1. Kelly Ishii
    Offline

    Kelly Ishii New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1

    Switching between tenses

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Kelly Ishii, Jun 11, 2008.

    Hi everyone,

    New to the forums, and I know there's been a lot of questions about tense, but I thought I'd add another one that's been bothering me as I write:

    I'm writing a novel that is third-person, and begins with the main character's death. But the actual meat of the story is told as a recollection that leads up to that moment. Going back over the 200+ pages I've written so far, I find that I've written dialog and action-based events that are within the context of the dialog in present tense; however, I've also found that I've written in the past tense for descriptions of parks, cities, and long narratives about sequential events that don't intertwine with dialog or actions being given commentary.

    If this is confusing - as I feel I am making it seem that way - I'll provide a small example:

    The air outside was more crisp and life-affirming then anything Lucas had ever experienced. But, then again, he did just spend 22 hours on a plane that was like a sensory deprivation chamber capable of languishing even the most vital man. Even while standing under the mothy lights of the airport hub waiting for a cab, he could see an aura of pollution in the distance being illuminated by the setting sun angle, and highlighting what he assumed was their unseeable destination - Tokyo.
    The pure anticipation that bubbled in him was bringing him to a state of puerile anxiousness. He was tapping his foot impatiently on the concrete and causing, he was sure, some butterfly-effect mudslide on the other side of the world.
    “Taxi!” Leon shouts out towards a cab that drives by vacant. “Damn.”
    “We should just take a bus. The cab’s going to be ridiculously expensive,” Lucas insists.
    “How expensive can it be?”
    “Close to 35,000 yen.”
    Leon just looks at Lucas with a blank expression.
    “That’s about $350.”
    “What? Why so much?”
    “I don’t know. That’s just how much it’s going to cost.”
    “Well, it’s a good thing my parents are paying for my half of the trip.”
    “You still want to take a cab?”
    “Yeah. I’ll pay for it; or, rather, my parents will. Don’t worry about it. I’d rather not take the chance of getting lost with buses and... Taxi!” he shouts at another passing by. “Damnit. I think these drivers are racist. They don’t want to pick up two young white guys.”

    I think that might show what I mean.

    I know it's said, as a basic rule, the entire novel should be kept to one tense to avoid confusion and create a simple sense of uniformity. However, when I try to write it all as either entirely past or present, it doesn't seem to flow naturally with the entirety of the novel.

    I'd like some expert opinions on this issue, please.

    Thanks,
    Kelly Ishii
     
  2. Vertz
    Offline

    Vertz Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2008
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM/ Greensboro, NC
    I don't know that my opinion is expert, but I'll give you what I have to say.

    Honestly, that switch between past and present in that example threw me. I knew it was coming and it still caught me off guard (it doesn't help that I'm a grammar snob). You could change all the present tense verbs in that example to past tense and it would work. In fact, I think it would flow better that way. If you're writing this for someone else to read, you don't want to confuse them. Keeping to one tense will help place the story.
     
  3. InkDancer
    Offline

    InkDancer Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2008
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Sayville, NY
    When you're composing a story for the first time, you're writing for yourself. Use whatever verb tenses seem natural and allow you to get the story on paper.

    But revising, well, that's for the rest of us. :) Once it's on paper, it wouldn't be hard to change the dialogue tags to the past tense, and I think the story would flow better as a result.
     
  4. Kelly Ishii
    Offline

    Kelly Ishii New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2008
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    When you explain it this way, everything is more lucid to me. I was writing dialog and action sequences in present because in my head they were playing out that way, and I was just typing trying to keep up - thinking out loud with my computer keys, in other words.

    Vertz: I will definitely go back and revise the dialog and action scenes to fit the past tense. After having a night to rest on it, and looking at it with a fresh new morning, it does seem peculiar to me, as well.

    Thanks for your input, guys!
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    yes, it was 'peculiar' to put it mildly!... glad you saw the light and redid it properly...

    btw, you could have resolved your confusion more easily, by just taking a look at novels on your bookshelf, where you would have seen dialog and narrative all in the same tense... almost universally, past...
     

Share This Page