1. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Time and past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by HorusEye, Sep 20, 2010.

    I'm a bit unsure about what I can get away with in past tense, regarding time.

    Sentences containing "now", "soon", etc.

    Example:

    "Now it rained."

    It's obviously past tense because of "rained", but is it bad style to have the "now" in there?

    "But soon the sky would clear up." is really just guesswork about a near future, from the POV of the narrator, but still in past tense. Bad style?

    It seems necessary in cases where the narrator talks about things that happened before, during or soon to be happening, from the time of the POV.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I would have put it: 'Then it rained.' and 'It cleared up quickly.'
     
  3. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    That doesn't work well in the context, because then you move the narration timeline to a point where it already has cleared up.

    A context example off the top of my head:

    "But soon it would clear up, and we had to get our things packed up and ready for moving."
     
  4. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    As a choice it would be 'Then it rained," although I would simply use 'It rained." However, it's perfectly OK to use 'now', 'today' and similar terms.

    You'd say

    He dropped the widget and it smashed on the concrete. Now he had a problem.

    not

    He dropped the widget and it smashed on the concrete. Then he had a problem.

    You would also use

    I knew I should clean up the mess but today I just didn't have the energy. I would do it tomorrow.

    rather than

    I knew I should clean up the mess but that day I just didn't have the energy. I would do it the day after.
     
  5. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    If my understanding us correct, the past tense in fiction is not limited to a retelling of past events. It can also be used artistically or stylistically as the/a narrative tense.

    I'm no going to enter into whether setting a story in the present tense is better than setting one in the past tense (note: not however the actual past) as both have their plus points. With this in mind however, your time / tense discrepancies can be seen to be resolved as you are telling a story, just happening to use the past tense to do so. With this context, I feel both the examples you give are valid.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, thanks. My example "Now it rained." was just that -- an example. In my text it's an event that follows from another event, similar to your "Now he had a problem."
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm English so would use - 'then he had a problem' or 'now he has a problem. ' 'Now he had a problem' is more American.

    And I may use 'the next day' instead of tomorrow.

    I don't know maybe I just struggle with the sentences used as an example
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, so this example would be perfectly valid (never minding the cheesy contents):

    "He had come from afar. Now he was just outside. Soon he would hack down my door. I had to make an escape."

    Right?
     
  9. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    Not sure I follow. 'Now he has a problem' is in the present tense and is incorrect. 'Then he had a problem' is grammatically correct but sounds awkward as it suggests to me the problem is something about to be revealed, not which has just happened.

    Which is OK but it distances the reader from the character.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's a tricky thing to manage... there's no hard and fast rule, so use of 'now' and such in past tense narrative has to be judged on case by case basis...

    to be on the safe side, you should opt for an alternative...
     

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