1. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Which Tense? A Tale of Reflection...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TLK, Aug 18, 2014.

    Apologies if this should be in Word Mechanics...

    Anyway, I'm in the process of writing a novella which, basically, a few years in the life of this guy and the things he learns from it.

    It's in first person, that much is settled, but I'm unsure of exactly how to write it. If I write it as a reflection (which in many ways it is) it would make sense to use a past tense, with the narrator looking back on things. I kinda like this way, since it would allow me to occasionally switch to the present when adding in something the character has learned, just like Harper Lee did.

    But then again, I could write it in the present, as if the narrator was telling the story as it happened, rather than looking back on it further down the line. I was originally worried this would remove the "lesson" element I mentioned above, but I guess I could always switch to the future, i.e. saying something along the lines of "I would later learn..."

    At the moment, because that's what first drafts are all about for me, I'm just tackling it head on, and the writing seems to be a mish-mash of both those two things. At times I seem to want to use the present, others the past. I'd have to read all of what I've written back so far, but I reckon the latter features more. I just use what seems right for the bit I'm writing. I suppose, for all I know, this could be the best/right way to do it.

    I can, of course, always goes back and edit, but I want to, at the very least, have an idea of what I should be doing in my mind, so that editing, when it comes, is not too much of a headache...

    Thanks in advance :)
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I think writing in present tense is harder, so I say go with past tense.
     
  3. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rule #1 of drafts: you write your first draft for yourself, not for any other reader.

    For now, do not worry about withholding information from the reader. Write it in whatever tense you are comfortable writing in, but do not let the tense constrain you. If you write it in the present tense but you think of something you want the character to learn later, then write that in.

    "At this moment, I make this choice: _____. In three years, I will look back on it and think: _____."
    "At that moment, I made this choice: _____. Now, three years later, this is what I think of it: _____."

    Once you have everything in front of you, you can make an informed decision on which style is more effective. Often, choices of style, like which tense to write in, are determined more by necessity than by preference. Before you have a record of everything that happens in the story and how it all affects the character, it may seem like one style option is inherently better than another. But you should really choose your tool based on what you use the tool for, not based on how pretty the tool is.

    Do not worry about editing being a headache. Better to have a headache when editing than when writing the first draft. Just vomit all your thoughts onto the paper so that you have something to clean up when you edit. :p
     
  4. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Yeah, that is kinda my attitude with the first draft, I guess I just don't want to create too much unnecessary work for myself in the future.

    Thanks very much for the advice though, daemon! I'll make sure to see how it affects the character, I never really thought of it like that...
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using past tense doesn't mean that the action was long, long ago; the action could have been seconds ago. As in:

    "Hey, what took you so long?"
    "I got a refill on my coffee."

    The response is past tense, even though the coffee was probably poured less than a minute ago.

    (Edited to remove question about Harper Lee until I can get my hands on the book.)
     
  6. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Past tense will likely be easier on the reader.
     

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