Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blogging Challenge T(ense)

Are your characters tense? Or maybe you're tense? Perhaps you're tense because you can't figure out what tense you're writing in?

So here are some questions for you.

Say your WIP is written in first person, past tense. Your main character talks about people and their characteristics. Some of them are dead, so it's not misleading to talk about them in the past tense.

But what about the characters who aren't dead--and still have those characteristics? Do you continue to write in past tense, implying that either the characters are dead or they no longer have those character traits? Or is it ever appropriate to jump tenses and move into the present tense?

How do you handle knarly tense problems?


  1. i've seen it done both ways and as long as it's clear what you mean I think either way is fine(if you're writing a story where it matters if characters are alive or dead at particular times then you might have to pay more attention to it).

    Personally I keep it all in the same tense because I find it a smoother read. I think if you use present tense you're saying they were liek that tehn and still are now. If you use past I think it implies they were like that then, but they may or may not be like that now, no tthat they're necessarily dead.

    I bet that's as clear as mud.


  2. I get hung up on this all the time.

    And what about using the word "Now" when using past tense? That throws me off too.

  3. That's tricky. I tend to use the characters' dialogue if I want to express something in present tense.

  4. LOL! Your first paragraph is awesome. :)

    The last two books I've written have been in present tense first person (YA), so that problem pretty much takes care of itself.

    A rule of thumb that always worked for me when I was writing in past tense was: How would you explain those cahracteristics to someone you were talking out loud to. Go with what would feel natural in that scenario, and more than likely you won't go wrong.

    Your blog background is so peaceful and lovely! :)

  5. That always throws me off when I read something and things are happening now but it's written in past tense.

  6. My rule of thumb, and it seems to work for me, is that I use present tense in dialogue and past tense in everything else.

  7. Your post was so entertaining! I mean, it IS entertaining?
    *scratches head*
    I'm getting better at my tenses. I swear.

  8. I learned these rules by studying books written in first person past. The rule is that if the description or detail you are talking about still exists then you'd write it in the present. Because if you say: My mom loved to paint - instead of loves to paint - it means she doesn't love to anymore. But if the mom really does still love to paint then you'd say: loves to paint. Same go with the internal monologue. Often time with 1st person that switches over to present tense if it's referring to a current feeling or emotion or thought.

    It can confusing but reading books to see how authors do it helped clear that up for me. Of course, i still have to catch myself. :)

  9. Lots of good input here. Laura, that's the way I wrote it, but it was suggested in a critique that I shouldn't bounce back between tenses. Yet to write it all in past tense gave a wrong impression. =D

  10. It's tough writing things in the present tense referring to the past tense events. I do it all the time in my journal though and it makes perfect sense. But in a novel, forget it. I just safely stay with past tense and if the MC is thinking, it's present tense in italics. :)

    Happy Easter!


  11. I used to get confused with tenses, but in the past I preferred past tense. Currently I write in present tense.

  12. I had this problem with a novel I wrote in 2009. It drove me CRAZY for months. It was in past tense (mostly), but there were places it went to present tense in the narrative. I finally just rewrote all of the narrative in past tense and the dialogue in present. It was still frustrating for me, because there are moments when I know that something IS still happening in the narrative, but there were just so many places that it would have looked messy if I'd gone back and forth.

  13. Ugg, now you've made me think too hard. This can get tricky. I try to keep it all in the same tense but there are exceptions.

    I’m A-Z Blogging on Langley Writes about Writing and Langley’s Rich and Random Life


Comments brighten my day.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...