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Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:49 pm
by rtodd5011
For the writing contest this week, I am writing in 1st person POV, yes that is me telling a true life story. What I am concerned about is the first paragraph is in the present tense, then the story jumps into the past tense until the last paragraph goes back into present tense. I'm not sure about this, but its the only idea I have come up with so far, and its almost Tuesday. Is there a lesson on tenses anywhere, or any suggestions or advise to make my story Faithwriters savvy?


Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 9:39 am
by glorybee
Hi, Rich--

Glad to be able to answer this question! A word of caution first, though--it's best not to ask about upcoming challenge pieces publically lest a judge should see what you've asked and be able to put two and two together, making your entry no longer anonymous. You've given very little away here, and our judges are scrupulous in their objectivity--but still, in the future, you might want to either ask those questions privately, or ask once the challenge is over. No big deal, truly, and don't fret about it.

Now, to your question.

Tense shifts are a common error in the writing challenge, and I think that many writers aren't even aware that they're shifting. It's very common to see something like:

"Are there any cookies left?" asked Ben. He opened all of the kitchen cupboards and even peered into the refrigerator.

Jan chews nervously and hides the box behind her back. "I don't think so," she said.

In this example, the first paragraph is in the past tense, with verbs like asked, opened, peered. The second paragraph veers into present tense, with verbs like chews and hides, but then it slips back into past tense (she said).

However, this doesn't seem to be your problem, as you seem to be aware of the difference in tenses in your entry. So I'd suggest a couple of solutions:

1. Since you know that they're not consistent, just pick the tense that works best in your entry and fix the ones that don't match.

That seems overly-simplistic, though, and I suspect that you've maybe used different tenses intentionally, perhaps for a specific effect. You said that you've written a true life story, so (I'm just guessing here) maybe your first paragraph is in present tense because you're describing yourself now, and the past tense parts are a flashback to then, and then the conclusion is back to events of now.

2. If that's the case, the only thing you have to do is to alert your reader that a flashback is about to happen. There are a number of ways you can do this--you could italicize the first and last paragraphs, or you could separate them from the body of the text with three asterisks, or you could just add an extra space before and after the center section.

I hope that answers your question! Feel free to follow up with a question of your own, as long as it doesn't reveal specific content of your entry.

Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:01 pm
by rtodd5011
I am sorry my mind was not thinking right. Maybe after the challenge is over I can post my piece and you can offer me some red ink or even during the brick throwing? Whew, are you sure this post thread is okay?

Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:16 pm
by glorybee
This thread is fine, no worries.

If you still have questions that can't be answered in a general way, feel free to post a link here after the judging for the challenge you're referring to is over. I'd be glad to give more specific advice then.

Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 7:57 pm
by beaedwards
I'm going to dip my toe into the scary, intimidating grammar pool.

To fix the tense in the example given would this be correct?

Jan chewed nervously and hid the box behind her back. "I don't think so," she said.

Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:00 pm
by glorybee

Exactly correct.

See? Nothing scary about it.


Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:35 am
by beaedwards

Maybe I'll venture out of the shallow water and try an entire paragraph

:thankssign Jan!!

:clap We appreciate you coming back to help us with the basics. :clap

Re: Tenses all over the place ---Help---

Posted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 10:24 pm
by Shann
So now that the judging is over (if I did the math right on my fingers) how do you feel about the tense change? You did a great job and I see you placed in your level so you must have nailed it! I'm going to check it out now. :mrgreen:

Oh and Bea, please dip your toes in more often. You're such a delight and I truly believe with more practice you'll be writing EC stories in no time. :D