1. watermark

    watermark Member

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    Writing entire story in present tense grammar problems.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by watermark, Jan 12, 2017.

    I guess most of the time stories should be written using the past tense, but right now I'm working on a fanfic project that's based on a dating sim visual novel.

    I noticed that in dating sim visual novels, the narrator (or player avatar)'s inner monologue takes up a big chunk of the story. This "talking to oneself in the head" is usually done in the present tense. So when I tried writing the story using the past tense, I had a lot of tense flip flopping, resulting in a big mess. So I decided to write the whole story using the present tense. Is this ok?

    So 'I said' becomes 'I say'. 'I realized' becomes 'I realize'. I think it works most of the time, but there are some problems with certain sentences so I would like some advice. Are the sentences below grammatically correct? Do they work?

    1. "I was about to..." -> "I am about to..." : e.g. I am about to open that door.
    2. "It was then that I realized that..." -> "It was then that I realize that..." : e.g. It was then that I realize that "he" is actually a girl.
    3. "After that, he asked me..." -> "After that, he asks me...": e.g. After that, he asks me whether it was fun.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2017
  2. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    You're the writer - you may write in whatever tense you wish! There are advantages and disadvantages to both tenses, but you should write in what feels most comfortable to you. I've written extensively in both. My default is past tense, but sometimes I want to build more tension and so I write in present. Others like to write in present to make the readers feel closer to the narrator. In some genres it is more appropriate than others, but in fanfiction it's the most common tense to write in. By the way, what dating sim visual novel is this about? I'll most likely never have heard of it, but I do play them from time to time.

    1. Correct.
    2. It should be: "It is then that I realize that..."
    3. Correct - assuming that whatever he is asking about occurred in the past. Although if that's a sentence in your work, it will probably flow better to just say, "He asks me whether it was fun."
     
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  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It's pretty common in some genres to use present tense. Not an issue.

    And if it's fanfic you don't need to worry about the market too much, so - go for it!
     
  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    I think it should be "It is now that I realize that..." Or, perhaps, "Now, I realize that..."

    I'd suggest that you look at rewording the whole sentence (as I've done above), rather than just changing the tense.
     
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  5. watermark

    watermark Member

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    I know that we should try to avoid tense switching, but what about in a situation like below:

    "I grab her and slam the door shut behind us. Good thing I did that, because a moment later two guards arrive."

    It's ok to dip into the past like that right?
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    That wouldn't read like a problem to me.
     
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  7. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    @BayView is right, but...

    You seem to like to litter your writing with "that"s, and it's causing you a problem, as in...

    2. "It was then that I realized that..." which becomes "Now, I realize that..."

    And in this case, I think that it reads better by being consistent on present tense and omitting the that...

    "I grab her and slam the door shut behind us. Good thing I do that, because a moment later two guards arrive."
     
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  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Present tense is fine. There is no "should be past tense" about it.

    The problem in your second two examples is extraneous words that you're trying to cram in. For #1, "I am about to open that door" is fine, grammar-wise, though I'd question why it is being telegraphed unless something is about to interrupt that action.

    #2 "I realize that...," or better yet get rid of pointing out that he is realizing and just tell us the realization. It will be apparent that it is a realization without you calling it out as such.

    #3 "He asks me..." Why do you need "After that?" You don't.
     
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  9. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with Steerpike. I feel like the problem is most likely to be down to your attempting to write present tense by 'translating' past.
    Present does require a different approach from instant 0.
     
  10. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    All I know from writing a novel in present tense is that it is much harder, than past tense.
    Having to watch out for the little words that will change the tense from one to the other, like
    'was' and a few others. Easier to write things as if they already happened over are happening
    now. We recount things that have already happened in the real world and express them that
    way. So it is no leap in logic to conclude that it is easier to convey them in a similar fashion,
    than trying to convey the here and now. Takes practice, and patience. :)
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I agree that you're adding unnecessary words. And those unnecessary words tend to be you pointing out the progression of time--"about to", "it was then", "after that". Is there any need to point out the progression of time? Because as you're discovering, that's a bit messier in present tense.

    If you're doing it to have pauses (edited to add: or to specify the order of events), you could rephrase:

    I was about to open the door, when Jane said, "Stop!"
    I'm reaching to open the door, when Jane says, "Stop!"

    Jane stared at me. It was then that I realized that...
    As I study Jane's face, I realize that....

    Joe locked the door. After that, he asked me...
    Joe locks the door. Then he asks me....


    I also think that if you're using present tense when you, personally, would rather use past tense, just because of the inner monologue, there might be better solutions. If you, personally, wouldn't rather use past tense, never mind.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2017
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