1. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    Verb tense?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Mrs.Smith, Dec 9, 2017.

    Don't laugh, it's been 30 years since I sat in an English classroom and I honestly don't remember the proper terms for what I want to ask. Yeah, I'm an editor, but I edit non-fiction and in 12 years this has never come up in a non-fiction article.

    My MS is first-person POV and I'm struggling with action words. Here's an example. The main character is watching this happen:

    “You let us know if you have any questions, Mr. Tucker,” Josh said, stepping around the man and opening the door for him.

    “You let us know if you have any questions, Mr. Tucker,” Josh said, as he stepped around the man and opened the door for him.


    And does anything change if I add in a few more words to give insight to Josh's attitude?

    “You let us know if you have any questions, Mr. Tucker,” Josh said, in a civil but not particularly friendly tone as he stepped around the man and opened the door for him.

    All three sound right, but when an agent or editor reads my pages, which are they going to want to see?

    For some reason I've been struggling with this, both as the narrator describes what others are doing and as she's thinking to herself. It isn't just this one sentence, of course. I'm at 20K words and have used both (both what? tenses?) throughout - I need to fix this before I get any further along, to save work later.
     
  2. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Either of those sentences is fine. The main lexical verb in the sentence is 'said', which is past tense. Whether you use 'as he stepped...' or 'stepping...', the verb 'to step' is an auxiliary verb in both cases, so the main verb implies the tense of the sentence. In other words, which one you use is entirely up to you, as both sentences are correctly structured past tense.

    Now, the final example you gave may be a problem for the point of view. By describing the tone of voice as "civil but not particularly friendly", you have given your narrator the role of interpreting the intention of the character when he said what he said. If you want your narrator to be in that position, then fine. But if you want your characters to be the main POV, then you should avoid having the narrator interpret things like this, and instead show them through the reactions of the other characters.
     
  3. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    Does it need to be consistent throughout the writing or is it okay to mix it up? Or does consistency matter at all in this regard as long as the sentence/paragraph reads well?

    I'm not sure I understand. The entire story is seen through her eyes. In this particular scene, she's watching this take place from a few feet away, and Josh is her husband, so she automatically reads his expressions and body language and interprets what's going through his head. Here's a clip from earlier in the same scene. If it matters, the "guy" in question is behaving in a suspicious way.

    “What’s your name?” Josh asked, smiling at the guy in a way that would likely seem friendly, if you didn’t know him. I tease him about Ranger-mode and this was it. Poised for action with his hands hanging loosely at his sides and a smile with an edge to it.

    I realize I should probably worry about all this in the editing phase, but I want to avoid making the same mistakes in the next 65K words. :)
     
  4. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    No, you don't need to make this consistent. In fact, I would suggest that you don't make it consistent. Mixing up your sentence structures will make reading your work more interesting. As long as the lexical verb is always in the tense you have chosen for the story, then this is fine. For example, this is fine:

    “You let us know if you have any questions, Mr. Tucker,” Josh said [past tense lexical], as he stepped [past tense auxiliary] around the man and opened the door for him.

    “What’s your name?” Josh asked
    [past tense lexical], smiling [present tense auxiliary] at the guy in a way that would likely seem friendly, if you didn’t know him.

    This, however is not ok:

    “You let us know if you have any questions, Mr. Tucker,” Josh said [past tense lexical], as he stepped [past tense auxiliary] around the man and opened the door for him.

    “What’s your name?” Josh asks [present tense lexical], smiling [present tense auxiliary] at the guy in a way that would likely seem friendly, if you didn’t know him.




    Apologies, I missed that it was in 1st person. That's fine. The reader should assume that the interpretations you have offered (about the way the smile appeared) are those of the narrator, and since it's in first person this is fine. Just make sure you don't word it in such a way as it sounds like the narrator knows what the other person meant. After all, he/she isn't inside the heads of the other characters. So this is fine:

    “What’s your name?” Josh asked, smiling at the guy in a way that would likely seem friendly, if you didn’t know him.

    But this isn't, because it provides the narrator with information about another person that she doesn't actually know:

    “What’s your name?” Josh asked, smiling at the guy. He seemed friendly, but inside he was pissed off.

    This, however, would be fine, since it shows the reader that the narrator is using some observable information to infer the other character's feelings and intentions:

    “What’s your name?” Josh asked, smiling at the guy. He seemed friendly, but I could tell from his body language that he was pissed off.
     
  5. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    Thank you. This does help.
    I hate the thought of getting to 85K words and realizing I've made the same stupid mistake over and over again and have to go back and find/fix them all. lol. Just shoot me now.
    I realized aroundt 5k words in that I was bouncing between present and past tense when relating what was happening in several scenes. I went back and fixed it all and was more careful going forward until I got into a rhythm and didn't have to think about it anymore.

    I am careful to make sure other character's thoughts are the MC's perception or assumption of what that character is thinking, based on her knowledge of each person. And I try to give reasons for it where necessary. Obviously an eye roll is understood by anyone, no explanation needed, but a wife may recognize the tense set of her husband's shoulders where a stranger wouldn't.

    I really appreciate the help! It's funny what comes naturally and what we get hung up on and it's different for each of us. Even simple words. I never give a second's thought to its or it's, but I have to look up affect and effect every single time. Then again, I also would have said that I don't have any issues with tense, until now when I'm actually writing it. Makes me wonder what else I think I'm doing right and that I'll find out later I totally screwed up. lol
     
  6. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    No problem @Mrs.Smith. It sounds like you're on the right lines and are aware of the important aspects of grammar and POV, so enjoy it :)
     
  7. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    Just wrote another few paragraphs and almost copied and pasted it into a PM to you to have you look at it and make sure it's all correct.
    Which means I'm focusing on the wrong thing! I need to just trust myself and keep telling the story. I've only written 359 words this morning and I should have had at least three times that given how long I've been sitting here (not counting the time I spent on this forum!), and the low word count is because I'm focusing on the mechanics and not the story.
    In fact, I'm doing exactly what the man accuses me of when I get off track on a tangent. I'm overthinking it.
    Damn it, I hate it when he's right.
    Letting it go ...
     
  8. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    First thing: stop all the 'should's. You'll just make yourself feel back and then lose motivation. Turn those 'should's into 'even though's: you wrote 359 words even though you weren't sure about tenses and POVs! :D

    Time spent on a forum is still productive if you're learning. You've learned some things which will hopefully give you more confidence, and make you better equipped to write even more next time you sit down to write.

    By all means send over some stuff if you want me to take a look. Bear in mind though that you'll only get my opinion that way. It would be better to post some stuff in the workshop so you get a range of opinions. Make sure you follow the posting guidelines for the workshop though.
     
  9. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    You're right, of course. Shoulds are counterproductive. But, by the time I stopped I'd put down 1482 words, and this morning I did another 1462, bringing my total to 24,749. And now we're heading out to get a tree and I can spend the rest of the day decorating and contemplating what I'll write tomorrow. :)

    And yes, this discussion yesterday did clarify things and helped me clear up some errors - and prevent me from making them again. Thank you! But you should realize I don't need any help rationalizing! lol

    Not ready just yet to post in the workshop. I may get to that, but I've never been one to put a wip out there until it's fine-tuned. But we'll see.
    Thanks Mashers!
     

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