1. Jenny Watts
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    Jenny Watts New Member

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    Using "would" for past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Jenny Watts, Dec 8, 2011.

    I am writing my father's memoirs and they include some oral history material. When he was speaking, he often spoke like this: "I’d tell him where to run the wires. He’d check out his plan and show me his plan and I’d say that’s fine, and we’d agree that that’s where the wires went."
    It seems cumbersome to me to use I'd and he'd and we'd so often. Should I leave them or change it to regular past tense? e.g. "I told him where to run the wires. He checked out his plan and showed me his plan and I said that's fine and we agreed that that was where the wires went."
    I don't want to lose his voice, but it seems like poor writing as I plan to self-publish this book one day.
    Thanks for your comments.
    Jenny
     
  2. lameri
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    lameri Senior Member

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    Unless it is referring to an action that happened periodically, it is indeed odd. I would switch it if needed. When I say "if needed" I mean, are you writing the memoir from a son's perspective? In that case, you would write: "He told him where to run..." and not "I told him." Or, if you wanted to preserve his voice, he would use present in dialogue ("Run the wires over there"), but he would never say "I'd tell him" unless you are writing the memoir as if he himself were doing it.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you have to be careful with this. When he says "I'd tell him where to run the wires ...", he's saying what would typically happen, not something that happened on one specific occasion. If you write "I told him where to run the wires ...", then it sounds like you're saying that it happened on one specific occasion. Contrast these:

    "For the ten years Pete and I worked together, I would tell him where to run the wires ...", versus

    "On June 14, 1968, I told him where to run the wires ..."
     
  4. Jenny Watts
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    Jenny Watts New Member

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    That's a very good point. Yes, he was referring to something that typically happened, so I guess I should stick with the "would" construction.

    Thank you very much for your comment.
     
  5. Jenny Watts
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    Jenny Watts New Member

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    Thank you for your comment. I am writing the memoir as if he is telling his story.
    And since the action did happen several times, I guess I will stick with the "I would" construction.
    Thanks for your help.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if that's how he spoke, then why change his quoted dialog?...

    and minstrel is right about the meaning not being the same...
     
  7. Jenny Watts
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    Jenny Watts New Member

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    My confusion is in combining oral history with written word. I have many letters of his where he writes things like, "There was an hour of physical drill in the mornings. It was the hardest part but strangely enough, when the final whistle blew, I was still conscious, though short of breath and weak kneed." So to switch to "I’d tell him where to run the wires" seemed awkward to me. But Minstrel's comments are well taken and I think I just have to use both constructions side by side.
     
  8. Explosion
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    Explosion Guest

    I agree that using would etc. means that's what he would normally do, or at least 99% of the time. But don't be surprised if you found any kind of future tense, for example will, for me none of this is strange because in my mother language such tenses are normal to use, and in english i think they even create a better sentence if used properly, so i think that is surely a plus
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'would' there is perfectly grammatical... to change it would be nonsensical, if it's what he actually said or wrote, anyway...

    you do not have the right to change a single word of what someone actually wrote or said, when quoting same, if writing their biography, or ghostwriting an autobiography or memoirs...

    if it's simply a 'memoir' then it would be written by him, not by someone else...

    if you're ghost-writing a memoir for him, or writing his biography, if he's no longer alive, you still must use his written and spoken words verbatim, when quoting them... if he's still living and telling you about events, it's then ok to 'clean up' the grammar a bit, as long as you don't lose his 'voice' in the doing and make it your own...
     

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