1. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    Using One Tense Only

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Cacian, Feb 4, 2012.

    I was wondering if any of you have ever written something using only one tense.

    I am looking to write a short story using the past tense only/ or the present tense only.


    He woke up in the morning and looked at his watch.
    It was bright outside.
    He was late.
    (and thought he was running late.)
    I have to avoid the verb to think

    He did not sleep very well because the neighbours downstairs had a party till dawn.
    He tossed and turned in his bed whilst the music downstairs pounced a steady beating sound all night long.
    (He could hear laughter and voices?) or He heard laughter and voices all night.
    Doors opened and closed.
    Door bell rang up to midnight.

    the verb could signal the conditional right?
    In this paragraph I could only use short sentences to avoid using the past continous.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    most fiction is written in either past or present, not a combination of the two... so i don't get what you're aiming for here...
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are two kinds of tense - narrative tense and grammatical tense.

    Every individual verb in a piece of writing has a grammatical tense. It can be a simple tense like past, present or future, or it can be one of several compound tenses such as past perfect or present progressive tense. Each has subtle differences in meaning as compared to the simple tenses, and generally involve helper verbs.

    Narrative voice is the time perspective from which a story is told. Narrative tense is either past, present, or (rarely) future. Usually, a story should be told in past narrative tense. There is an unfortunate trend lately of some authors writing in present narrative tense. Patricia Cornwell has done so in some of her novels, including the latest, Red Mist. They are not her best writing, and in fact present narrative tense usually distracts the reader and detracts from the story.

    For a given narrative tense, the principle action verbs wil be in a form or that tense. However, it does not mean every verb will be in that tense.

    Ignore the weak storytelling. It's a thrown together example, but it illustrates that a story told in past narrative tense can and probably does contain a mix of grammatical tenses.

    Beginners sometimes try to write stories all in one grammatical tense. A writer in training may try to create a story in a single grammatical tense, but only as an exercise. The best lesson you can walk away from the exercise with is how limiting it is.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Almost all fiction is narrated in past tense. Obviously this does not apply to all dialogue. I agree with what Cogito said, lots of sentences have mixed tenses in them, depending on what they are trying to say.

    Ok, the whole thing with "he could hear the laughter and voices" vs "he heard laughter and voices" it is a matter of semantics, the subtle differences in meaning. To me "he could hear the laughter and voices" is more descriptive, like a third person narrative, somewhat detached. You can imagine someone describing what someone else's night was like, and there is no immediacy in terms of action.
    "He heard laughter and voices" is more immediate, personable, it sort of alerts the reader to the fact that some action might occur immediately as a result.

    Example:

    "He heard laughter and voices coming from the room down the hall. As determined as he was to get his pre-exam beauty sleep, he couldn't resist it. He got up, grabbed a half-empty bottle of red wine and went to join in."
    vs
    "He could hear the laughter and voices from the room down the hall. "They are at it again!" he thought as he lay awake in his bed, in the middle of the knight, desperate for some pre-exam sleep. "
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stick to past or present in scenes. Some writers change tense in between scenes for certain effects. I've seen this done really well in a few different things. I don't remember specific titles. But it's a narrative device. You use it when you have a plan for it, not just for the hell of it.
    And yes, some sentences contain multiple tenses, but the main clause should always adhere to the scene's/story's primary tense.
    Even if you've got dialogue or thoughts that change the tense, the main clause of a thought or piece of dialogue is the dialogue attribution. Sometimes dialogue attribution is dropped, but the change in tense is ignored.

    Short answer: stick to one narrative tense, or else risk confusion.

    I do not like this, nor do I agree, nor shall I acquiesce to your bigotry, sir!

    First, I shall say that you have misused your authority in language. The word "should" shall henceforth be banned from telling people what to do. As such, it is not that a story "should" be told in past narrative tense. It is that a story is usually told in past narrative tense. "Should" is too often used as a forceful suggestion, and I dislike its overuse in our daily lives.

    Second, it is your opinion that that using present tense is an "unfortunate trend". Both past and present tense are to be treated as equals. Tenses are people too!

    'nuff said.
     
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  6. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    @jazzabel
    'He could hear 'for me suggests he continueously heard them all night, which is not what I wanted to suggest.
    'He heard' for me suggests that he heard it for a bit before he fell asleep, because that what is I want to suggest in the story.
    Albeit of noises, he still managed to fall asleep.

    It is interesting that you interpreted it differently.:)

    I think I am just experimenting with the idea of one tense for myself to see what comes out of it.
    I think Cogito was right about the idea of a beginner's writing and practice/exercise.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I wanted to indicate continuous I'd say"He was hearing voices all night."
    The next thing you said, I'd need to see it in context then, because as it is, out of context, that's not what I would assume. That's the thing with snippets of writing, they are so easily misinterpreted.
    Definitely do the exercises if you feel like it, I am sure they are very helpful. I am terrible, I never do writing exercises, can't stand them, it's like homework :D
     
  8. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    sure.
    He was hearing voices all night
    for me indicate that you are going to carry on....something is going to happen, hence the continous, using another sentence to suggest interruption for example like this:
    He was hearing voices all night till the alarm went off.
    the sentence you have used needs another clause.

    whereas the one I used:
    'He heard voices and music all night'.
    Does not necessarily mean another clause. It is fine on its own.
    Oh no I don't do exercises at all...LOL
    What I do though is experiment with new ideas such as the one I suggested just for fun.:)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    cog...
    i've been a fan of cornwell's from the get-go and i, too, am very disappointed [more like disgusted!] whenever she switches over to present tense... makes me want to give her a good shake and tell her to stick to what's worked so well for her, so i can continue to enjoy her storytelling mastery...
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ maybe she's just having a bit of fun ringing the changes, since she has nothing she needs to prove?
    I don't understand how it would be possible to write a story (especially with dialogue) using only e.g. past or present simple tenses--what on earth would be the point of imposing a straightjacket like that on yourself? Use all the tenses which are appropriate.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It wasn;t the only thing about her writing in this one. Look at the sentences in the first couple paragraphs. Massively compound, with no good reason for not breaking them up. It's like she's resting on her reputation.

    Her first novels were great, but I think she has lost her edge. I wish someone would give her a good shake!
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    she's done a lot of experimenting since her first slew of really well-written, gripping novels and i found myself not buying any of the 'different' ones after trying a couple and feeling it was money wasted...
     

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