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Thread: Problem with Tenses in First Person

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  1. #1
    figuring it all out
    Join Date
    Mar 2012

    Problem with Tenses in First Person

    I don't usually have problems with tenses, but that's because I usually write in the third person. This is my first time writing in the first person and I've become really conflicted with my tenses. I'm confused, they all sound right one way or the other. I don't really know how to describe it, so here are a few examples:

    Here's the intro (don't judge please ):

    If a man came up to me right now, with a dark ski-mask gripping his head and a gun wrapped in his fingers, and if he asked me if I had any last message for anyone at all, I’d tell him one thing, and one thing alone: fuck you. Not to him of course, I’d have to explain, while feeling the cold barrel pressed so sweetly against my terrified temple. But for everyone. For everything.
    And many times, I wondered where my gun-wielding masked Zorro was, because God knows I’d be too craven to ever pull that trigger. Craven, you see, because that was my word of the day. It helps keep things interesting around here, having a word of a day. Not that you could ever use any of those words in everyday conversation, because there’s only two possible outcomes for that: either a), whomever you’re talking with understands the strange word you just used, and assumes you’re probably just being pretentious (which no one wants to be), or b), they don’t understand the word, and you’ll have to explain it or just say a simpler one.
    It’s really just a giant waste of time.
    I included the first paragraph because I thought it'd help set the voice so you guys could see where I'm coming from here. It's the first line in the second paragraph that I've changed a hundred times. Should it be "I wonder where my... ...Zorro is" or "I wondered where my... ...Zorro was"? Should it be "because that was my word of the day" or "because that's my word of the day"? I'm really confused with how it should be handled when the narrator is speaking to the reader in first person.

    And then of course, would it be "It was really just a giant waste of time" or "It's really just a giant waste of time"? (And yea, I understand that the answer to one of these questions would dictate the answers for the rest, I'm just asking to stress the point).

    Can someone explain?

    Another example I have that illustrates my problems is this:

    My feet backtracked while my body followed unwillingly. I went into the kitchen and flashed a smile, wide and fresh like always. To my brother, with his mouth full of overcooked chicken skin and undercooked rice, I stuck out my tongue, as he is young and still enjoys the silly things.
    Would it be " he was young and still enjoyed the silly things" or as it is written there? And whatever the answer is, could you explain why, so I can properly understand the rule?

    I have a strong feeling that it should all be in the past tense, which would mean I'd end up with sentences like "It helped keep things interesting around here" and "because there'd only be two possible outcomes for that". Would that also mean that the next sentence would be "whomever you're talking with understood the strange word you just used, and assumed you're probably just being pretentious"? That's where it sounds off. I'm just so befuddled.

    Last Edit:

    Am I screwing myself over and actually setting it in the present tense by starting the first sentence with "right now"? By using "right now" does that mean the rest of the narrative has to be present tense?
    Last edited by dogpie; 11-16-2012 at 01:34 PM.

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