Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What About Tense?

Yesterday, one of my critique group members subbed a scene from the novel she's writing. It's a flashback highlighting the protagonist's mother. The author wanted to show the reader what kind of environment her protagonist grew up in, what her parents were like. And she also wanted to try an experiment.

The book itself is written in past tense, which is the most-used in short stories and novels. The scene mentioned above was written in present tense. The author wanted reaction to it being done that way from those who critiqued her submission.

Some people like present tense, feeling that it brings the reader right into the scene, the action, that you live it with the person. Personally, I find it distracting. I'm alright with it for a short time, but then it begins to annoy me. I prefer being a reader who watches from a distance, I guess.

Occasionally, a writer will mix past and present tense in one story or one chapter. That irritates me more than present tense. It's definitely a big no-no, so please select one or the other and be consistent. Child-rearing books all recommend being consistent when you discipline a child. Writing is the same. Discipline yourself to use one tense or the other per story or chapter.

Mixing the tenses from one chapter to another might be a unique approach, and maybe well-seasoned writers can pull it off. Most of us could not.

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