1. Kristen
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    Kristen New Member

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    Tense in first person

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Kristen, Jan 22, 2011.

    My character reflects on the past a fair bit so most of the story is written in past tense, except for immediate thoughts.
    She is retelling an event. Would it be appropriate to state;

    Here we go. I thought.

    OR should I write

    Here we go. I had thought.

    ('Here we go' is a response to someone about to launch into a tirade)

    Thank you
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    "Here we go," I thought.

    Only do "I had thought" if she's thinking of something that happened months before the current narration.

    Another option is:

    "Here we go," I think.

    This is if you use present tense.
     
  3. Boring Editor
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    Boring Editor Member

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    It's in first person, so thought is implied.

    Here we go again.

    Here we went again.
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're going back to memories, I generally would go with "had" for the first one or two actions, then move into normal past tense. Using present tense for the present and past tense for the past is an extremely neat way of doing things, and therefore you shouldn't be stressing too hard. :p Worse for me because I write everything in past tense and also use flashbacks fairly often. Blargh. :p Count yourself lucky!
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thoughts should not be in " "... those are only for dialog spoken aloud... thus, your line should only be:

    'had' is only used if the action/dialog occurred in the past past... such as:

    see the difference?
     
  6. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Surely There we went again.
     
  7. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no such 'should' about it!... good writers don't need to use italics to let readers know someone is thinking... and what you would do 'personally' will not be acceptable to most agents/editors/publishers...

    none of those make any sense, since 'diana stopped' is not an intro to dialog... and should be a sentence on its own... it's clear enough to know she's thinking to do just this:
    Diana stopped. It's far too cold, she thought.

    the first 'had' is optional and i opted for its use... the second one is needed to set this 'past' past apart from the 'current' past of the rest of the narrative...
     
  9. Kristen
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    Kristen New Member

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    Thanks so much for your input everyone!
     
  10. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I get that.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually the Penguin book of punctuation doesn't like the idea but says a persons thoughts or quotes is now an acceptable use of italics. Now I am interpreting - general gist is use of wordprocessors have made increasingly popular and common usage makes it acceptable.

    Now personally if penguin want to publish my work I ain't gonna sniff at it. Certainly the very successful agent that phoned me because my book showed promise said she highly doubted my book would be turned down because I had italicised for emphasis, thoughts, and 'quotes' from books. She said they are not going to shout for joy over an otherwise well written story and then say you know what I'll turn this down because of something that is in wide usage, the publisher will probably do anyway and that will take less than an hour to fix.
     
  12. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I agree with you. It's a minor point to a publisher when presented with a promising mss. A good publisher will advise you if she thinks the work warrants it.

    I think sometimes we get too intense about grammar. It doesn't matter if you don't know what a split infinitive or a mixed conditional is as long as you have a feeling for what you're writing and you can present it in a clear and understandable manner.

    To do that, we need to get our heads out of the grammar books and into both the classics and the more modern best sellers We need to learn from the people who've already made it.

    We also need to use language in an interesting and fresh manner - and sometimes that means doing things that aren't written in any rule book.

    To adhere too strictly to the rules of grammar can be stifling to creative writing.

    Having said that, I'm not talking about sloppy english. The basics are still important and you have to have a good knowledge of the basics to be able to use language to advantage. But then you have to use it, not let it dictate to you.

    Intelligent writers try to do that.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    However we are English the generation that are now agents, publishers etc in our country grew up in 60s/70s when punctuation etc wasn't a big deal at school :)

    I've got round the problem by writing deliberatly colliquial works - inside head of seventeen year old boy, or an elderly northern lady etc My natural grammar works perfectly for all my characters.

    I feel more confident now my first book has had some interest although no acceptance, I have only received two standard rejections, others have come back with comments not one mentioning the italics (I have two chunks where my character is read a bedtime story), some asked to see more, the agent that phoned me is about to retire and is no longer taking on new writers as a result but she feels my first story if rewritten with the talent, my second story shows, my first has commerical potential, she thinks the interest shown has been because it ticks a lot of the boxes of what publishers want this year, however its not quite ready - I do have one interested agent but she wants changes with my second book I don't want to make. I am now rewriting my first it with the knowledge I have gained over last year and I am so proud of it.
     
  14. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    This shows there is nothing definite when it comes to fiction writing. I think it all comes down to telling a good story. Italics for thoughts make me cringe most of the time, but sometimes I just don't care because the story is so good, like in the case of The God of Small Things.

    As an aspiring writer I find it advantageous to avoid italics for thoughts, because that way I am forced to write with more clarity. So, by all means use italics for thoughts in your final draft, but try writing without it in your initial drafts. I am not sure how it works in the publishing world, because I know very little about that world, but I was in the impression that such decisions are made by the publishers, specially if the writer is a new name, like Arundhati Roy (God of Small Things is her first and only novel so far). I am really surprise to hear some of you say that publishers and agents hate italics for thoughts.
     
  15. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    That's true. I was at school in the early 60's and I think the emphasis, at least in our school, was to write well, to read and to communicate to the best of our ability. Grammar was for - well - Grammar Schools.
    And I'm not saying that's a good thing.

    I think the thing about italics for denoting thought is that, like many aspects of writing, there is either no rule at all, or the rules that exist have exceptions, are open to misinterpretation and sometimes seem outdated or obsolete.

    Sometimes it's just a matter of choice and the choices we make determine whether we become good writers, mediocre writers or miss the literary boat altogether.

    English is not a stagnant language. It changes all the time and there is no reason why a reasonably exprienced and intelligent writer can't appreciate or even instigate some of those changes.

    Creative writing is nothing if it not creative.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree and italics are something that everyone having full access too is relatively new. I use them to emphasize some personal thoughts because my story is entirely thought. It prevents it bleeding into conversation, I have one conversation where my Abbot is responding to the MCs thoughts, he also has other thoughts. It allows me to write the comedy in and keep it fast moving.

    However UK English punctuation seems to be more fluid than in the US. The work thought to be the most seminal Scots work of the 1900s uses experimental punctuation.

    Basically a sentence is a group of words that make sense beginning with a capital letter and ending with a fullstop. Commas, semi colons, colons, dashes etc are a courtesy to the reader. Playing around with them affects pace and how the sentence reads and comes across. You can use them to create ambiguity deliberatly in a sentence or clarify something etc.

    I been doing my punctuation exercises and reading up lol being scouse/scots in dialogue alternates between no punctuation in speech or too many commas and not enough fullstops (hence Sunset Song :) )
     
  17. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just keep in mind that with italics you bar yourself from the seamless flow between feelings, thoughts and narration that can otherwise be achieved by keeping one POV and one tense. This mainly goes for past tense.

    Example:
    "Mary crawled under the couch. There was no way Bill was ever gonna find her there! She calmed her breath and kept her eyes peeled on the doorstep into the room."

    Here the narrator actually expressed Mary's thoughts in the second line but without shifting POV or tense. With italics you'd be forced to switch POV and tense (because her thought would be in first person present).
     
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is where the creative comes into writing.

    My story is written entirely first person present tense. No need to switch when writing it, because it is first person present tense the book is entirely thought. My narrator needs to tell story, react, have personal thoughts and conduct dialogue.

    When all of the above are happening in the same paragraph whilst it is not necessary I felt a simple courtesy to the reader was required.
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's nothing to do with italics or not, it's about whether or not to use direct thought.

    With direct thought, without italics:
    "Mary crawled under the couch. There's no way Bill is ever gonna find me here, she thought! She calmed her breath and kept her eyes peeled on the doorstep into the room."

    With direct thought, with italics:
    "Mary crawled under the couch. There's no way Bill is ever gonna find me here! She calmed her breath and kept her eyes peeled on the doorstep into the room."

    I prefer the second, but you might prefer the first. De gustibus non disputandum est. Although either way I'd do something about those peeled eyes on the doorstep. They'd last better if she kept them in the refrigerator.
     
  20. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    That reminds me of something I read as a child that stuck in my mind as the wrong way to do things -

    his eyes moved along the shelf before falling to the floor
     

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