1. Bluesman
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    Bluesman Member

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    Trouble with switching tenses

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Bluesman, Sep 5, 2012.

    I always have trouble figuring out whether the things I'm doing with tenses are right or not. It confuses and frustrates me, because sometimes it looks okay and sometimes it doesn't. I know in some cases it's alright to mix things up, but sometimes I'm just not sure and end up butchering entire paragraphs because I don't want to stray off the rules of the King's English too much.

    Take this part for example.

    We looked each other in the eyes for a sec. She really was beautiful, looking back at me with big-pupil puppy dog eyes. I couldn't believe that I was pulling this off. If there is such a thing as Karma, I should get run over by a truck when I walk out the door.

    That last part in bold is what throws me. I switch tenses there, but it looks alright to me. I tried putting that sentence in past tense like the rest, but I can't get the same ring to it. This is how I would tell the story if I was talking to someone.

    I sometimes also do this when I'm describing something in particular. It looks like it's good to me when there is a sense of urgency or another intense moment.

    In my current story, I write from a first person narrative. At one point the main character is seducing a woman. I describe what's going on in past tense (like the rest of the entire story), with pieces of dialogue in present tense. Once things intensify, I also switch my description to present tense. I didn't do this on purpose, it just happened that way and I noticed it later. I re-wrote those pieces in past tense, which makes it consistent, but it also loses something. It's instantly less direct, less intense and personal.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't confuse narrative tense with grammatical tense.

    The narrative tense is the time perspective from which the story is written., It does NOT mean every single verb will have the same grammatical tense, which is the tense for a specific verb in a specific sentence.

    Your bolded sentence is not inherently wrong. It is a comment that is true to the present day, even though applied to a past event.
     
  3. Bluesman
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    Bluesman Member

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    Hm, alright. I do this kind of stuff all the time and it often feels right to me, but I'm often not completely sure about it. See, I never really learned that kind of stuff in school and pretty much taught myself English. I like to think I'm pretty good at it, but there are just a couple of things that still confuse me.

    How about this?

    There's a switch in there too. Notice the last few sentences. I write everything in my story in past tense, but when things get intense (like a fight, danger or lovemaking etc), I tend to automatically switch to present tense. I have tried to re-write these parts to make them consistent with the rest, but I always end up disliking the result. There's a certain kind of intensity to describing things in the present tense. It's something I like to use every now and then because it feels to me like it works for the flow. Or at least, that's how I feel it. My question is, is that 'allowed', or should I avoid that kind of stuff altogether and figure it out?
     
  4. gaspode
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    gaspode New Member

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    Maybe something like this:

    We looked each other in the eyes for a sec. She really was beautiful, looking back at me with big-pupil puppy dog eyes. I couldn't believe that I was pulling this off. If there is such a thing as Karma, I should have got run over by a truck when I walked out the door.

    Since Karma would probably exist (or not exist) both when this event happened and when you are telling it to the reader, that should be kept in present tense. However you probably have already walked out of the door when you are telling this story so that is something that has happened, therefore past tense. Hope that is making sense.
     

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