1. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    Two tenses

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Tesoro, May 13, 2012.

    In one novel I read recently (One Day-David Nicholls) the writer uses both present tense and past tense and I can't figure out how, where, why and if that is something that one should try, and to what purpose. When is that ok and how does one know when it should be one or the other? Actually I didn't notice it on the first read, so it's not like it bothered me, it was only now when looking through it again that I saw this. I also noticed that he seems to mix pov's in the same scene from time to time. does it mean that it is some kind of omniscient pov or just breaking "rules"?
     
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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  3. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    Interesting, I didn't know those differences. I'm still not sure I understand this though.
     
  4. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    Ok, now I have been thinking about this for a while and it seems somewhat clearer. But still this author mix grammatical tense from time to time and I'm still stuck on understanding to what purpose. Does this mean something? Should it be read in a certain way?
     
  5. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Present tense gives the reader a sense of urgency and immediacy, which may be better suited for some scenes. Jose Saramago is another writer who switches between tenses quite often. He's the only writer I've read who does this. It's not a very common thing, probably because it's so hard to pull off.
     
  6. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    In fact this author must have done it pretty well too, because I didn't even notice until the second read. :) (when I looked specifically for certain details)
     
  7. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    At any point in the narrative, the character has, and can refer to, the past, present, and future. So can the narrator. What characterizes narrative tense is the tense used to refer to events in "storytime". Reference to story past and story future are relative to the narrative tense, and the grammatical tense of each verb reflects that.
     
  8. Bluesman

    Bluesman New Member

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    I notice that I do that in my writing as well. Most of the time I'm in past tense, but I generally switch to present when a conversation or action goes down.


    Like this:


    Is this considered wrong, by the way? I'm not 100% consistent in doing this. I'm writing like how I would tell someone the story.
     
  9. JonSpear360

    JonSpear360 New Member

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    This is an interesting topic for me! My second novel I wrote for NaNo in 2010 was in two tenses. The way I handled it was that all the flash backs were in third person, past tense, and all of the non-flashbacks were done in first person, present tense. It seemed to get a good response from my first readers, but I haven't gone back to edit it yet so I can't really remember what exactly it was like. I was happy with it while writing it, though.
     
  10. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Your narrative tense is inconsistent. That's a fatal flaw.
     
  11. Bluesman

    Bluesman New Member

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    Like someone else wrote earlier, present tense gives a sense of urgency, which can be really great. In a story I'm writing, a fight starts. When I read it back, I noticed I switch to present tense from the moment the fight starts. When it's over and the guy is in a safe place, I switch back to past tense again. I tried to re-work it, but it didn't feel right any more. There's a whole build-up to it, and then the fight suddenly happens. The whole section reads very fast, just like a real fight and I really like it.

    ^notice how I switch around in here too, even.
     
  12. RaeRae

    RaeRae New Member

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    I also do a lot of switching between tenses when I write. I guess I better go back reread some stuff. I do have back stories and flashbacks in a lot of my writings and it never dawned on me that I was doing that. I just write and then look for grammar errors. New to this forum site and so far I am getting a lot of help. Thanks!
     
  13. Tesoro

    Tesoro Contributor Contributor

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    Cogito: What I meant wasn't so much the use of different tenses in the same scene. I was talking more about writing some scenes in present and others in past tense. I didn't understand the authors reason for switching since it all was in the past somehow.
     
  14. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you're writing in present narrative tense (which I don't really recommend), you could still refer back to scenes that occurred in "story past" in past narrative tense. Think of it as a "flashback" approach.
     
  15. Bluesman

    Bluesman New Member

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    This is one of the things an editor points out to you, right?
     
  16. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you're lucky. You might just get back a copy of your manuscript with a lot of red marks and few explanations, along with a big hole in your checking account.
     
  17. Bluesman

    Bluesman New Member

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    Isn't an editor complementary if you go through a publisher, though?
     
  18. digitig

    digitig Contributor Contributor

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    Tell F Scott Fitzgerald that! It's not necessarily fatal, it's just very hard to pull off -- and that example doesn't pull it off. The shifts in tense have to serve a purpose beyond the author preferring this bit in one tense, that bit in another. That won't happen accidentally.
     
  19. digitig

    digitig Contributor Contributor

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    If you can get a publishing deal for something in such serious need of editing. It's possible, but you'd get better odds playing the lottery.
     
  20. Bluesman

    Bluesman New Member

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    So you're saying, the writer pays the editor out of his own pocket? Or does his agent generally takes care of that? I'm trying to figure out how the whole process works.
     
  21. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The writer submits a manuscript, and if it isn't already pretty "clean", it won't be accepted. The publisher has editors on staff, but the manuscript has to be in pretty decent shape when it's submitted.

    That's the writer's job. Period.
     
  22. digitig

    digitig Contributor Contributor

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    What Cog says. If the ms is not in a good state when it's submitted then it's not going to be read. Ideally the author should get it into that good state and the publisher's editors (strictly "sub-editors") will just sweep up any loose ends, so there's no need to pay an editor. If there's any reason the author can't do that (a very small number of published authors are severely dyslexic, for instance) then they will have to get somebody else to go over the work before submission (at least until they have a good track record). Best to do it yourself it at all possible.
     
  23. Bluesman

    Bluesman New Member

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    English isn't my first language, so I'm pretty sure there will be some weird mistakes in there.

    When the time is there and my novel is done, I'd be happy to pay someone to go through it. Do you guys have any recommendations for editors that can be trusted?
     

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