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Jan's Master Class--TENSE

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 30, 2009 5:57 pm

Holly, I know exactly what you mean about the problematic nature of 1st person present tense. It's not at all logical, for all the reasons that you state. I guess the writer (and the reader) have to be willing to suspend belief for the purposes of that story--just as they have to suspend belief for stories that are voiced by animals!
Last edited by glorybee on Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Cleo » Mon Mar 30, 2009 7:16 pm

glorybee wrote:Cleo, glad to see that you've mixed it up a bit. Keep up the good work!


Thanks, Jan. I appreciate that so much but truly .. it was just a fluke. I'm flying by the seat of my pants here! :oops:

Great discussion.
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Postby hwnj » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:22 pm

Are you picking on my animals? :shock: :wink: :P :lol: :D And would it not be belief which is suspended, as disbelief would be the natural reaction to my animals?
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Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:29 pm

Yep. You got me. I meant "suspend belief", of course! Heading back to edit myself, right now!
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Postby crankycow » Mon Mar 30, 2009 11:56 pm

I have a bit of trouble writing first person. I tend to put I and me in the story too to many times and it is annoying. I don't feel any of my first person work has ever been good enough to show anyone. I guess that is something I need to work on.

To tell you the truth, I cannot decide if I like first of third person better when they are written well. I recently read a the first two books in Angela Hunt's series The Fairlawn Series and it was written in the first person and the third person. When the action focused on the main character, it was first and all the others were written in third. It was a great writing technique. Since it is not usually done that way, it was refreshing.

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Postby glorybee » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:37 am

Crankycow, that's a technique that's used a lot by one of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult. She also switches tenses from one character to the other. You're right--it's a refreshing and interesting way to write.
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Postby violin4jesus » Tue Mar 31, 2009 8:14 am

I learned to write really well in high school English - and we used third person present tense for just about everything. Present tense helps to eliminate passive voice most effectively, which is (I'm sure) what they wanted us to learn. Maybe that's why I default to present tense (either first or third person) in many of my entries.

My second default is the "autobiographical" first person past tense....and those entries get the comments that assume my fictional character is really me. :roll: Kinda fun when they find out that the 54-year-old is really only half that age. :lol:

I tend to dislike third person past tense because I feel disconnected from the character....I guess I'm much more prone to want the reader to connect with the character as well.

As far as intuition goes concerning the learning of grammar, I like your analogy, Jan. But I do have an important point to add, which has been mentioned in other threads regarding comments on entries: most of what makes a good writer is that they first are good readers. When you have a basic understanding of grammar (i.e. what's a noun and a verb and a modifier), and if you can at least diagram a sentence, you absorb most of what you need to know from your reading habits. A dime store novel won't cut it, either. You have to have read up to a certain level of classic literature to have that "intuition" regarding grammar. Most kids nowadays will never read even as much as I did, which I am sure wouldn't hold a candle to your knowledge bank....granted, I loved reading....but most of what they think important has more to do with myspace and movies rather than the thoughts of people who are long dead. That's the sad reality regarding our culture.

Just my $0.02, as they say....

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Postby glorybee » Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:28 am

Oh Leah, I couldn't agree with you more about the reading. I was appalled, a few years ago, when there was a "what are you reading" thread, and at least one poster said that she's "not a reader".

What??

And I have to say that I'm really surprised to read that you learned to writing in 3rd person present tense. That's such an unusual style of writing, and there are very few published novels written that way. I suspect that most publishers would say "re-write this puppy in past tense".

Fascinating!
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Postby Verna » Tue Mar 31, 2009 10:06 am

Just a couple of comments about tense here:
My favorite to read in a story or novel is first person past tense. That way I feel like I'm living vicariously through the author. I guess that's why I like strong, even though flawed, main characters. I enjoy reading how they managed to overcome obstacles.

I used to give my students in English class a list of acronyms to help them remember grammar rules as they wrote. One of these was SWAT--Stick with a tense; this was to remind them not to switch back and forth between tenses, like "Jack was walking in the woods when suddenly he sees a big black bear."

Another acronym was PBP--Please be polite. This was to remind them that they were to use the other person's name first, like "Mom gave cookies to my friends and me--not to me and my friends." I had wondered if the lesson "took," and just last Friday, a young woman came up to me in the grocery store with a question I get a lot, " Did you used to be a teacher?" When I said that I had, she said, "I was helping my fifth grade daughter with her homework and told her you had taught us to PBP when we wrote." I could still see in her face the sweet young girl I had taught 25 years ago.

One of the tense mistakes I see the most in challenge entries is failure to use past perfect (had plus past participle) before a past tense for what had occurred previously. (Example: Jack had hoped there was not a bear in the woods when he saw one coming towards him.)

I just wish that knowing the grammar rules would bring creative thoughts to mind! Thanks, Jan, for all you do to help all of us in your class in our writing.
Verna

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Postby Tally » Tue Mar 31, 2009 10:21 am

Verna wrote: One of the tense mistakes I see the most in challenge entries is failure to use past perfect (had plus past participle) before a past tense for what had occurred previously. (Example: Jack had hoped there was not a bear in the woods when he saw one coming towards him.)


How would you write this correctly?

Jack was hoping there was not a bear the woods when he saw one coming towards him?

That doesn't sound right. :?

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Postby GShuler » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:00 am

glorybee wrote:Oh Leah, I couldn't agree with you more about the reading. I was appalled, a few years ago, when there was a "what are you reading" thread, and at least one poster said that she's "not a reader".

What??


Wow... am I ever feeling insecure as a writer?!?!? I haven't read a book since I was a teenager... over thirty years ago. Maybe that's what held me back as a writer.... suppose?

I'm not joking. When I buy a book, it is ALWAYS a text book or how-to book or something for the computer illiterate. NEVER a novel. NEVER a book of stories. NEVER poetry. I'm not bragging about that. As a writer, I am ashamed. 60 years old is TOO OLD to keep saying "I've never read that book, but it sounds interesting."

Now, for this lesson: I've been trying to think what tense would make for a totally gripping story for a challenge and I have come to a decision. See if my logic holds true. The hardest tense to write with any amount of skill seems to be first person present. It is very isolated in its POV and limiting in its action. You can't say "He thought this" because you don't know what "he" thought. So why write in this tense at all?

Here's why I am going to try it sometime in the future. (If you judge during the challenge I write this for, I NEVER REALLY SAID THIS. Forget it!) It seems that if I did a good job with the first person present tense, then the reader would vicariously become the MC. You would feel, taste, smell, think... respond to everything that happens in the story with an edge of "I don't know what is coming next because I am just now living this experience." If the MC is about to open a door that could have an assailant waiting to attack, the reader is thinking "Don't open that door!" When she does open it and no danger is there, both MC and reader breathe a sigh of relief.

That's my thoughts anyway. It would be hard to pull off, but it seems worth the effort.

Maybe I should read some books before I try it.
I had something really memorable to write here but I forgot what it was.
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Postby glorybee » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:35 am

Gerald, I highly recommend that you read some good fiction! This class is about to go on a several-month vacation--your homework is to read a book or two before we come back! Read with a writer's eye--ask yourself why the writer chose to do this or that, and take note of writing styles and techniques that work.

As for the 1st person present tense, you don't need to go far to find some stories written very well in that style. Look through Masters in any given week, and there will be several.

Gerald, you're a truly gifted writer if you write as beautifully as you do--intuitively. I'm amazed!
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Postby glorybee » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:38 am

Tally wrote:
Verna wrote: One of the tense mistakes I see the most in challenge entries is failure to use past perfect (had plus past participle) before a past tense for what had occurred previously. (Example: Jack had hoped there was not a bear in the woods when he saw one coming towards him.)


How would you write this correctly?

Jack was hoping there was not a bear the woods when he saw one coming towards him?

That doesn't sound right. :?


Verna--help! I think I'd write it thus:

Jack hoped there were no bears in the woods--when he saw one coming towards him.

But I'm not sure...

Jan hoped there were no ruler-wielding English teachers in the forum when she posted a sentence about tenses.
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Postby Symphonic » Tue Mar 31, 2009 1:38 pm

glorybee wrote:This class is about to go on a several-month vacation

All right, now I’m depressed... :(

Thanks, Leah and Jan, for emphasizing the connection between reading and writing! I would go out on a limb and say that even “dime-store” novels can instill the basic principles of grammar. They may not teach one how to develop interesting and believable plots or characters, and they certainly won’t demonstrate how to write with depth and finesse. But beginning writers (of whatever age) often have to learn what might be called the “cadence” of written English. That can be gleaned even from inferior novels, though the reading material may not be admirable in any other respect.

Serious writers should want to read something better than Harlequin romances. But even Harlequins will teach one not to write:

Bob walked into the room. He puts down his briefcase, Mary is on the couch.

“Bob did you have a nice day?” said Mary.

“Oh yes did you,” says Bob.


Please don’t think I’m recommending trashy novels! I’m not–-really, I’m not!! :? But I think the “reading muscles” have to be developed, in the same way one builds up muscles to lift more and more weight each day.

Just a thought!
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Postby Verna » Tue Mar 31, 2009 1:54 pm

Tally and Jan, both of your sentences were clear and grammatically correct. I just wanted to add that I don't read critically unless I'm asked to edit. Just occasionally a mistake will jump out at me, but I'm more interested in the development of character and plot, along with the description of setting. Also, I enjoy inspired messages that fit well into the poem or story. I've spoken before and will again about how I love to read pieces by the gifted writers here at FW. There are so many and with such diverse gifts.

As for reading, that's one of my greatest pleasures. Having read so much, sometimes I'm concerned about something I've written with the idea--Is this original or have I read it somewhere? I never want to plagarize.
Verna

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...
Proverb 17:22

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