Using 'this' in past tense

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Mark17
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Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Mark17 » April 18th, 2011, 9:21 pm

Maybe a dumb question, but if a story is written in past tense, and it's all he did, he said, can you use the word 'this?' Does it bring it into the realm of present tense?

Rough example:

John had been a ninja for years. He knew who could hack it. And this kid, with his pink hair and designer sunglasses, didn't stand a chance.

Or what about something like this: The man paused again, this time for effect.

or

The dog jumped up and spun a beach ball on his nose. John had seen this before.

Again, it may be a stupid question, and in many cases its probably a superfluous word better off removed altogether, but does it break the tense rules? Clearly the American school system does not teach grammar like it used to.

Any help is appreciated on this problem. Thanks.

Margo
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Margo » April 19th, 2011, 10:27 am

Hi, Mark17. I don't see a problem with your use of 'this'. It's a lot less distracting than my pet peeve of authors writing in the first person and periodically employing second person pronouns.
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Nigel Haberdash
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Nigel Haberdash » April 19th, 2011, 10:36 am

Margo wrote:Hi, Mark17. I don't see a problem with your use of 'this'. It's a lot less distracting than my pet peeve of authors writing in the first person and periodically employing second person pronouns.
But isn't 2nd person truly an implied first person? For instance in my MC starts out asking, "Can I tell you about.....?" Then he proceeds to tell the story in 1st person. Every time I use 2nd person pronouns it is implied that it is coming from the voice of my 1st person pov.

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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Margo » April 19th, 2011, 10:38 am

Nigel Haberdash wrote:But isn't 2nd person truly an implied first person? For instance in my MC starts out asking, "Can I tell you about.....?" Then he proceeds to tell the story in 1st person. Every time I use 2nd person pronouns it is implied that it is coming from the voice of my 1st person pov.

Correct versus distracting. Distracting because it pushes out the narrative distance in a work that is using a perspective that is supposed to bring the distance in. Your decision.
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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by J. T. SHEA » April 19th, 2011, 12:18 pm

Interesting that you find the second person pronoun distracting and distancing in first person stories, Margo. I find it quite the opposite. I use it at the start of my trilogy in a manner something like Nigel's. Mind you, my narrator is a cub reporter addressing the readers of a populist newspaper.

Mark17, I see absolutely no problem with your use of 'this'.

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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Margo » April 19th, 2011, 1:06 pm

J. T. SHEA wrote:Interesting that you find the second person pronoun distracting and distancing in first person stories, Margo. I find it quite the opposite. I use it at the start of my trilogy in a manner something like Nigel's. Mind you, my narrator is a cub reporter addressing the readers of a populist newspaper.
I just don't see the point of bothering to bring the distance in so tight and then remind the reader "I'm telling you a story. You are not part of this story. You are an outside observer, a voyeur at best." What's most powerful about firmly entrenching the reader in the first person guided meditation is the full-immersion experience. Why then throw the reader back out of the experience with that reminder of distance? YMMV, but it's something to consider.
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Sommer Leigh » April 19th, 2011, 1:12 pm

Mark17, I don't see any problem with your use of the word "this."

And honestly, the school system did something right if you are even worried about breaking tense rules with one word.

Great question :-) I think a lot of people are afraid of asking questions like this for fear of looking dumb. I think questions like this are great because I probably didn't even know enough to ask them in the first place. Thank you!

Actually, where's Polymath? He'd be able to break this down in a second and make us all smarter for it.
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Margo » April 19th, 2011, 1:15 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:Actually, where's Polymath? He'd be able to break this down in a second and make us all smarter for it.

He is our anti-Billy Madison.
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by polymath » April 19th, 2011, 1:46 pm

polymath is on posting sabatical for several personal reasons. Though for the benefit of all . . .

This this hunch in regard to tense isn't a style issue I see; it's a potential category error issue. The pronoun this generally refers to a subsequent subject and can be used in any appropriate tense. Where this becomes a potential issue is from pronoun-subject antecedent or subsequent relationship as a category error. This typically refers to a close proximity subsequent subject from a formal prescriptive style basis. For discretionary contexts, this can reference an antecedent subject or subsequent subject or combinations; for example, if this refers to the overall topic or context as the subject reference for the pronoun. Another parallel use of this relates to proximity of subjects. This for close, that for farther away.

Examples;

Subsequent subject: This I say: what I say three times is true.
Antecedent subject: The drill motor burned out while driving deck screws. This ain't gonna get the job done on time.
Overall subject (topic): This [post] has at its core a presumption this is a troublemaker when a category error.
Proximity subject: This broken window's glass cut my feet. That window isn't broken.

Antecedent subject references by proximity pronouns this and that are sometimes considered an affected voice mannerism, good for voice and register qualities, not so great for formal writing. Proximity of subject to pronoun is paramount regardless.
Last edited by polymath on April 19th, 2011, 1:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by J. T. SHEA » April 19th, 2011, 1:55 pm

I like your description of the first person as a guided meditation, Margo. Indeed it is. Interesting that guided meditations are usually written in the second person. And the old multiple choice CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURES beloved of Nathan and others were second person too. And you can hardly get more fully immersive than that! But I take your points.

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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Margo » April 19th, 2011, 2:01 pm

J. T. SHEA wrote:I like your description of the first person as a guided meditation, Margo. Indeed it is. Interesting that guided meditations are usually written in the second person. And the old multiple choice CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURES beloved of Nathan and others were second person too. And you can hardly get more fully immersive than that! But I take your points.
Credit where credit is due - I stole the idea wholesale from Teresa Nielsen Hayden. But I dont' think it's meant to be a one-to-one comparison. I don't personally find most guided meditations to be as immersive as well-written fiction. I wrote one at the request of a friend, using the principles of fiction writing instead of the predominant format, and people went nuts over it. It was a dramatically different experience from the norm for them.

But the actual point wasn't whether first or second is more immersive but that mixing second into a work in the first person is a break in the meditation. Starting out in second creates different expectations immediately.
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Margo » April 19th, 2011, 2:05 pm

polymath wrote:polymath is on posting sabatical for several personal reasons.

Yeah, I know. You want to make sure you don't accidentally overtake me for the extremely dubious honor of 'most forum posts'. You're sly, polymath, very sly.
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Sommer Leigh » April 19th, 2011, 3:10 pm

polymath wrote:polymath is on posting sabatical for several personal reasons. Though for the benefit of all . . .
I am glad to see you pop in :-) Hope you don't have to stay away too long.
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Mark17 » April 21st, 2011, 11:48 am

Thanks for helping clear this up guys. Especially happy to see Polymath chime in, I knew he could help, was worried he'd went into seclusion. I was throwing the word in to add voice to a certain passage and thought it might mess up the tense, glad it doesn't. Sounds better with it.

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Wren Emerson
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Re: Using 'this' in past tense

Post by Wren Emerson » April 29th, 2011, 2:15 pm

OMG, this question is so relevant to me. I feel like my entire MS is breaking tense left and right. It's supposed to be told from 1st person POV, past tense. I keep finding myself confused about whether it's ok to use lines like, "Her nostrils flared and her lips tightened. I've never seen her so angry in my life." That's not a great example because it seems easy enough to change that one, but I've had other things like that come up where it reads fine as it is, but clearly it's changing up the tense. 1st person is harder in that way than I would have guessed.

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