1. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    "this" and "now" when written in the past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by vyleside, Feb 16, 2009.

    What are your views ousing "this" and "now" while writing in the past tense?

    For instance: Sam didn't feel like doing anything this afternoon.

    Some people will rage that in using "this" I've dropped into the present tense. I, personally, don't believe this to be the case, because I'm referring to the afternoon in which the story is set. How else is somebody supposed to refer to a specific afternoon or time period?

    Another example is something I've seen used before in a published novel (I don't remember it word for word) which went something like this:

    He had never believed that such a thing was possible, but now he realised how wrong he had been.

    Again, how would one refer to a life altering experience in a story that was happening to a character while still keeping every word strictly in the past tense?
     
  2. Dalouise
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    Dalouise Contributing Member

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    Personally - I see your first example as a change in tense which I find awkward to read. Your reasoning that the action is happening contemporaneously is not valid, to my mind, by using past tense earlier in the sentence. You say the story is set in "this afternoon" so wouldn't the character have that feeling on the same afternoon?
    I would keep it all in one tense, either/or for example:

    Sam doesn't feel like doing anything this afternoon.

    Sam didn't feel like doing anything that afternoon.


    Or even:

    It was now afternoon but Sam didn't feel like doing anything.

    I have no difficulty with the second example; when I read a novel, I am reading the "voice" relating the story. Every time somebody tells me about something that has happened whether written or spoken, it is in the past tense even if it happened the same day. Anyway, that's just me. I have read novels for over fifty years so I have picked up the general style of most of them, which I have enjoyed.
     
  3. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    'This' is referring to afternoon, not denoting a point in time.

    I think this is incorrect. That should be 'realizes' if 'now' is to be used. Now is present--'realized' is past.
     
  4. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Neither of the examples you gave is enough to jar me out of past tense. They seem fine to me. Though I personally would say, "Sam didn't feel like doing anything that afternoon." I didn't notice a problem with "this" on the first reading, but when I thought it over, "that" is how I'd phrase it, so it's a bit less niggling.

    I use "now" all the time in my past-tense writing. It's clear, to me at least, that it's referring to "now" in the POV character's mind, not in present verb tense. (The same argument could be made for "this." )

    This is just my opinion, you can take it or leave it. :)
     
  5. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a problem I've had in the past because, like you, I've seen 'now' and 'this' used before in past tense narrative. Maia made me so fed up at first (sorry, M!) when she pointed this out to me that I went researching all over the place hoping I could justify this use. But now I find I can't. Apart from it being considered incorrect by most sources I checked, I've started to find it illogical myself. Another word to avoid in past tense narrative is 'here', also.

    I guess it's just another of those rules you can only break if you're sensationally successful and talented, when people will forgive it as an occasional quirk.
     
  6. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    With 'this afternoon' you're implying that it was earlier today, although it is still past tense, its just very recent. For example I could talk about how I had my lunch earlier this afternoon- its still past tense. But I think in a story i'd just skip the problem by using 'that'.

    The other one is fine though. By saying 'now' you're just highlighting that it's at that point in the plot, it doesn't have to be now now when everything else is in the past. People will understand what you mean, anyway, and that's the important thing.
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    "I had my lunch earlier THIS afternoon," said John. (direct speech)
    John HAS his lunch THIS afternoon. (all in present tense)
    or, telling a joke (in BR. Eng, at any rate): John says he's had his lunch THIS afternoon... (jokes tend to be in present/present perfect)

    John said that he'd had his lunch earlier THAT afternoon. (reported speech)
    John had his lunch earlier THAT afternoon. (past tense)

    You can only really use 'this' for direct speech, present tense, or telling jokes.
     
  8. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    How about if it was worded as:

    He usually liked to eat ham for his lunch, but this particular afternoon, he opted for beef, and that's when the trouble began.
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You mean, '...but that particular afternoon, he opted for beef, and that was when the trouble began.' ?

    Like I said, I kicked and screamed about this for quite a while, but it really does make more sense not to mix tenses. It's not easy when there are plenty of hacks not going with this. I think maybe it would be permissible if it was a kind of folksy, 'voiceover' type narrative, how about that? Compromise?
     
  10. ManicParroT
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    ManicParroT Contributing Member

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    The sentence "Sam didn't feel like doing anything this afternoon," tells me that Sam (at that point in time) didn't feel like doing anything (at this point in time).

    In other words, if today 'I don't feel like doing anything tomorrow afternoon', it would then be safe to say tomorrow that I didn't feel like doing anything this afternoon, because I'd be reporting a past feeling about a current time.


    Not necessarily. The "now" doesn't make it an absolutely present tense, it merely means 'at this time in the story'.

    "Now I felt angry" sounds perfectly coherent to me, for the same reasons. I'm narrating how I felt, at that point in time, as opposed to an earlier period in time, which necessitates using 'now'.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    In normal exposition it doesn't necessitate 'now'. You'd still say 'I FELT angry THEN' meaning your ANGER and FEELING CAME at the SAME TIME (obviously) ie in the PAST. You don't have the feeling some time in the past, and then get angry later on in the present.
    If you are doing a first person type of narrative 'voiceover', it would be possible though, because then you're following the rules for direct speech. Maybe you are used to reading this kind of style--nothing wrong with that.
     
  12. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    ...And as you can see, it apparently boils down to whatever you, personally, think sounds best for your story. Neither one of them seems to be 100% wrong or 100% right.
     
  13. ManicParroT
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    ManicParroT Contributing Member

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    Ah, I see what you mean.
     
  14. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Well, take your first example:

    Sam didn't feel like doing anything this afternoon.



    The word 'this' is being used to mean, 'to that which is be referred to,' not to tell WHEN.

    So, it could be written,

    Sam didn't feel like doing anything on this afternoon which is being referred to.

    You know how they always sell it in school, "Which afternoon? This afternoon! Good!" Even if 'this' afternoon is in the past, it is still 'this one' which is being referred to.

    That's how I see it, anyhow.
     

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