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Sticking to a tense
  • Hi, I've only recently started writing so I'm open to all the advice I can get. I'm struggling in particular to stick to a tense, I keep finding myself swapping between past and present, my story is currently in first person so I was wondering if either tense is easier to stick to or if there any tips for that.
  • I often swap from one to another when writing the first draft. Often it's not until I get near the end that I decide which will be best for the story. I don't think it's a problem as long as we eventually do decide and edit appropriately.
  • Hi and welcome, limllr (can we call you Lim for short?)
    I agree with Phots Moll. Write your first draft and and then see what works best. You might even change your mind about the point of view. Sometimes you can only see how a story works after you've written it and tried it with different tenses and points of view.
    Good luck with it.
  • I think past is easiest as that is how we naturally recount stories, even those that happened in the very recent past.

    But I write poetry mostly, and very little fiction.
  • Some years ago,just after I'd started writing, I attended a college class. One of my pieces impressed another student, who was also a member of the biggest and best known local writers' circle,and he persuaded me to go along and read my story.

    When I had finished, there was silence, then someone said, " Well, at least he kept the same tense."

    I never went back.
  • I'm not surprised you never went back, snailmale. I sometimes wonder if programmes like The Weakest Link are responsible for encouraging people to think it's okay to be openly rude. What happened to common courtesy and good manners?
  • Oh, Snailmale, I want to march in there and challenge them t a duel. Or something.
  • Thank you all so much
  • If you are trying to write in one tense but keep slipping into another, I would go with the one that comes more naturally.
  • Bear in mind that present tense is limiting unless you resort to flash-backs.

    Snail - those people clearly needed a sense of humour transplant, and definitely didn't deserve you.
  • limllr said:

    I keep finding myself swapping between past and present

    Hi, limllr, It's a big subject. I think constantly about tenses, throughout the story. You don't have to keep to one tense, the changes just need to be handled carefully.

    I've been writing in the third-person, reported speech, for a while, and it tends to call for the Perfect and other past tense forms, but I can move into a new tense whenever it's needed. It all depends on what situations or events I'm describing.
    I've noticed that sometimes I overuse the Pluperfect (i.e. had + perfect), and have discovered it's all right to alter it.

    It is a good idea to begin a new paragraph when a change occurs for whatever reason, and begin another one again when that particular sequence of action/description ends.

    Many things happen in a story of course, and I believe it just isn't possible to keep to the same tense all the time.

    Tread carefully, and read through your work again later (even weeks later). If any passage doesn't seem to 'read' right (tense-wise) with what's just gone before and what comes after, then it probably needs to be altered.

    However, don't be afraid to change tense when you want to.

    When everything flows well, you've got it right!

  • CarolCarol
    And don't overlook reading aloud if you think you've changed tense, as you'll hear it when you read it out.