Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A to Z Challenge: T is for Tense

Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!

This year, I’m focusing on two themes:  Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.

Today’s a grammar day!

But first, check out this review by Literary Mania Reviews.
And please, give her a follow.
She’s an up and coming book blogger with LOTS of Facebook likers.  And if you know anything about the power of book bloggers on FB, you'll get why that's so important. ;)


T is for Tense:  in grammar, a category of verbal inflection that serves chiefly to specify the time of the action or state expressed by the verb; a category that locates a situation in time: past, present, or future

Writers and readers alike have definite preferences in verb tense, typically past, which is the most common, or present, which is becoming ever more popular, especially in Middle Grade and Young Adult genres.  Keep in mind, these tenses can also be more specifically broken down into either simple or non-auxiliary verbs (I sit, I sat, or I will sit), perfect or auxiliary verbs (I have sat, I had sat, or I will have sat), or progressive or auxiliary gerund (I am sitting, I was sitting, or I will be sitting.)

Some say present tense feels more immediate, more in the moment, and I can see the logic in that.  The narrator is telling the story as if it’s happening right then and there.  Personally, I find it distracting and that it actually has the opposite effect, taking me out of the story rather than pulling me in. 

I’m not sure why exactly.  Maybe because my logical brain is telling me that the action is obviously not happening right then and there.  I find it more believable that the narrator has just come from a harrowing event and is retelling it—in the past tense.  

This is probably why present tense is more convincing in MG and YA, because young minds don’t rely on this rationale.  Everything is in the moment for them.  With very little in their personal past, it’s all an adventure.  But for adults, it’s more about escape, and past tense seems to work better in that respect.  Still, like most aspects of literature, it’s very subjective, much the same way narration point-of-view is subjective.

But no matter what you prefer, if you’re a writer, you have to be careful to maintain verb tense consistency.  That is to say, don’t waffle back and forth between present and past.  I know that might seem obvious to most of you—it certainly does to me—but you’d be surprised how often I see it when editing manuscripts, sometimes within one sentence.  So perhaps it’s not obvious to everyone. 

Which tense do prefer to write and read in?  Do you ever have trouble maintaining tense?  If so, do you have any tricks you’d like to share?


mooderino said...

I've recently joined Wattpad where a lot of younger writers post their stories and I'd say mixing tenses is a big problem for a lot of them.

Moody Writing

Empty Nest Insider said...

Congrats on your Five Star Review Nancy! Great points about past tense versus present. I often go back and forth, and even confuse myself.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I prefer past tense. And third person point of view.

JeffO said...

It's funny you should say that about present tense, because I find I feel more emotionally detached from stories with present tense. I've never been able to quite figure out why that is. It's not so much a believability thing, it's just...I don't know.

C. Lee McKenzie said...

What's jarring to me is when the writer doesn't understand the sequence of English tenses. I just tried to read a book that had a strong MC voice and an intriguing plot, but as a reader I had to sort out when something happened and if it was completed or still in progress. Very tiring. Didn't finish the book.

Andrew Leon said...

Present tense is kind of a trick, which I don't really like. I mean, I don't like being tricked by the writer. If you can't tell a story in past tense and stop for a moment and have a listener say, "No! Don't stop! What happened? Did you die?" You're not doing your job.
That's a true story, by the way. I had someone I was telling a story to ask me if I died before she did a double-take because she realized I was standing there in front of her. There was much laughter from the other people there and, of course, I replied, "Yes, I died."

Anyway, staying in past or present tense is the most common issue I see in writing, especially inexperienced writers. I'd like to say it's just the middle schoolers I work with, but it's also adults.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

The tense depends on the ability of the writer.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Nancy, I have trouble maintaining everything. :)

So, your ideal character pictures from the link.
Tyler, handsome.
Jillian, beautiful.
Hannah, AMAZING.

K. That's all I got.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I probably favour present tense, but I don't decide. My first couple of sentences of a new project determine what tense I'll be working in - usually.