't see the story in any other tense, but that's just me. Some people vehemently hate it. And that's ok. I can appreciate that not everyone will like what I write.

    Truth be told, I was unprepared to take on a whole novel in present-tense and it needs quite a lot of work. That is how I learn though. I need to make mistakes and do things for myself to know what needs fixing.
     
  8. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry to hijack, but what's the term when a past, past tense is used in typical past tense?

    Example. 'For three hours that day the sun had been beating down, but as it sank slowly to the horizon the walkers were mercifully spared its rays.'
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that your example is past progressive/past continuous. It's something in the past that was going on for a while in the past.

    But you're talking about referring, from the point of view of the past, to something that happened further in the past?

    Joe hated Jane. She had killed his cat, burned down his house, and eaten all his Mallomars.

    I had to Google for this one, but I believe it's past perfect.

    I got that from http://www.dailywritingtips.com/9-forms-of-the-past-tense/
     
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  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Past Perfect.

    You can remember it by thinking that once's something finished, it's perfect - the sun is finished beating down, so it's written in past perfect tense.

    ETA:

    Example, I think, of the four different past tenses:

    I had been travelling for years. I had visited all the countries of Europe and most of those in Asia. I was working my way back home when I saw the brown dog.

    past perfect progressive, past perfect, past progressive, simple past.
     
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  11. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks both.

    I like that - when it's finished it's perfect. I actually don't have any problems writing in past perfect - when its required it comes to me instinctively - I just wasn't sure what it was called.
     
  12. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Thanks all for the replies, really learned alot about the different past tenses and their effective use, so thank you all again. So I think I've narrowed it down to this:

    The young Airbender observed her momentary wavering and turning his head to the side he eyed her from the corner of his vision.
     
  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    As @OurJud has suggested, you do actually need a couple of commas in this sentence. However, not quite where he puts them...

    The young Airbender observed her momentary wavering and, turning his head to the side, he eyed her from the corner of his vision.

    The reason that you need them is that the middle section (turning his head to the side) is a sub-clause; you could omit it without changing how grammatical the sentence is. The only other suggestion is that you don't need the pronoun in he eyed; it's quite clear who is eyeing her from the corner of his vision, even more so if you read the sentence without the sub-clause.
     
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  14. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Ah perfect, it was 2am when I wrote that so logic wasn't my friend haha. Anyway guys since finding all the tense errors within my fic I'm currently going through it with a fine tooth comb picking out the present tense mistakes, tell me what you all think of this small section:

    WARNING: CONTAINS MA CONTENT.



    His senses are set ablaze when the flogger comes down on his glowing red ass, the snap of its tails on his skin are loud and he cries out in pain, the former entanglement of pain and pleasure that had accompanied the blows beforehand had been abandoned – now it was all pain, searing pain that coursed through his entire body, it’s sentiment turning every hair on his skin electric. Another strike was brought down on his backside as his bellows of suffering are lost to the gag. He knew he could bring this all to a end at any moment if he wanted to, and she too would drop this at a moment’s notice to come rushing to his side, to comfort him in every way possible, but as taboo and maybe even ‘sadistic’ as this would have seemed to others, this was all part of their newly commenced power exchange and he wanted her to push him to the edge, to explore their limits and bring themselves back safely, unless he disobeys his master Waterbender again, that is.
     
  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your mixing up tenses again - His senses ARE set ablaze vs Another strike WAS brought down.

    You might also look at comma splice/run-on sentence errors...
     
  16. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Ah, Noted and fixed and thank you :)....Arhh I really don't know why I'm having trouble with such a basic language rule :(:(....Think I've been at the computer too long or I could just be shit at this sort of thing lol, time for some fresh air possibly. Thanks again BayView
     
  17. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    First, I will also agree with @BayView. Some pretty noticeable run-on sentences here. Don't be afraid of a full stop.

    Second, refer to the quote. (Not saying my corrections are perfect as I'm not an expert, but these are the issues that stood out to me highlighted in blue.

    There are some parts of this which I'm not familiar (mixing past and present tense). I won't comment on those because I'm not entirely sure of the rules. Even some of my highlighted issues can be done another way. But this is as I see it, for what it's worth.
     
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  18. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Again thank you for your input, yeah some of the tense rules I'm still working my head around. And I'll be sure to address those pesky run on's as well. I definitely noticed that the replacement of 'was' with 'is' seems to lend itself better to the flow of the passage alright.
     
  19. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Kevin,

    Why are you using present tense? As you've demonstrated, it's awfully easy to slip into the (IMO) more-natural-for-story-telling past tense.

     
  20. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Thanks for the reply Shadowfax some really nice suggestions there, so..Are you suggesting that I should use present tense? replacing was with is?
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are using present tense. I believe the suggestion was that you shift the piece to past tense, since you seem to naturally lapse into that tense anyway.
     
  22. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Yeah I think past just sounds more natural, it seems to have a better flow from screen to speech, to be honest guys I have just starting back writing so please excuse the noob questions haha, but thanks again all for the suggestions.
     
  23. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    There is also something to be said for rhythm.

    I wrote a whole novel in present tense. Which I've realized was ill advised because I wasn't equipped to do it. I certainly learned a lot and, at the beginning, I slipped into past tense multiple times. Once I got into the meat of the story, though, it all became second nature.

    To contrast, the short stories and poems I've been writing to hone my craft (hopefully to properly equip me to rewrite my novel) have been in past tense. And guess what? I've caught myself slipping into present.

    I think it's all about your exposure, rather than which way a story should be told.
     
  24. Kevin Murphy
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    Kevin Murphy Member

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    Yeah you make a very good point about exposure, whats been working for other people around you and what you've been seeing from others writing. In my area of writing, I write Fanfiction people definitely lean towards past tense, but in saying that I've seen quite a few present tense stories that were fantastically well written. But I think for my taste I think past will work better for the current story I'm working on at the moment. However I really do like the intimacy that the present tense brings, and for lemon fanfiction it lends itself better to creating that being there in the moment type of feeling.
     
  25. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Whatever floats your boat. I think both, past and present tense, are great when executed properly. I've seen an alarming amount of hate for the latter, and I think it's silly.

    But that's writing for you. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    Write how you want to write, but make sure the writing is good whichever tense you choose.
     

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