Tense

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
User avatar
Sanderling
Posts: 187
Joined: July 3rd, 2011, 4:47 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Tense

Post by Sanderling » July 21st, 2011, 8:17 pm

I started a new story a few days ago; the opening paragraphs came to me in present tense which I'd never written in before, my previous novels all being done in past tense. After a few pages I felt it wasn't flowing right and decided it was due to the tense. I switched it all to past tense and tried to carry on, but every sentence (quite literally) I would start writing in present tense and would have to catch myself. Eventually I gave up and put it back in present tense, since the story obviously wanted it that way. (I've addressed the flow issue through changing the voice, instead.)

When you all are writing, do you prefer to write in past or present tense? Do you pick the tense for the story, or does it pick it for you? Do you think some stories work better in one tense than another?
My blog / Twitter
.
"Because if you have at least a modicum of talent and if you live by these six rules, you will make it."
--Robert J. Sawyer, speaking here of Heinlein's Rules.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by polymath » July 21st, 2011, 8:44 pm

Grammatic tenses have different purposes, strengths, and shortcomings. Present tense for immediacy of unfolding action, for subjectivity, and shortcoming, less temporal flexibility. Past tense, the narrative present for directness of reporting unfolding action, for objectivity, and shortcoming, potentially more open narrative distance. Progressive past, present, and future and perfect tenses are okay as auxiliary tenses but should be timely and judicious for best results. They tend to open narrative distance.

Grammatic tense is one part of linguistic theory and also influences other grammatical modalities.
Animacy
Aspect
Case
Clusivity
Definiteness
Degree of comparison
Evidentiality
Focus
Gender
Mirativity
Modality
Mood
Noun class
Number
Person
Polarity
Tense
Topic
Transitivity
Voice
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
taylormillgirl
Posts: 138
Joined: December 28th, 2009, 9:02 am
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by taylormillgirl » July 21st, 2011, 9:15 pm

I don't like writing, nor do I like reading, in present tense. I'm a third person past tense kinda gal. This probably won't do me any favors when my YA goes on sub...the trend has been first person present in YA for a while now. :(
Author of hot & humorous romances, debut novel coming in 2012 from Sourcebooks!
http://macybeckett.com/

User avatar
Sanderling
Posts: 187
Joined: July 3rd, 2011, 4:47 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by Sanderling » July 21st, 2011, 9:53 pm

taylormillgirl wrote:I don't like writing, nor do I like reading, in present tense. I'm a third person past tense kinda gal. This probably won't do me any favors when my YA goes on sub...the trend has been first person present in YA for a while now. :(
I've noticed that, too, Macy. Which is partly why I wondered whether the tense choice is deliberate or not. Hunger Games was the first that I really noticed it and it seems like since reading that there's been quite a lot. Given the success of the Hunger Games trilogy, it could be a fad. Or it could be related to the fact that a lot of these are dystopians, and maybe something about the nature of dystopian just works better in present tense?

The manuscript I just finished is in first-person past, which, again, was what the story came to me as; the two prior to it were third-person past. I feel that if the story itself is compelling, the POV and tense just blend into the background and it won't really matter when you go on sub anyway.
polymath wrote:Grammatic tenses have different purposes, strengths, and shortcomings. Present tense for immediacy of unfolding action, for subjectivity, and shortcoming, less temporal flexibility. Past tense, the narrative present for directness of reporting unfolding action, for objectivity, and shortcoming, potentially more open narrative distance. Progressive past, present, and future and perfect tenses are okay as auxiliary tenses but should be timely and judicious for best results. They tend to open narrative distance.
It's true that each has its own strengths and weaknesses, polymath - another reason why I wonder whether authors make deliberate choices or just go with what the story demands. ('Demands' as in the muse is calling the shots, not as in the author carefully considered the goals of the narrative to decide which would work best, of course.)

That's quite the list! I can definitely say that while I should undoubtedly be thinking about all these things as I'm working on my project, at some point or another, I tend to just let the story do its thing. When it comes to the creative arts (visual arts, music, writing) I've never been very good at thinking very deeply about things; it stifles the 'creative' part of my creative arts and I'm no longer enjoying what I'm doing. I tend to figure things out intuitively, or through experience, and only later learn the theory or names of things I'm doing.
My blog / Twitter
.
"Because if you have at least a modicum of talent and if you live by these six rules, you will make it."
--Robert J. Sawyer, speaking here of Heinlein's Rules.

User avatar
GKJeyasingham
Posts: 37
Joined: June 13th, 2011, 8:03 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by GKJeyasingham » July 21st, 2011, 10:07 pm

Sanderling wrote:
taylormillgirl wrote:I don't like writing, nor do I like reading, in present tense. I'm a third person past tense kinda gal. This probably won't do me any favors when my YA goes on sub...the trend has been first person present in YA for a while now. :(
I've noticed that, too, Macy. Which is partly why I wondered whether the tense choice is deliberate or not. Hunger Games was the first that I really noticed it and it seems like since reading that there's been quite a lot. Given the success of the Hunger Games trilogy, it could be a fad. Or it could be related to the fact that a lot of these are dystopians, and maybe something about the nature of dystopian just works better in present tense?
Present tense is actually pretty common, particularly among works classified as "literary fiction". The first novel I read with some present tense was The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It was a bit jarring at first, but I have read a lot more since then. Now it's become so natural that I can switch from reading present tense to reading past tense quite easily. I think I even like it better than past tense.

That being said, I do find that first person present can be more jarring than third person present. Mostly because you have things like "I do this and I think this." It sounds better to say "(s)he does this and (s)he thinks this" - to me, at least.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by polymath » July 21st, 2011, 10:28 pm

Sanderling wrote:It's true that each has its own strengths and weaknesses, polymath - another reason why I wonder whether authors make deliberate choices or just go with what the story demands. ('Demands' as in the muse is calling the shots, not as in the author carefully considered the goals of the narrative to decide which would work best, of course.)
My muse is Diane the huntress. Apropos considering I enjoy the hunt for methods in the madness. Draft writing, I load up the old pressure cooker with research and investigations and thought exercises and mental composition, and let the subconscious mind do what it does best, ferment and filter and influence my writing. Rewriting and editing, let Diane guide my hunt for strengths, shortcomings, and subconsious influences unrealized.

My forensic analyses of accomplished authors' careers suggests to me they began with following their muses, so to speak, but eventually started making deliberate choices that kept their careers alive, if not what skyrocketed them into the big leagues in the first place. Deliberate choices at least narrowed their focuses and let them work on other problem areas, probably what built up their confidences too.
Sanderling wrote:That's quite the list! I can definitely say that while I should undoubtedly be thinking about all these things as I'm working on my project, at some point or another, I tend to just let the story do its thing. When it comes to the creative arts (visual arts, music, writing) I've never been very good at thinking very deeply about things; it stifles the 'creative' part of my creative arts and I'm no longer enjoying what I'm doing. I tend to figure things out intuitively, or through experience, and only later learn the theory or names of things I'm doing.
One of my methods resulting from the above, pack them into the pressure cooker, let it do its thing, do new things subconsciouly, intuitively, realize I'm doing them, refine their raw ore into pure gold, master them for future use. Tactile and kinesthetic learning processes that take time and effort and reflection and synthesis to come to full realization.

By the way, I do know what a sanderling is, and a willet, a dunlin, and an assortment of sandpipers and curlews, godwits, turnstones, and dowitchers. I like sandpiping shore birds. I delight at their seaside antics and love their songs. I miss them here in Babel. They were a regular entertainment at my subtropical coastal hermitage. C'est la vie. I'll get back to hermitage in a few years, fingers, toes, and eyes crossed, knock on wood.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
CharleeVale
Posts: 553
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 3:16 am
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by CharleeVale » July 22nd, 2011, 1:59 am

Personally, I tend to automatically write in past tense, but I don't like it. I like present tense because I feel like it gives the story a certain immediacy the draws in the reader. I like reading in present tense as well.

CV

User avatar
Cookie
Posts: 540
Joined: September 20th, 2010, 11:18 am
Location: Berkshires
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by Cookie » July 22nd, 2011, 3:11 am

taylormillgirl wrote:I don't like writing, nor do I like reading, in present tense. I'm a third person past tense kinda gal. This probably won't do me any favors when my YA goes on sub...the trend has been first person present in YA for a while now. :(
I'm not a particular fan of first person present either. There are some novels that pull it off, but most I just feel are too jarring. I write in either first person past or third person past, depending on the story.

User avatar
Sanderling
Posts: 187
Joined: July 3rd, 2011, 4:47 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by Sanderling » July 22nd, 2011, 9:20 am

GKJeyasingham wrote:Present tense is actually pretty common, particularly among works classified as "literary fiction". The first novel I read with some present tense was The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It was a bit jarring at first, but I have read a lot more since then. Now it's become so natural that I can switch from reading present tense to reading past tense quite easily. I think I even like it better than past tense.

That being said, I do find that first person present can be more jarring than third person present. Mostly because you have things like "I do this and I think this." It sounds better to say "(s)he does this and (s)he thinks this" - to me, at least.
I've only really started noticing it in recent YA writing, but I'll admit I haven't read as much literary fiction, and hardly any recently. Maybe a number of them were also in present tense and I just didn't make conscious note of it.

I think it partly depends on the author's voice, too, whether the tense comes across as jarring. Personally, I think I would find third-person present more so than first-person, but I'm not sure... I'm trying to think of a present-tense book that I've read recently that was third-person, but I think they've all been in first.

Like you, I've gotten to the point with it that I can switch pretty easily between reading one or the other, especially if I've got a good mix in my reading pile. If I've been reading a lot of one for a while, it takes me a few pages to slip into the other the first time I return to it.
CharleeVale wrote:Personally, I tend to automatically write in past tense, but I don't like it. I like present tense because I feel like it gives the story a certain immediacy the draws in the reader. I like reading in present tense as well.
Cookie wrote:I'm not a particular fan of first person present either. There are some novels that pull it off, but most I just feel are too jarring. I write in either first person past or third person past, depending on the story.
I guess, like everything, there are always people on both sides of the coin!

I've always been the same, Charlee, writing in past tense by default. I don't know what happened this time around. I did notice that the first couple of lines of your story you started off in past tense before switching over to present.

Point of view would be another one that would be interesting to hear people's preferences on, Cookie. So many ways to write a story, and that's before we even get to the story itself!


It would be an interesting exercise to take a section of one's manuscript and change it into the opposite tense, just to see how much it affects the feel of the story. Or the other viewpoint.
My blog / Twitter
.
"Because if you have at least a modicum of talent and if you live by these six rules, you will make it."
--Robert J. Sawyer, speaking here of Heinlein's Rules.

User avatar
Sanderling
Posts: 187
Joined: July 3rd, 2011, 4:47 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by Sanderling » July 22nd, 2011, 9:44 am

polymath wrote:My muse is Diane the huntress. Apropos considering I enjoy the hunt for methods in the madness. Draft writing, I load up the old pressure cooker with research and investigations and thought exercises and mental composition, and let the subconscious mind do what it does best, ferment and filter and influence my writing. Rewriting and editing, let Diane guide my hunt for strengths, shortcomings, and subconsious influences unrealized.

My forensic analyses of accomplished authors' careers suggests to me they began with following their muses, so to speak, but eventually started making deliberate choices that kept their careers alive, if not what skyrocketed them into the big leagues in the first place. Deliberate choices at least narrowed their focuses and let them work on other problem areas, probably what built up their confidences too.
I really like that image of your muse as the huntress, polymath. I'm still figuring out who mine is. Athena, goddess of wisdom, maybe? I usually assume she knows best, anyway. ;)

I can see how that progression might be the case for accomplished authors; certainly the literary writers, and probably many if not most of the genre writers, too. I guess you have to keep pushing yourself in order to get better, and that requires some degree of conscious decision.
polymath wrote:By the way, I do know what a sanderling is, and a willet, a dunlin, and an assortment of sandpipers and curlews, godwits, turnstones, and dowitchers. I like sandpiping shore birds. I delight at their seaside antics and love their songs. I miss them here in Babel. They were a regular entertainment at my subtropical coastal hermitage. C'est la vie. I'll get back to hermitage in a few years, fingers, toes, and eyes crossed, knock on wood.
Yes, that is indeed where the nickname comes from! In my early years on the internet I started out as Chickadee, but I found that was too often taken. Very rarely was Sanderling taken. I wouldn't say they're my favourite birds, but I do quite like the name as a handle, and I do enjoy watching them do their thing along the sandy beaches, chasing the waves. I rarely see them these days, either; when I lived in Toronto, on Lake Ontario, there would always be shorebirds at the beaches, but where I live now is more inland and shorebirds are a rarity. We make up for it by being surrounded by many other species now.

I can relate to your desire to return to hermitage. I grew up in a rural home, and then when I went off to university spent most of the next nine years living in urban environments. I mostly got through that by assuring myself it was temporary, until circumstances would allow me to return to the countryside. I hope you make it back, too.
My blog / Twitter
.
"Because if you have at least a modicum of talent and if you live by these six rules, you will make it."
--Robert J. Sawyer, speaking here of Heinlein's Rules.

User avatar
meganstirler
Posts: 31
Joined: July 15th, 2011, 10:10 pm
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by meganstirler » July 22nd, 2011, 10:54 am

On a marginally related note, I read a novel in a southwest lit class once that was written in 2nd person present. The author told us that a writing teacher told him you couldn't write in 2nd person and he took it as a challenge. There were several points of view in the book and every time he introduced a new character he would start with something like, "you step out onto stage, where your audience waits". When he was done introducing the character he switched back to third person past.

As a reader it was excruciating and if I hadn't HAD to read it, I probably wouldn't have made it past the first chapter. But I've always remembered it - although I don't remember the book or author. As a writer, it is certainly a fascinating memory.
Meg
meganstirler.wordpress.com

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by polymath » July 22nd, 2011, 10:55 am

Sanderling wrote: I'm still figuring out who mine is. Athena, goddess of wisdom, maybe? I usually assume she knows best, anyway. ;)
I see your muse as a sort of dutch aunt, a prankster with the very best intentions behind her hijinks. Even her sterness and bluntness, through thinly veiled verbal ironies, are intended to persuade best outcomes. Let's see, who might that be? One of the Moirae, whom even the gods fear? Perhaps Lachesis? Daughter of Nyx. The apportioner. The alloter of destiny. She's not much of a prankster. Sober serious. Fate can play inconveniently life-affirming and humbling pranks though. Situational ironies.
Spread the love of written word.

longknife

Re: Tense

Post by longknife » July 22nd, 2011, 12:18 pm

I just read a novel by a major author's standin that was done in present tense - I actually found it okay to read once I got used to it.

washingtonwriter1968
Posts: 112
Joined: July 13th, 2011, 8:25 pm
Location: Yakima,Washington
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by washingtonwriter1968 » July 23rd, 2011, 12:47 pm

Present Tense as a whole feels jarring for me,unless it's third person.I guess for my mind someone;a character telling me what they are doing as they are doing feels.... unrealistic. I primarily write in past tense I have noticed. Maybe because it is comfortable and tried and true, I do not know for sure.
Washington Writer
Thx 4 your time
http://washington1968.livejournal.com/

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Tense

Post by polymath » July 23rd, 2011, 2:10 pm

Present tense's strength, like first person, is its subjectivity. Past tense's, like third person, strength is its objectivity. Second person reflexive is more subjective than first person. For maximum narrator reliability, least bias, most objective: third person, past tense. For maximum narrator unreliability, second person reflexive, present tense.

In order of reliablity from least reliable, most biased, most subjective reporting;

Second person, present tense
Second person, past tense
First person, present tense
First person, past tense
Third person, present tense
Third person, past tense

I believe readers' reading comfort zones as pertains to tense and person are affected by how objective or subjective a report is. Too subjective unsettles some readers. Too objective unsettles other readers. Too artless objectivity or subjectivity unsettles many readers.

Scholarship and journalism generally report from third person, past tense, estranging the narrator, slash, reporter as much as practical, and reporting from an open narrative distance somewhat removed from the immediate time, place, and situation of the setting, complication as pertains to plot, ideas as pertains to theme, characters, and events with the most trustworthy discourse, or voice, possible, when all available details are known by a reporter about a circumstance.

Prose third person, past tense does a de re transference, still estranging the narrator to whatever degree depending on degree of covert or overt reporting, reporting objectively, but reporting viewpoint characters' immediate experiences for closest possible narrative distance. In other words, prose third person, past tense has an objective voice, but nonetheless reports viewpoint characters' subjective experiences as they unfold and are known.

First person, present tense, alternatively, reports as events unfold and are known as they unfold from as close a narrative distance to the time, place, situation of the setting, plot, idea, characters, and events as possible, oftentimes, in the flesh in person. Because narrative distance is close for first person, present tense, the reporting is open to conscious or subconscious questioning. When subjectivity thematically influences the plot, then it's artful and likely to engage readers deeply in the participation mystique. When subjectivity has no thematic relevance to the plot, it's artless and likely to unsettle readers' participation. Objectvity works, or doesn't, the same way.
Spread the love of written word.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest