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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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Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 08, 2010 8:00 am

Cajunluvie, Leah is right. Using "had" is a special kind of past tense which removes the action one stap farther into the past.

Jan despised black olives. She always ordered her pizza without them, so she was dismayed when the pizza arrived at her table covered in the little black bits. It reminded her of that horrible time in 5th grade when Mrs. Wilson had brought in her collection of beetles. One of them had still been squirming on its pin, and Jan had had to glance away.

See how the "had"s set the "further back" time period? Avoid them otherwise (and trimming them can free up a few individual words).
Jan Ackerson

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Postby Cajunluvie » Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:23 pm

Thanks.

I think I just felt like I had to write that way for this thread with few sentences showing difference in past/present tense. It was pretty awkward for me with the past issue. I normally use past tense in my writing but for this one, the present tense was easier.

Odd?

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Postby kpwrite » Thu Feb 11, 2010 9:02 pm

GRRRR! I had my response all typed out for this, and I had to attend to dinner. It timed out on me and I lost everything I wrote for the homework...and I was agonizing over the present tense! (I could've used the instruction!)

Drat. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go, I guess.

(I could have used this LAST week when I was trying to come up with something for grrr... ha!)
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Postby srashmi » Wed Mar 03, 2010 8:13 pm

Out of 33 challenge stories, I wrote only four of them in present tense. Maybe I should try it some more.

Mary Elizabeth stood, straightened her dress and apron, and strode outside to the barn. The morning chill enveloped her while she milked the cow and fed the horse, but her concentration centered on the letter.


Mary Elizabeth stands, straightens her dress and apron, and strides outside to the barn. The morning chill envelops her while she milks the cow and feeds the horse, but her concentration centers on the letter.

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Postby glorybee » Thu Mar 04, 2010 8:34 am

Seema, how did you feel about writing in present tense? Did you choose it for those four stories for a particular reason?

I've just read Jodi Picoult's new novel "House Rules", written almost entirely in present tense. It was AWESOME.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby JoyAnn » Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:11 pm

Okay, this is one I know I have trouble with, going back and forth with tenses. anyway, here's my sentences.

I went to the refrigerator and pulled out the juice. I took a cup from the cubert and started to pour. Filled it to the top and placed it back into the refrigerator.

I go over to the refrigerator and pull the juice out. Taking a cup from the cubert a began to pour. Filling it to the top and place it back into the refrigerator.


I think it's easier to use past tense but I know slip into pretense a lot because focus what I am writing and what's happening in the story at the moment, I forget about the long run and that it should be kept in past tense.
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Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 29, 2010 7:55 pm

JoyAnn, sorry I didn't get back to your response sooner. I'm on vacation, and just stopped by for a quick look, and here's your response!

I know what you mean about getting into the moment and losing track of your tense. It's an easy mistake to make--and an important skill to master.

In your examples, you definitely put one in past tense and one in present tense. I'd encourage you to watch out for sentence fragments and spelling, to combine sentences in a more complex way, and to think about word choices...I've written a corrected version of the first one in red. Care to take a crack at the second one yourself?

JoyAnn wrote:I went to the refrigerator and pulled out the juice. I took a cup from the cubert and started to pour. Filled it to the top and placed it back into the refrigerator.

I stared at the inside of the refrigerator and finally pulled out the guava juice. Taking a small cup from the cupboard, I emptied the container. After the last drops dribbled out, I shrugged and returned the carton to the refrigerator.

I go over to the refrigerator and pull the juice out. Taking a cup from the cubert a began to pour. Filling it to the top and place it back into the refrigerator.


I think it's easier to use past tense but I know slip into pretense a lot because focus what I am writing and what's happening in the story at the moment, I forget about the long run and that it should be kept in past tense.
Jan Ackerson

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