1. Ravstone

    Ravstone New Member

    Jun 19, 2015
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    Yet another question about tense changes in a story

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ravstone, Jun 19, 2015.

    Hello there!

    So, I am writing a story ( Bet you hadn't guessed that, had you?) and I am having a dilemma concerning tense usage.

    It starts off with the protagonist having a near death experience on the first chapter, and thus, to make it more lively, I utilise present tenses. When he goes ahead to recount whatever brought him up to that point, I revert to past tenses per the norm. I feel so far that the shift is not too jarring and makes sense.

    Here is my issue: at some point, somewhere in the middle of the story, the timeline reaches the point where chapter one began. From that point onwards, the supposed 'recounting' ends, the protagonist moves on, escaping the 'dangerous situation', and the story continues. Now, what should I do? Can I use present tenses for the rest of the story? On the one hand, it might feel like too big a hassle for someone reading it. On the other hand, the protagonist changes after that experience- he wakes up figuratively, if you will- so the tense time swap could also represent that important change.

    Alternatively of course, one could say that I could just do all that easily by just using either present tenses or past tenses everywhere - that could work out too. But, instead of doing so, I'd like to make that strong contrast, if I can get away with it.

    So, opinions?

    ( By the way, before someone harps on me for not using the forum search function, let me tell you that I did. The only similar thread that I found was https://www.writingforums.org/threads/prologue-epilogue-and-general-story-tense.138870/. However, that concerns usage of present tense on the prologue and epilogue only, rather than on half the story as in my case. )
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
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    California, US
    I think you could go either way without bothering most readers. If you handle present tense well, shifting back to that does underscore your point that you are back at the present and adds a certain amount of consistency.
  3. ManOrAstroMan

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    May 8, 2012
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    I think as long as you make the two time periods clearly distinct, you should be good. A lot of people don't like tense changes because it isn't always clear which period they're reading, and it takes the reader out of the narrative when they have to stop and double check the timeline.
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    This would absolutely not work for me. But I don't like present tense.

    If your book fits into any particular genre, I would suggest looking at the current, popular books in that genre to see if a fair percentage of them use present tense. If so, then presumably a tolerance for that tense has already been established among those readers. But since I don't know if any genre where everything, or even a majority, uses present tense, those readers should also have a tolerance for past tense.

    For example, a lot of YA uses present tense. I have never yet seen even one murder mystery that uses it. (Edited to correct: No, not true. I have seen one. I just put it back on the shelf so fast I almost forgot it.) I haven't seen it in hard science fiction but I don't keep up with new hard science fiction. And so on.
  5. Dunning Kruger

    Dunning Kruger Active Member

    Oct 24, 2014
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    Isnt this your classic story within a story situation? Princess Bride, Heart of Darkness (fogive me if my memory is incorrect on the examples). Narrator is interacting in the present with a someone and telling the story of something in the past. As said previously, the key is clearly delineating the difference and also making the relevancy of the present tense apparent.
  6. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    Hi, welcome to the forum. :superhello:

    I think the idea sounds interesting and it makes sense to me to use present and past tense to show time frames. I think you'll need other cues to show the reader what you are doing. Something as simple as the chapter title showing the time frame wouldn't be enough in this case. But combined with starting the past tense section with some explanation it was the protagonist telling the reader some of the story, or the protag remembering the story in narration format, it could work.

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