Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tense,Make it Stick

Are you TENSE?

In writing you need to set the stage for the tense that you WILL use. Sometimes the writer finds it difficult to stay in one tense and you’ll see them further down the page ‘speaking’ in the present tense when they began in the past tense.

If you want to tell about the here and now, you will use the present tense.
I love writing stories.
I am right in the middle of something.

If you want to tell about something that happened prior, you will use past tense.
I loved writing stories when I was a kid.
I was doing something when he interrupted.

Future tense?
I think I will love writing.

past: She ate
present: She eats
future: She will eat

past: She was eating
present: She is eating
future: She will be eating

past: She had eaten
present: She has eaten
future: She will have eaten

perfect continuous
past: She had been eating
present: She has been eating
future: She will have been eating

The tenses are probably one of the hardest hurdles to leap over in writing, next to POV. I find even the most experienced well-published authors ‘toy’ with the tenses. Dean Koontz in Odd Thomas, deliberately used a shift in tenses to fool the reader into believing something, then in the following chapter as Odd is telling the story, he tells us he did it so that we would be fooled into believing something. I’m being evasive because that is an excellent book and I won’t give the ending away for a million bucks! Read the book! (okay maybe for a million I would but not for a thousand bucks.)

Master’s of the craft know how to toy with the reader but if you are a newcomer you should not play with the tenses as if it was a dog toy to be carried around, tossed about and thrown in the place where you want it. Make the tense stick so that a publisher, when reading your work, does not think that you are too lazy in taking the time to hone your craft to perfection!

After you’ve skillfully mastered writing, you’ve been motivated, inspired, jumped hurdles, leaped tall buildings in a single bound. (Okay I threw the last one in there for fun) Now you’re ready to stick to a tense, and bring the story home for us!


benning said...

You sound tense!


joni said...

I tried relaxed but ya just can't let your guard down with writing!

Then you get lazy in your writing! I prefer TENSE! :-D


June said...

Tense? Who? Me?

Stress, maybe -- just ask my physical therapist! LOL!

Great information about the use of tense, Joni.

For most beginning writers, it's probably best to stick with one tense for a story or scene/chapter. Learn how to effective pick and use what tense makes the story work. Once one has practice with this, the writer can play and see if a mix might work, or not. . .

It goes back to -- First learn the "rule," and then learn how it can be broken effectively. . .

Take care,