1. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    The use of 'now' in past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Stammis, May 18, 2016.

    Is this the right usage of the word 'now'? in past tense? It think it sounds better like this.

    The floor board creaked as he squirmed in the bed, unable to lay still. The old rickety bed wobbled back and forth and he his body stiffened as felt part of the bed crack under his weight.

    Now laying completely still, a light breeze caressed his bare skin, making him shiver, and he wrapped himself even tighter around his blanket.

    Also, is there a better word for wind touching someone's skin? I feel like 'touching' or 'hitting' doesn't work in this context.
     
  2. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Using 'now' in past tense is grammatically fine, though it's one of those words which can sometimes be eliminated from sentences to make the writing tighter.

    There are other issues with the sentence.

    I think you may mean lying rather than laying.

    Also as currently written, it sounds like it's the light breeze that is laying (or lying) completely still.
     
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  3. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    'brushed' 'lapped' 'crept over' 'danced on' 'skimmed'

    Some throwaway advice: I'm reckoning you could lose 'light' and 'bare' from the sentence without any loss of effect. The breeze can be qualified by the way you describe it traversing the skin which, to me, would be bare by default.
     
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  4. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    True enough. I think it flows better now, thx!

    The floor board creaked as he squirmed in the bed, unable to lay still. The old rickety bed wobbled back and forth and he his body stiffened as felt part of the bed crack under his weight.

    Now lying completely still, he felt a breeze brush against his skin, making him shiver; and he wrapped himself even tighter around his blanket.

    Though, I can't decide if: and he wrapped himself even tighter around his blanket, or; wrapping himself even tighter around his blanket is correct.

    'wrapping' sounds better, but I think there are too many -ings in that sentence already.
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    To answer your original question, using "now" in the past tense implies that the action is happening at that moment. So it's perfectly fine to use it.
     
  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    This brings up a bit of a logistical problem. If he's feeling the breeze, his skin is bare. But if he's wrapping himself even tighter, doesn't that imply his skin is already covered by the blanket?
     
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  7. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No, because it says he's wrapping himself around the blanket, rather than the blanket around himself! - seems on odd way to use a blanket, but that's what it says.
     
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  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Point taken. ;)
     
  9. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Unsure if the guy is on or in the bed? Could he squirm on the mattress? (this'll remove the repetition of 'bed').

    Further down, if it read 'Now lying completely still, he felt a breeze brush against his skin, he shivered, and wrapped himself even tighter around his blanket.' You'll have gotten rid of an 'ing'

    I'm reading the wrapping himself around his blanket as...well like a kid would cling to a comfort blanket. Is that what you're intending?
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2016
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  10. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    haha, good point indeed. It is fixed now though.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Face skin? But maybe "brush by his face" would be better.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The floor board creaked as he squirmed in the bed, unable to lay still. The old rickety bed wobbled back and forth and he his body stiffened as [he] felt part of the bed crack under his weight.

    Now lying completely still, he felt a breeze brush against his skin, making him shiver; and he wrapped himself even tighter around his blanket.
    I have a couple of comments.
    old rickety bed​
    It's redundant, just use one.

    Floorboard is one word.

    part of the bed​
    We know it was part of the bed, no need to tell us.

    his body stiffened as [he] felt part of the bed crack under his weight. ​
    I'd reverse this. It's more important that he stiffened. The bed cracking caused it. You want to end the sentence with the more important action.

    You don't need to tell us why he felt the breeze, let the reader figure out the whys. So you can drop "now lying still" altogether.

    'Felt' and 'even' are an unneeded filter words.

    So with all that I come out with:

    He squirmed, unable to lay still. The floorboards creaked. The rickety bed wobbled back and forth until it finally cracked under his weight. He froze.

    A breeze cooled his exposed skin making him shiver. He wrapped himself tighter around the blanket.​

    I'm sure that can be critiqued as well so consider it just my opinion. :)

     
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  13. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Thanks everyone for your suggestions. This is how you grow as a writer, and I could not imagine myself improving much at this speed if I didn't have this forum to ask questions. I get to avoid those dreadful and expensive writing groups.

    Anyway, here is what I came up with, with your suggestions in mind:

    The floorboard creaked as he squirmed on the matters, unable to lay still. The old rickety bed wobbled back and forth and his body stiffened as it cracked under his weight.

    Lying completely still, he felt a breeze brush against his arms, making him shiver. He sighed wearily, realising that he had to find its source tomorrow.

    Risking the bed’s inevitable collapse, he reached around the blanket and wrapped himself in its itchy fabric. But the bed held.

    Ironically I removed the 'now' the very thing that everyone didn't seem to have a problem with!
     
  14. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Good stuff, keep on keeping on*. Psst—your autocorrect has made a matter for your mattress.

    I'm not sure how you write but (to me) this is the kind of attention any piece should be paid. But only after it's been drafted mind and left in the wake of some time and many a word thereafter. Any 'fix it right there, right then' focus may bog you down, distract and prevent you from your getting scenes out. Leaving a bit of time between writing and revising is a great way to get a free second pair of eyes too.

    A small revelation here(sorry sidetracked)—is your breeze a draught/draft?

    Couple more things: I don't think the third sentence needs the word 'against' in 'brush against his arms'. Also risk + inevitability (4th sentence) are bad bedfellows, one's a chancer, the other a certainty. Maybe just remove the word inevitable?



    *as the primal scream
     
  15. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    I suppose you're right. This is a flash fiction, though, which I post weekly, so I don't have a lot of time to edit it, but in turn, it is a lot shorter, less than 1k words.

    The breeze is a draft, btw.

    Concerning the words 'risk' and 'inevitable', they are indeed a bad match, thx for pointing that out. I want to keep the word 'inevitable', though, because it implies that he thinks that the bed will break at any minute and that he is surprised that it didn't without explicitly saying so.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
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  16. Slemmen447
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    Slemmen447 Member

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    Yes, that is correct use of 'now' in past tense.
     
  17. frxntier
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    frxntier New Member

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    Am I correct in thinking that the use of "lay" in "unable to lay still" is incorrect? It doesn't look or sound right to me, and I know someone mentioned that "laying completely still" was incorrect, and I feel like this is the same use of the word (although I hate those words; sometimes it's so ambiguous what to use that I just end up confusing myself).

    Even if it were supposed to be "unable to lie still", there appear to be two problems: are the floorboards unable to lie still, or is he? And if he is unable to lie still, why in the next paragraph is he suddenly able to, without any reason as to why (apart from the reference previously that his body suddenly "stiffened" as [the bed] cracked under his weight)?

    The pronoun confusion continues for me in the sentence "The old rickety bed wobbled back and forth and his body stiffened as it cracked under his weight." I know that you mean the bed cracked, but it reads awkwardly and could also mean "his body cracked under his weight."

    Another point I think requires clarification: how rickety is this bed? At the start of the piece, he "squirms" about, unable to lie still. Yet by the end, he is "risking the bed’s inevitable collapse" by simply wrapping a blanket around him, seemingly only by virtue of the bed's having "cracked" earlier, with no further explanation as to how severe this "cracking" was.

    And, like you said, this has nothing to do with using "now" in the context you asked, but I guess that's the way these things go.

    By the way, my first post here. Hope it helps.
     
  18. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Interesting points, but I believe you are overthinking it, though. I don't think you are supposed to explain everything because every action doesn't always have a reason or an explanation. That said, if the sentence made you confused at your first read, that's a different problem entirely.

    Did it make sense the first time you read it?
     
  19. frxntier
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    frxntier New Member

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    I don’t think it really did. I mean, I got the general idea of it. But if we just forget about the grammar points, and concentrate on the concept itself, it’s just a bit awkward.

    My sense is basically this: it’s a guy in a cold room, presumably with a window open, squirming about on a bed that’s about to collapse for some reason. I’m not sure why he’s tossing and turning though. Is he too cold? Is the bed too uncomfortable? Does he have too much on his mind?

    The first sentence and the second sentence don’t gel. You describe “the floorboard” in the first sentence, and simply a “bed” (or “mattress” if we take the second revision). Describing “the floorboard” rather than “a floorboard” or “the floorboards” immediately makes me think there’s one single bothersome floorboard that likes to creak. Although the floorboard isn’t mentioned again, so my picture of the scene has to be rebuilt.

    It’s only in the second sentence that the bed is described as old and rickety, although still strong enough for him to writhe around on it. In any case, “the floorboard” no longer matters, the problem now is this bed.

    Halfway through this sentence, my image of the scene again needs to be rebuilt, as the bed has suddenly “cracked” (and I do think it’s important to what extent this happens), which leads him to stop writhing. Ok, so the bed wasn’t strong enough for him. What should happen next? If a bed was about to collapse under my weight, I wouldn’t stay in it. I would rip the mattress off the bed and lay on the floor. If it was just old wood moving around, I would probably not stiffen my body thinking about an inevitable collapse.

    Just from the first part of the piece, the scene in my mind is just too confused. It appears to be all about a creaky old bed, and a guy who appears powerless to just get out of it and focus on more important things.

    I’ll show the scene I thought you were trying to get across:

    “The old bed creaked and wobbled under his weight. He squirmed on the cold mattress, unable to get comfortable. The thin, pathetic excuse for a blanket was making him itchy, so he threw it off.

    Turning once more, he heard the old wood of the bed crack. He immediately lay still, if for no other reason than to prevent the bed becoming a pile of sticks on the floor. A cold draft from nowhere in particular sought to give him another frustration he really didn’t need.

    Something inside his buzzing brain told him enough was enough. Itching was better than freezing, so he reached for the blanket and, pulling it around himself, shut his eyes.”

    I know this is a complete rewrite of the piece, essentially, but hopefully it gives you more of an idea of what I _think_ you were trying to say, even if that’s not the case.

    I hope this helps somewhat explain what my thinking was when I was raising those points, even though I know you didn’t necessarily ask for that kind of analysis. But I always found it helpful when people just say to me “I don’t think you’re making your point—here’s how I would say this.” A fresh set of eyes always helped me when I was staring at a whole bunch of words for so long that I wasn’t sure if any of it made sense to someone reading for the first time. :)
     
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