Friday, December 10, 2021

All tensed up today...

Writing.

Many beginning writers understand the concept of present and past tense, but fail to properly apply it. They 'mix' tenses, often with horrible results.

I've been trying to find a good explanation to help ease the pain, but thus far I haven't been able to write up some decent explanation, sorry.

Below's the best I could come up with thus far.


You've pretty much have three options:

1. Everything is in the PAST.

2. The narrator is NOW but his story is in the past.

3. Everything happens NOW.

(There are more options, but let's keep things simple.)


Danger, John Robinson!

You don't want to mix tenses up, really, you don't. 


1. EVERYTHING happened in the past.

This is the easiest one, whatever exact grammarly forms you use. It all happened in the past, period. You never refer to anyone in present tense, you're not even acting as if they are still alive, it's all past tense, unless it is dialogue, a thoughts, and things like that.

It's the old, dusty tome of a thousand years old, which talks about events that happened another thousand years before that.

Third person is mostly using this format.

Example:

It was one of those places where I still could show my face, and afford breakfast. I smiled at the waitress who refilled my cup. Loretta had always been a looker, until her boyfriend took a knife to her face. The cuts had healed, but the scars were still visible.

Another example: (Peter's alive, Peter's brother is not.)

The phone rang and it was Peter. Peter was my best friend. We had been staying all week in bed, just for kicks, and my back was hurting by then. He rarely called me, but this was one of those situations. I mean, he was a great guy, and his brother wasn't.


2. THE STORY happened in the past but the narrator is telling it NOW.

The narrator is still alive, living right now, and telling you the story. Some of the cast might still be alive, so when the narrator tells you the story he might slip into present tense for characters that are still alive at the moment of telling.

It's as if he's sitting in a bar, opposite of you, narrating.

You'll find this often in first person stories. Imagine someone sitting in a bar opposite of you, and telling you a real life story, something that happened last week or last year. When referring to people that are no longer around or are dead you use past tense.

Example:

Becky's dad is a great guy, but he has a habit of always being late. So, when I was standing there, with Becky right at my side, we were short of one dad, one father of the bride, and one ring. So Brother John got on his bicycle to wake up the ol' man. At that time Becky's dad still owned a pair of rottweilers--not anymore now-- so when John returned it was without her dad, without his bicycle, but he had arranged a kind of ring. Talk about one auspicious beginning.

Another example: (Peter's alive, Peter's brother is not.)

The Phone rang and it was Peter. Peter is my best friend. We had been staying all week in bed, just for kicks, and my back was hurting by then. He rarely calls me, but this was one of those situations. I mean, he's a great guy, and his brother wasn't.


3. IT ALL HAPPENS NOW. So, there's only present tense.

You're actively running through the story together with the narrator, except for an initial flashback at the start of a chapter. It may seem easier but some things are even harder than past tense.

Example:

I look at the balcony. It's a long way up, which means it's also a long way down. It's exactly this kind of stupidity that had me break my leg... twice. Mom was pretty pissed, because last time -- I was about twelve or so -- she had to take care of me for five weeks. Well, today that isn't going to happen. I'm going to catch that foul mouthing bastard of a soon-to-be ex-finance, and make an end to all of this bullshit. At least there's a kind of natural ladder I can use to climb my way up. I hope the trellis can hold both me and the roses...

Another example: (Peter's alive, Peter's brother is not.)

The phone rings and it is Peter. Peter is my best friend. We once stayed in bed all week long, just for kicks, and my back had been hurting near the end. He rarely calls me, but this is one of those situations. I mean, he's a great guy, and his brother wasn't.


 

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