1. LotW
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    LotW New Member

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    Tenses: Writing About a Character's Future

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by LotW, May 23, 2011.

    I'm not sure I'm doing this right. I want to write about what a character intends to do:
    "Susan just had to get out and move around, even if it meant falling even farther behind on her work! She would catch up later tonight, no matter how long she had to stay up."

    The bolded sentence is the one I'm unsure about. "Tonight" is correct from Susan's point of view, but since I'm writing in the past tense, I'm getting all tangled up in the syntax. Should I use "tonight" there, or some other construction?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the thing to consider is that what you have in bold is the narrator referring to the character's thoughts/intent... in that context, 'tonight' is ok, since she'd be thinking in present tense, not past... however, i'm not sure that's the best way for you to deal with this...

    in any case, the '!' is used with the wrong sentence... it's the second that calls for emphasis...
     
  3. LotW
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    LotW New Member

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    What do you mean, not the best way to deal with it?
    (Don't worry about the exclamation, this is an example sentence. There's actually about a paragraph of content in between that isn't relevant to the question.)
     
  4. teacherayala
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    teacherayala Contributing Member

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    Maybe what she is trying to say is that if you are dealing with a person's thoughts, perhaps it should be in italics as you are clarifying her thought process. Or perhaps another way to accomplish it is to maintain the tense consistency that you began with and simply rephrase the sentence so that you don't have to worry about tense.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't speak for mammamaia, but I'd say that you could instead express the thought in the narrator's voice, rather than the character's. If so, then the tense would change:

    "Susan just had to get out and move around, even if it meant falling even farther behind on her work. She resolved that she would catch up later that night, no matter how long she had to stay up."

    I don't know that I'm saying that you _should_ switch from thoughts to the narrator's voice, just that it's an option. On the italics question, I would definitely vote against using italics for thoughts.

    ChickenFreak
     
  6. LotW
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    LotW New Member

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    In general, or in this case? I do like to use italics for internal monologue. e.g.,
    Susan eyed the man. She thought he wasn't very charming, whatever his friends said.
    vs.
    Susan eyed the man. He's not very charming, whatever his friends say, she thought.
     
  7. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I would have thought it was up to the author to decide where he wanted the emphasis. Either sentence could be emphasised.
     
  8. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have pointed out, it confuses the narrator's time frame with the character's. "She would catch up later that night..." would work, I think. (You don't need to say she resolved to do it; the reader will work that out.)
     
  9. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think using the character's PoV makes a lot of sense in this context, since "She would catch up later tonight, no matter how long she had to stay up" is really a statement about the character's thoughts and intentions at that moment (not a statement about what will happen objectively that night).

    Also, I'm not sure about this, but shouldn't both halves of the sentence use the same tense? Both of them refer to the future of the PoV, so shouldn't both of them use a form of "will"?
    I think the logic becomes clearer if we rewrite the sentence to use plain future tense:
     
  10. LotW
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    LotW New Member

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    I don't think so, that doesn't sound right.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Instead of "She will catch up later tonight, no matter how long she'll have to stay up", try:
    I will catch the 9pm train, no matter how early I have to leave home.​
    I doubt you would write "I will catch the 9pm train, no matter how early I will have to leave home."
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, I never answered this. I'm opposed to italics for thought in general. I think that the writing should make it clear that a thought is a thought, without needing italics. Your example makes it clear, so I don't think that the italics are needed, and if a change in type is not needed, then IMO it should not be there.

    In fact, in your example, I don't think that you need either of the two "signals" that it's a thought--I think that you could lose both the italics and the "she thought."

    ChickenFreak
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a bit of a tricky one. The resistance to using italics for thought seems to have developed at a time when there was a lot of internal monologue in fiction, which would have resulted in a lot of italic text -- ugly in itself, and swamping the other uses of italic. Nowadays there's a lot less internal monologue in fiction (it's associated with telling, not showing) so it probably wouldn't matter so much, and in some genres (notably romance) it has become accepted, whereas in others (as Cog and Chicken show) it hasn't. I would prefer the italic version of the example given, but whether a publisher would be happy with it probably depends on the publisher, but you might find that publishers group by genre on the issue.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is never a need for italics, when 'she thought' or anything like that is included in the sentence...

    and it will most likely always be seen as incorrect by agents/editors/publishers, if you do that...
     

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