1. Atchemes Beagle

    Atchemes Beagle Member

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    Switching from past to present tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Atchemes Beagle, Jan 26, 2018.

    My favorite author of nonfiction narrative will switch from past to present usually when he wants to bring the reader into the scene, especially if he is physically in the scene himself reporting as a journalist.

    I recently wrote something similar to the following, which didn't go over well with my friend, my "reviewer."

    "My girlfriend decided to fulfill a life-long dream of traveling to Australia while I had a work project scheduled in Chile.

    Upon my return from Chile, a couple of phone calls turned my temporary bachelor life upside down. My girlfriend's brother calls first -- Jen has not been heard from in several days and may be missing. What? Simple communication error, I think to myself. But as the days pass, the situation becomes dire."
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    The trip in the past and the calls in the present could work. But the tense of the calls is mixed—“called” and then immediately “calls” feels jumbled.
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree with the chicken. If you want to use the past/present tense to delineate between two different times in the novel, make the break somewhere logical, like upon your return from Chile.
     
  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think it's a bad idea. Most writers do not mix past and present tense for a reason. It can seem confusing. It can seem like a mistake. And I really don't think it adds anything good. I wouldn't do it. In the example you gave, it just looks like you made a mistake to me and not something that was intentional.
     
  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In my dusty miller books I do dream sequences in present and everything else in past - It works for me I think but that doesn't mean it will necessarily work for everyone
     
  6. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Ordinarily I'd agree that switch of sense is dumb for want of a better word. But I read Bao Ninh's Sorrow of War, and he switched POV & tense like the scruffiest of CW. Somehow it didn't seem to matter, the reader was so anxious to discover the next dreamy sequence, a 12 page section, [ye olde diamonds in dust] disappear into his prose...
     
  7. LarryM

    LarryM New Member

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    If I remember correctly, Ken Kesey in Sometimes A Great Notion switched POV from 1st to 3rd and back, making it difficult to tell which character was speaking. It's been decades since I read it, and I don't have a copy anymore, but I remember that although it seemed very strange and confusing, it was interesting and clever.
     
  8. graveleye

    graveleye Senior Member

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    Good grief I have been through total hell with tense problems.
    I started out my WIP as a first person periodic diary. Then I changed my mind and want it to be 1st person past tense.
    Going through and changing everything from present to past tense has been an utter nightmare. Whenever I think I got them all I find some more.
    I don't want it to go to edit until it's fixed.
     
  9. soupcannon

    soupcannon Active Member

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    1. noun; the act or process of locating.
    I think you could make an argument for switching tenses here, if you make a sort of logical break between them.

    Let's say you start with everything that has gone before in the introduction. You introduce characters and set up the world they're in, all of this in past tense. Then, when the character disappears, break to the next act/book/chapter, and now it's all in present tense. Everything that's gone before is now over and the pressing urgency of the disappearance now presses the narrative into the present tense so that we experience events along with the protagonist, instead of as a second-hand telling. Then, maybe when events are resolved in the climax (however that pans out), you could switch back to past tense as the characters recall how they moved on from the events of the story (again, with a break into an epilogue or some other similar technical interruption).
     
    Atchemes Beagle likes this.
  10. Atchemes Beagle

    Atchemes Beagle Member

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    Laughed at this reply... I know your pain! :)
     
  11. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I think in an individual scene, as in the OP, pick one and stick with it. I did see one book recently "Hunter-Killer" by David Poyer, where the chapter of the Marine combat scene is all handled in the present tense, though the rest of the book was 3rd past, multiple POVs, though usually the protagonist. Present tense conveyed the feeling of immediacy in combat, where time seems to stand still and become an ever-present NOW. It worked very, very well, made you want to duck for cover while reading it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2018
  12. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Like most things, whether or not the effect you think you're getting across with these tense changes actually succeeds is always going to be a matter of opinion. In the first few chapters of A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham (1990), specifically those chapters that initially introduce one of the POV characters, the first couple of paragraphs are not only in present tense, they are also in omniscient POV. Therein after the story is told from 3rd person close, past tense. It made sense and felt organic - to me - because it felt like an introduction, not just in the literary sense of the word, but in a personal sense. Like in real life. But I have to imagine that perhaps it did not feel that way for every reader who engaged that book.
     
  13. graveleye

    graveleye Senior Member

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    Thanks! I thought I was alone in my suffering! :D
     

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