1. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future

    Two tenses

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tesoro, May 13, 2012.

    In one novel I read recently (One Day-David Nicholls) the writer uses both present tense and past tense and I can't figure out how, where, why and if that is something that one should try, and to what purpose. When is that ok and how does one know when it should be one or the other? Actually I didn't notice it on the first read, so it's not like it bothered me, it was only now when looking through it again that I saw this. I also noticed that he seems to mix pov's in the same scene from time to time. does it mean that it is some kind of omniscient pov or just breaking "rules"?
     
  2. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Make sure you understand the difference between narrative tense and grammatical tense.

    What's Your Point (of View)?
     
  3. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    Interesting, I didn't know those differences. I'm still not sure I understand this though.
     
  4. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    Ok, now I have been thinking about this for a while and it seems somewhat clearer. But still this author mix grammatical tense from time to time and I'm still stuck on understanding to what purpose. Does this mean something? Should it be read in a certain way?
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    Present tense gives the reader a sense of urgency and immediacy, which may be better suited for some scenes. Jose Saramago is another writer who switches between tenses quite often. He's the only writer I've read who does this. It's not a very common thing, probably because it's so hard to pull off.
     
  6. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    In fact this author must have done it pretty well too, because I didn't even notice until the second read. :) (when I looked specifically for certain details)
     
  7. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    At any point in the narrative, the character has, and can refer to, the past, present, and future. So can the narrator. What characterizes narrative tense is the tense used to refer to events in "storytime". Reference to story past and story future are relative to the narrative tense, and the grammatical tense of each verb reflects that.
     
  8. Bluesman
    Offline

    Bluesman Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    I notice that I do that in my writing as well. Most of the time I'm in past tense, but I generally switch to present when a conversation or action goes down.


    Like this:


    Is this considered wrong, by the way? I'm not 100% consistent in doing this. I'm writing like how I would tell someone the story.
     
  9. JonSpear360
    Offline

    JonSpear360 Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2012
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    IL
    This is an interesting topic for me! My second novel I wrote for NaNo in 2010 was in two tenses. The way I handled it was that all the flash backs were in third person, past tense, and all of the non-flashbacks were done in first person, present tense. It seemed to get a good response from my first readers, but I haven't gone back to edit it yet so I can't really remember what exactly it was like. I was happy with it while writing it, though.
     
  10. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Yes. Your narrative tense is inconsistent. That's a fatal flaw.
     
  11. Bluesman
    Offline

    Bluesman Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    Like someone else wrote earlier, present tense gives a sense of urgency, which can be really great. In a story I'm writing, a fight starts. When I read it back, I noticed I switch to present tense from the moment the fight starts. When it's over and the guy is in a safe place, I switch back to past tense again. I tried to re-work it, but it didn't feel right any more. There's a whole build-up to it, and then the fight suddenly happens. The whole section reads very fast, just like a real fight and I really like it.

    ^notice how I switch around in here too, even.
     
  12. RaeRae
    Offline

    RaeRae Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2012
    Messages:
    86
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Beaverton, Oregon
    I also do a lot of switching between tenses when I write. I guess I better go back reread some stuff. I do have back stories and flashbacks in a lot of my writings and it never dawned on me that I was doing that. I just write and then look for grammar errors. New to this forum site and so far I am getting a lot of help. Thanks!
     
  13. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    Cogito: What I meant wasn't so much the use of different tenses in the same scene. I was talking more about writing some scenes in present and others in past tense. I didn't understand the authors reason for switching since it all was in the past somehow.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you're writing in present narrative tense (which I don't really recommend), you could still refer back to scenes that occurred in "story past" in past narrative tense. Think of it as a "flashback" approach.
     
  15. Bluesman
    Offline

    Bluesman Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    This is one of the things an editor points out to you, right?
     
  16. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you're lucky. You might just get back a copy of your manuscript with a lot of red marks and few explanations, along with a big hole in your checking account.
     
  17. Bluesman
    Offline

    Bluesman Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    Isn't an editor complementary if you go through a publisher, though?
     
  18. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Tell F Scott Fitzgerald that! It's not necessarily fatal, it's just very hard to pull off -- and that example doesn't pull it off. The shifts in tense have to serve a purpose beyond the author preferring this bit in one tense, that bit in another. That won't happen accidentally.
     
  19. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    If you can get a publishing deal for something in such serious need of editing. It's possible, but you'd get better odds playing the lottery.
     
  20. Bluesman
    Offline

    Bluesman Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    So you're saying, the writer pays the editor out of his own pocket? Or does his agent generally takes care of that? I'm trying to figure out how the whole process works.
     
  21. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    The writer submits a manuscript, and if it isn't already pretty "clean", it won't be accepted. The publisher has editors on staff, but the manuscript has to be in pretty decent shape when it's submitted.

    That's the writer's job. Period.
     
  22. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    What Cog says. If the ms is not in a good state when it's submitted then it's not going to be read. Ideally the author should get it into that good state and the publisher's editors (strictly "sub-editors") will just sweep up any loose ends, so there's no need to pay an editor. If there's any reason the author can't do that (a very small number of published authors are severely dyslexic, for instance) then they will have to get somebody else to go over the work before submission (at least until they have a good track record). Best to do it yourself it at all possible.
     
  23. Bluesman
    Offline

    Bluesman Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    English isn't my first language, so I'm pretty sure there will be some weird mistakes in there.

    When the time is there and my novel is done, I'd be happy to pay someone to go through it. Do you guys have any recommendations for editors that can be trusted?
     

Share This Page