To view this notification widget you need to have JavaScript enabled. This notification widget was easily created with NotifySnack.
Home Tour About Read What's New Help Forums Join Login
My Account
Shop
Save
Support
E
Book
Store
Learn
About
Jesus
  




The HOME for Christian writers!
The Home for Christian Writers!

Forums

This area is only a small portion of FaithWriters. The main site can be joined HERE.
Shop & Save to SUPPORT FaithWriters.
Upgrade to SUPPORT FaithWriters.

Jan's Writing Basics #3: Choosing a Tense and Sticking to It

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.

Moderators: mikeedwards, glorybee

PamDavis
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
 
Posts: 64
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:03 pm

Postby PamDavis » Mon Feb 01, 2010 1:53 pm

Sorry I did not catch the tense problems. I guess the most obvious slipped past me! I know I have problems with keeping the proper tense. I work at avoiding the use of "was," "had" and "did." It's not easy!

Pam
With God All things are Possible!

A Nonny Mouse
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
 
Posts: 63
Joined: Fri May 30, 2008 11:18 pm

Postby A Nonny Mouse » Mon Feb 01, 2010 1:59 pm

Well, the first thing that jumps out to me is the changing of tenses from paragraph to paragraph.

The first paragraph is in present tense, right? But to me, it sounds... awkward. If you're telling a story about something that's happened, it's already happened, so it shouldn't be in present tense. Or at least, that's my thought. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Now I'll go back and read what everyone else has written, and see if you've continued the lesson!

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:14 pm

Tricia wrote:Jan, here's my homework:

Almost as soon as we were in the car, Ol’ Blue started barking and pawing at the door. I opened it and he vaulted out, running toward the house. A choking, black smoke billowed out the screen door.

We are in the car, Ol’ Blue barks, and paws at the car door. I open it, he vaults out, and runs toward the house. Choking, black smoke billows out the screen door.


Past tense worked better. I was telling about a past event. Writing in past tense is easier.


Tricia, I agree that for an action-packed scene such as this, past tense works better. But I think you sold yourself short on the present tense paragraph. What about this:

Almost as soon as we settle in the car, Ol' Blue starts barking and pawing at the door. I open it and he vaults out, running toward the house. Choking, black smoke billows out the screen door.

If you choose to write in present tense, you can still retain complex and interesting sentence structure. I'll give you an individualized assignment: find a paragraph you wrote in past tense that you really like. Re-write it in present tense--and still like it. Observe how it subtly changes the mood of the piece, and think of a time when an all present tense story might work for you.

You don't need to turn in this assignment--I'm just tryin' to stretch you a bit!
Jan Ackerson

A Nonny Mouse
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
 
Posts: 63
Joined: Fri May 30, 2008 11:18 pm

Postby A Nonny Mouse » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:20 pm

Okay, three sentence paragraphs, first in past tense, second in present tense:

"My son studied his calculus homework. He was not very pleased with the amount of reading he had to do. He worked the problems, grumbling and complaining the entire time about how long each one took."

"My son studies his calculus homework. He is not very pleased with the amount of reading he has to do. He works the problems, grumbling and complaining the entire time about how long each one takes."

I personally like the past tense version, because to me it fit the story better. I think I write in past tense most of the time. It feels more natural to write in past tense when describing things and telling stories.

But I like what you said about flashbacks, and telling jokes. I've never considered using present tense for those.

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:20 pm

PamDavis wrote:Sorry I did not catch the tense problems. I guess the most obvious slipped past me! I know I have problems with keeping the proper tense. I work at avoiding the use of "was," "had" and "did." It's not easy!

Pam


No need to apologize, Pam. And it's a very good thing to avoid those boring old helping verbs. They can't be done away with altogether, but it's good to keep an eye out for them.

Hope to see a homework assignment from you!
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:24 pm

A Nonny Mouse wrote:Well, the first thing that jumps out to me is the changing of tenses from paragraph to paragraph.

The first paragraph is in present tense, right? But to me, it sounds... awkward. If you're telling a story about something that's happened, it's already happened, so it shouldn't be in present tense. Or at least, that's my thought. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Now I'll go back and read what everyone else has written, and see if you've continued the lesson!


Nonny, you're absolutely right that I switched tenses.

The original story is written entirely in present tense, but I totally understand you for thinking that stories that happened in the past should be written in past tense. That's why I advocate using past tense for beginning writers.

But.

There are many, many authors who write in present tense these days, in a style similar to my story. As I said, it's a style choice. It creates a more intimate mood, and is very effective for stories that take place all in one "scene".


I'd love to have other people weigh in on this...have you read works written entirely in present tense? Did you like them, or not? Why?
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:30 pm

PamDavis wrote:Jan prepared a helpful list for her beginner’s writing class. Jan put the list away for safe keeping. Jan has not been able to remember where she stored the list.

Jan prepares a helpful list for her beginner’s writing class. Jan is putting the list away for safe keeping. Jan is not able to remember where she stores the list.


Just went back and found this, Pam. Thanks for doing your homework!

I should have been clearer in my instructions, I think; I said '3 sentences' but they didn't really have to be a list. Consider this:

Jan prepared a helpful list for her beginner's writing class and put the list away for safe keeping. Unfortunately, she forgot where she stored it. She searched everwhere--under the bed, in the freezer, in the laundry hamper--but it was nowhere to be found.

Jan prepares a helpful list for her beginner's writing class. She stashes it in a safe place, knowing that she'll need it in five days. Now, befuddled, she searches the whole house--even under the couch cushions--but it's lost, lost, lost.


Don't be afraid to be creative, even with these mundane assignments! This is a safe place to try out all sorts of new things...
Jan Ackerson

A Nonny Mouse
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
 
Posts: 63
Joined: Fri May 30, 2008 11:18 pm

Postby A Nonny Mouse » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:37 pm

glorybee wrote:There are many, many authors who write in present tense these days, in a style similar to my story. As I said, it's a style choice. It creates a more intimate mood, and is very effective for stories that take place all in one "scene".



I can see how that would make the story more intimate. I really do understand that. But... I'm having a hard time thinking of a story written in one "scene." I've only been actively pursuing writing for a couple of years now, and I've not been the avid reader I need to be. But just one scene in an entire story? Wow. Can you give me an example to read? Sorry to be showing my ignorance here, but I really want to see how this works!

Rereading what I just wrote, I think I'm confusing "story" with "book." Are there entire "stories" (novels/books) written in one scene? Or is this limited to short stories only?

Thanks for pointing out the atmosphere change/mood factor achieved with present tense writing. I'll have to experiment with that!

PamDavis
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
 
Posts: 64
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:03 pm

Postby PamDavis » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:12 pm

The President eyed bills proposed by Congress, stacked on his Oval Room desk. He planned to sift through them the night before; but a terrorist threat weighed heavy on his mind. His private secretary warned him many times about the danger of delays.

The President anxiously eyes a stack of bills from Congress on his Oval Room desk. He would not be side-tracked by yesterday’s terrorist threats. His private secretary earns her salary by wisely reminding him about the danger in delays.

Past tense seems a little more comfortable; but I also like the feeling of present, like "coming to you live and direct from the scene!"

Pam
With God All things are Possible!

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:21 pm

Nonny, you're right--entire books aren't usually written in one scene. Nevertheless, I've seen the present tense work very well in novels--usually where each chapter takes place in a discrete amount of time.

Maybe someone can help me out with the name of a Christian novelist who does this? Secular writer Jodi Picoult is a master of present tense writing.
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:26 pm

PamDavis wrote:The President eyed bills proposed by Congress, stacked on his Oval Room desk. He planned to sift through them the night before; but a terrorist threat weighed heavy on his mind. His private secretary warned him many times about the danger of delays.

The President anxiously eyes a stack of bills from Congress on his Oval Room desk. He would not be side-tracked by yesterday’s terrorist threats. His private secretary earns her salary by wisely reminding him about the danger in delays.

Past tense seems a little more comfortable; but I also like the feeling of present, like "coming to you live and direct from the scene!"

Pam


Pam, I think you're right about past tense seeming better here. In both of your examples, I'd tweak the last sentence a little bit, since it refers to events "one step removed" from the action of the President looking at his desk. Something like this:

His private secretary had warned him many times about the danger of delays.

Notice how the little word 'had' puts the secretary's warnings in the further past. The sentence above would work for either tense.
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
Anja
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 867
Joined: Fri Nov 11, 2005 4:20 am
Location: Canada

Postby Anja » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:29 pm

I very much enjoy writing in the present tense. It does lend a sense of intimacy... and seems to me, when I read others' work written in the present tense, that it "involves" the reader in the events, because of the feeling of immediacy. It happening NOW... do YOU hear it? FEEL it? SMELL it? Do you know what I know? And maybe be more importantly, the reader may know something the MC / writer doesn't know because it is happening NOW... and the reader can foresee.

A point to consider... it IS possible and necessary to have two tenses present in one sentence, much like the sentence examples Jan gave about the student.

It is necessary in newspaper writing, particularly "cut lines," which are the captions under photos.

Constable Jerry Jones carries an injured child after the family home burned to the ground last Friday.

(The photo is in the PRESENT tense... it is happening now, so to speak. But, the house has already burned. It is not presently happening.)

Something else to remember. If you are writing or telling about a piece of literature, you must ALWAYS write in the present tense. The best way to remember is to consider the events in the story will be happening forever and forever and forever, in the present. (Even if the story itself was written in the past tense.)

In Chapter Two, Anna takes the dog to the vet and discovers her beloved pet has a virus.

In "The Red Wheelbarrow," the white chickens are beside the wheelbarrow. Williams uses colours and common items to enhance the bright imagery.


ETA... TV programs / movies also count as "literature."

The plane crashes...
John Locke dies...
Claire has a baby...
Last edited by Anja on Mon Feb 01, 2010 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ann Grover

"What remains of a story after it is finished? Another story..." Eli Wiesel

A Nonny Mouse
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
Pencil 2 (50-99 Posts)
 
Posts: 63
Joined: Fri May 30, 2008 11:18 pm

Postby A Nonny Mouse » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:31 pm

glorybee wrote:Secular writer Jodi Picoult is a master of present tense writing.


Okay, I will check for her books at the library.

But for now, it's back to homeschooling... :-)

User avatar
Shann
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 5856
Joined: Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:35 pm
Location: Western NY super rural

Postby Shann » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:31 pm

I can't believe I said something that insensitive. She must have thought I was the rudest person in the world. I promised myself I would think before speaking, so much for my New Year's resolution.

I'm amazed I'm capable of saying something that insensitive. She must think I'm the rudest person alive. My New Year's Resolution is I promise I will think before I speak.

The first two sentences were easier in the past tense, but I challenged myself with the 3rd one. I think that was easier in the present tense. I think overall I like speaking in the past the best.
Shann

Shann's Profile

Sometimes God calms the storm; Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6236
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:41 pm

Thanks, Ann!

I knew that I'd always read about literature in the present tense, but I didn't know the reason. You always teach me so much!
Jan Ackerson

PreviousNext

Return to Jan's Writing Basics

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Yahoo [Bot] and 1 guest

cron

© MeasurelessMedia. All rights reservedTerms of Service



Jesus - True for You But not for Me      Website Builder     Build Website     Is Jesus God?    
Does God exist?     Build a writers website     Does truth exist?     Website online in minutes