1. Imprive
    Offline

    Imprive Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2012
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0

    writing in the past tense!

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Imprive, Feb 28, 2012.

    I have a problem. Whenever I write I find myself slipping back into the past tense. I just cant seem to keep everything in the present.

    Take this sentance:
    Admirals like me were the closest thing to the government way out here, and that gave us a lot of autonomy.

    Its not supposed to be past tense!

    Its supposed to be:
    Admirals like me are the closest thing to the government way out here, and that gives us a lot of autonomy.

    I have no idea why I do this. Does anyone else here do this? Is there a trick, or should I just keep writing and then go back and edit everything?
     
  2. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Not a problem if you are writing fiction, but if you are recounting present day facts you should write in the present. Most creative writing is narrative, recounting past events, so past tenses are more normal. Maybe you have read mostly novels, so that's why you slip into past tense. Maybe you need to read more journal articles to help you with non fiction writing, if that's what you are writing.
     
  3. Imprive
    Offline

    Imprive Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2012
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0
    Whoops, I forgot to mention, this is a Sci-fi piece. I am writing it in the first person, which is new for me, but I've always had trouble with the tenses when writing fiction.
     
  4. Phoenix Hikari
    Offline

    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    6
    I do that too and I don't think it's a big issue. Fiction is usually written in past tense.
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    Why do you want to write it in present tense? If past tense comes easier for you, then write it in past tense.
     
  6. jeffm
    Offline

    jeffm Member

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2012
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    California
    I found it MUCH simpler to write in past tense, even for a SF piece. I always envisioned that the work was a description of the story events being told to someone after they happened. For first person perspective it becomes easy to see it as the character telling the story to grandchildren or something.

    Writing in present tense can be hard since the narrator would be reacting to things as they happen in addition to the characters in the story. In past tense the narrator can definitely state what happened and convey the information to the reader much better.
     
  7. Dullener
    Offline

    Dullener Member

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2012
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Interesting. Earth.
    Well, In my current Twilight eyes, I alter between the two forms. I go with narration in present tense, or someone perspective in past. I alter between many perspective and narration to tell my story.

    I don't know, but my reader says it is a bit confusing (though he was drugged by interest induced by my plot).

    D.
     
  8. joanna
    Offline

    joanna Active Member

    Joined:
    May 25, 2010
    Messages:
    429
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Boston
    The solution to this is to write your story in past tense, as that will read better anyway.
     
  9. TheIllustratedMan
    Offline

    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2009
    Messages:
    170
    Likes Received:
    6
    Are you talking about something like this?

    If that's the case, then really either tense is fine, though it does make more sense (to me) that if the writer is currently an Admiral (as he's writing) and is still doing a similar job, he would say that he IS the closest thing to a government, not that he was (since he still is). All that takes is a little practice writing, and some fixing during the editing process.
    If you're saying that your whole story is written in the present tense, but you keep slipping into the past tense, you might want to reevaluate why you're trying so hard to use present, when past is obviously more natural to you. If there's a very good reason to be telling the story in the present (for instance, this is a transcript of an audio log) then that's fine, and you'll just have to get used to it more. But if you're just writing in the present to write in the present, maybe you should be writing in the past.
     
  10. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    ^^ Not really fine--that example shifts time/tense in a confusing way. Even if you see it, it is not good style. Most importantly, it is not easy to read. Stick to one tense. Past is the most common for fiction.

    Admirals like me were the closest thing to the government way out there, and that gave us a lot of autonomy. When I discovered that the pirates had holed themselves up on an asteroid and were sitting tight, it never occurred to me to inform High Command -- I just went on in.

    It is easy enough to keep it all consistent ^^
     
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Don't confuse narrative and grammatical tense.

    Grammatical tense is the tense of a specific simple or compound verb in a sentence. Narrative tense is the time perspective from which teh story is being told.

    Some elements may transcend story time. For example, a story in past tense can talk about aspects of a city or country in present tense, if those aspects are invariant from story time to the present. For instance, a contemporary story set in Rio de Janiero can talk about the high crime rate, and the tarpaper shacks overlooking the beautiful beaches, in present tense, even though the narrative tense for the actual story is past tense.
     
  12. TheIllustratedMan
    Offline

    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2009
    Messages:
    170
    Likes Received:
    6
    This.

    What I was trying to illustrate is that if the narrator is talking about setting, and what he's talking about is in the same state now as it was then, it would be natural for him to say that it is this way instead of it was this way. Another example:

    I'm telling a story that happened in the past, but Mount Marcy is still in NY. For me to say that it was in NY implies that it no longer is, which begs the question: what happened to it? Probably an evil scientist collecting mountains. Happens all the time.
    Anyway, it's not something that should be used all the time, but if you're conveying certain information, it actually makes more sense for it to be present instead of past, regardless of the tense of the rest of the story.
     
  13. Reggie
    Offline

    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2010
    Messages:
    680
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    USA
    I think it is easier to write in the president tense in 3rd person objective than it is in other narrative modes. In 3rd person ojective, we can only write what can be seen or heard.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Let me guess. Posted from a "smart" phone? :)

    Doncha just love the creative auto spell correction?
     
  15. Reggie
    Offline

    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2010
    Messages:
    680
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    USA
    Oops. I didn't catch that. Hehe. I mean present tense.
     
  16. jo spumoni
    Offline

    jo spumoni Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2010
    Messages:
    392
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    La Jolla, CA (and Mission Viejo, CA, during the su
    I've had the same issue myself. I think it happens because the majority of novels are written in past tense. For that reason, something about it feels very natural. However, I have written some things in present tense recently, and I've come to like it, but it is easy to slip back into convention. I haven't found any special trick to counter it. I think it just takes practice and getting used to. Keep writing in the tense if you like it, and keep proofreading.

    By the way, at least when I write, I screw up most when I start talking about something that happens before the narrative, e.g.
    "Joe is sitting on the couch, thinking about the last time he had a date. It went well, he remembers, although he never ended up calling her again." I did it properly there, but when I was first starting with present, I would make this mistake quite a lot: "Joe is sitting on the couch, thinking about the last time he had a date. It had gone well, he remembered, although he had never ended up calling her again." It took a lot of getting used to purge the "had --ed" tense from my mind, but I can do it now.

    Basically, like anything in writing, present tense takes practice. It takes a bit more practice than past tense because it's used less in books. Some people swear by past tense, but if you like present tense, you should use it. It can be used successfully. There are books to prove it. Angela's Ashes, for instance, is written entirely in present tense and it works very well there.
     
  17. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    from the first page of the text, page 11:

    page 12:

    page 13 begins still in past tense ["...so what was the use? It was time to go."] then has some present for a while, going back to:

    browsing further, i find it's mostly written in past tense, with only bits of present tossed in here and there... so how does that equal "written entirely in present tense"?
     
  18. jo spumoni
    Offline

    jo spumoni Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2010
    Messages:
    392
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    La Jolla, CA (and Mission Viejo, CA, during the su
    Only the first chapter is written in past because it occurs before Frank is born. I forgot about the first chapter. My apologies. But honestly, the rest of the book is in present tense. Here are some examples:

    "He says, you have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace."

    "I don't know what it means and I don't care because it's Shakespeare and it's like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words."

    "There’s no use saying anything in the schoolyard because there’s always someone with an answer and there’s nothing you can do but punch them in the nose and if you were to punch everyone who has an answer you’d be punching morning noon and night.”

    “I say, Billy, what’s the use in playing croquet when you’re doomed?
    He says, Frankie, what’s the use of not playing croquet when you’re doomed?”

    I could go on, but I don't see the necessity. Basically, the NARRATIVE of Frank's life is in present tense, and that's the important part of the book and the part of the book everyone remembers. I guess I made a mistake saying the entire book was in present. However, after the first chapter the book really does make effective use of the present tense.
     

Share This Page