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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.

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violin4jesus
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Postby violin4jesus » Tue Feb 02, 2010 10:38 pm

Leah laid the roast beef and baked potato on the plate. She reached for the mozzarella and spread it liberally on both. Into the microwave it went; her dinner - breakfast, actually - had to be a quick one.

Leah lays the roast beef and baked potato on the plate. Reaching for the mozzarella, she spreads it liberally on both. She slips it into the microwave; her dinner - breakfast, actually - has to be quick.

I know, I know, I am the queen of present tense. Although after reviewing my challenge entries, I find only a few in the present. Most of the time I do end up writing past tense. I thought I had done some where I mixed 'em, but I guess I haven't. I'm apparently pretty good at sticking with whatever tense I start the piece with. Maybe I'll try that. :roll:

I agree with you, though. Present tense works more for serious, contemplative pieces. Here are two of mine:

A Place for the Lonely

A Different Perspective

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Postby violin4jesus » Tue Feb 02, 2010 10:48 pm

violin4jesus wrote:Although after reviewing my challenge entries, I find only a few in the present. Most of the time I do end up writing past tense. I thought I had done some where I mixed 'em, but I guess I haven't.


Oh, I found one!

A Sunny Day in Victoria

See, I thought I had mixed 'em once or twice! :mrgreen:

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Postby Joolz » Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:46 am

Leah, thanks for sharing some of your present tense examples.

In A Place for the Lonely I am drawn into the loneliness of the MC as it is happening right in front of my eyes. I can see how effective this is - it's as if maybe I can help because it is happening now. If this was written in the past, I may also be drawn into the emotion but realizing it's a story that's already happened, not be so dramatically connected. (?)

or maybe just over pschoanalyzing!!


[It's a very touching piece, I might add :) )

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Postby violin4jesus » Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:59 am

Thanks, Julie! I think it is still my absolute favorite piece I've written. :wink:

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Postby Green Leaves » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:42 am

Leah, your writing is incredible...very moving. Thank you for sharing that with us! I loved both, but especially loved "A Place For The Lonely". Very poignant. I certainly didn't see any mixed tenses.
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Postby Green Leaves » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:50 am

Somehow the way you wrote "A Sunny Day in Victoria", mixing your tenses seemed perfectly appropriate to me. Am I wrong, Jan?
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Postby crankycow » Wed Feb 03, 2010 1:34 pm

It's the tense, of course. It keeps changing.

ETA: So I'm a few days late on reading the original post. Oops.
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Postby JesusPuppy » Wed Feb 03, 2010 3:15 pm

No Opps allowed, that was two weeks back...... :roll:
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Postby DanielK » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:50 pm

Okay, all I really noticed was the tense changes, but then I had been told by a family member that it was about tenses, and so I was looking for that particular mistake.

Here's my one: The great dragon swoops down and the party and carries them away into the night. With a great thrust of her wast wings she rises so high that breathing becomes strenuous in the thin air. An unearthly scream of triumph, accompanied by a burst of white flame, echoes all the way from the far lake to the distant mountains that mark the horizon.

The great dragon swooped down on the party and carried them away into the night. With a great thrust of her vast wings she rose so high that breathing became strenuous in the thin air. An unearthly scream of triumph, accompanied by a burst of white flame, echoed all the way from the far lake to the distant mountains that marked the horizon.

I feel that present tense, (coupled with the fact it mentions a dragon) makes it sound the way a storyteller would tell it to his audience. If it were part of a written story, however, I would probably put in past tense.

By the way, Jan, thanks for your helpful classes. My writing is improving quite a bit, and I'm even noticing mistakes that I ignored before in the books I read.

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Tenses

Postby philippa » Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:57 am

I decided to write The Novel during the Christmas break. Once again it did not happen though. I found my nose was too often in someone else's wonderful book.
The Christmas break is here and its time to write The Novel But it isnt happening. My nose is always in someone elses wonderful book.
Yeaks this is tricky!! Howzthat? as we Aussies say.

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Postby glorybee » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:27 am

Daniel, I actually prefer the present tense for your dragon story!

I'm curious, since I read very little fantasy--what tense is it usually written in?

Thanks for the kind words...glad my classes are helping you.
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Re: Tenses

Postby glorybee » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:28 am

philippa wrote:I decided to write The Novel during the Christmas break. Once again it did not happen though. I found my nose was too often in someone else's wonderful book.
The Christmas break is here and its time to write The Novel But it isnt happening. My nose is always in someone elses wonderful book.
Yeaks this is tricky!! Howzthat? as we Aussies say.


Phillipa, those are both fine. Which did you prefer?
Jan Ackerson

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Tense decision

Postby philippa » Sat Feb 06, 2010 5:53 pm

Ahh what a gift God has given you. You're so --nice to be with - anyway back to lessons; I much prefer the past tense. Hopefully active voice. I often find I'm in a muddle though. Fun all the same.

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Postby Cajunluvie » Mon Feb 08, 2010 12:28 am

Hope I am not too late to dip my toes in the pool now...

Kate had remembered a note she left on the refrigerator for her husband, Mitch but when she backtracked to the kitchen, the note had disappeared. She had hurried to the phone and dialed her husband's cell to inform him she had forgotten to write the address.

Oh no, I just remembered I didn't put the address on the note for Mitch. I better hurry back and add it or I'll be in hot water with Mitch. I walk to the kitchen and I gasp when I realize the note is gone. I look around on the floor, the counter-top, and the trash. Nothing. Oh dear. Mitch is going to be irritated with me when I interrupt his morning ritual at work. Well, this is important, so I will call him anyway and let him deal with it.

I guess it is easier for me to do present tense when *I* am the speaker in that second paragraph for some reason. It seems like I am directly speaking to the reader like an on-going conversation.*

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Postby violin4jesus » Mon Feb 08, 2010 1:56 am

I do know that you don't have to use "had" to specify past tense.

Kate suddenly remembered the note she left on the refrigerator for her husband, Mitch. When she backtracked to the kitchen, though, the note had disappeared. She hurried to the phone and dialed her husband's cell to inform him she had forgotten to write the address.


Just use the -ed verbs as needed. Notice I still left a couple had's there, but the paragraph is not so repetitive. :wink:

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