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Thread: Tense shifts during sentences

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    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Tense shifts during sentences

    Hi all, I thought I had a pretty good handle on this sort of thing, but recently got dinged by a reviewer for tense shifting during sentences. Now I thought there were instances when it was permissible, even appropriate. The examples he pointed out as incorrect were:
    "Her breath gusted out, as if she had been holding it."


    and


    "He flopped down again, swallowing hard."


    and


    "He propped himself on one elbow, bracing himself against the violent rocking motion."



    I did some sleuthing of grammar sites on the web, but ran into the issue of being absolutely horrible at remembering the names for various rules and sentence constructs. This site touched on the issue, though none of the examples I saw there were quite exactly like my own sentences.



    Are my examples within the guidelines?


    Thanks for your thoughts! And if there is a name for these types of complex sentences or a name for these kinds of tense shifts (if they are correct), I'd love for someone to tell me what they are.


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  2. #2
    Live a little. Write a lot. Karen Junker's Avatar
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    IMO, that reviewer is full of it.
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  3. #3
    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    While I'm not sure how anyone can swallow hard, I don't see anything wrong with these sentences as far as tense is concerned.

  4. #4
    "School? Mum, no!" Fallen's Avatar
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    With two of them, the tense is in the main part of the clause. What follows after the comma isn't tense, but aspect:

    and


    "He flopped down again, swallowing hard."


    and


    "He propped himself on one elbow, bracing himself against the violent rocking motion."


    Tense will tell you when, aspect will tell if an action is on going in relation to that 'when'.

    With this one:

    "Her breath gusted out as if she had been holding it."

    You have tense (gusted) then past perfect aspect (pluperfect to some) (had been holding).

    All are perfectly acceptable.

  5. #5
    A bit of a wallflower absitinvidia's Avatar
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    Ya gotta love it when a reviewer reveals his own ignorance with comments like these. Your sentences are fine. The reviewer needs a refresher course in English grammar.

    In your first two examples, what your reviewer seems to think are "tense changes" are in fact participial phrases. As long as these phrases match the grammatical subject of the sentence, which yours do, they're perfectly fine.

  6. #6
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by guttersquid View Post
    While I'm not sure how anyone can swallow hard, I don't see anything wrong with these sentences as far as tense is concerned.
    Spoken like someone who has never been nauseated and had something trying to come up at the same time as one is swallowing

    The character is on a ship and experiencing an attack of mal de(du?) mar
    .

    And thanks for the input. The sentences felt right to me too, but I'm awful at remembering the actual names for sentences structures. I was looking into the use of past continuous, and realizing that the ing form is perfectly acceptable there for something that is ongoing while something else is occurring.
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  7. #7
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Send the reviewer on it's way and keep writing. You sentences are fine.
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    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone.

    Now the "rule" that's being quoted is that one is supposed to avoid "ing" verbs.

    Not sure what that's supposed to mean. I agree that participle clause sentences will tend to get repetitious when overused (though three or four such sentences in a 3000 word chapter hardly seems excessive). I also agree that one shouldn't use past continuous in situations where it's not warranted.

    But to avoid verbs ending with "ing" entirely? I can't say I've heard that one before. Wish I knew where people run across all this advice. Motivates me to create a list of all the bad or misinterpreted writing advice out there.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 01-29-2013 at 12:07 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    Thanks everyone.

    Now the "rule" that's being quoted is that one is supposed to avoid "ing" verbs.

    Not sure what that's supposed to mean. I agree that participle clause sentences will tend to get repetitious when overused (though three or four such sentences in a 3000 word chapter hardly seems excessive). I also agree that one shouldn't use past continuous in situations where it's not warranted.

    But to avoid verbs ending with "ing" entirely? I can't say I've heard that one before.
    That is also nonsense, and any minor perusal of novels by any number of good writers will demonstrate it. Whoever is giving you these comments is someone you need to jettison as a reviewer.

    HOWEVER, that first example sentence does bother me, not for grammatical reasons, but just because it seems starkly clumsy. The words "gusted out" just stop me, as a reader, and the "as if" phrase also seems pretty useless. Either she was holding her breath or she wasn't. I suggest a revision of that one.

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  11. #11
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    That is also nonsense, and any minor perusal of novels by any number of good writers will demonstrate it. Whoever is giving you these comments is someone you need to jettison as a reviewer.

    HOWEVER, that first example sentence does bother me, not for grammatical reasons, but just because it seems starkly clumsy. The words "gusted out" just stop me, as a reader, and the "as if" phrase also seems pretty useless. Either she was holding her breath or she wasn't. I suggest a revision of that one.

    caw
    Thanks. The breath gusting out one was in the pov of a different person, so it was not in the breath holder's pov. If that makes sense. She knows whether she was holding her breath, but the pov character didn't.

    Trying to write everything as a direct perception, sensation or thought on the part of the pov character (without sounding repetitive) is kicking my butt at times.
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    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Aim for clarity. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

    What do you mean by 'without sounding repetitive' in your last comment?

    What do you think you are repeating?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    Thanks. The breath gusting out one was in the pov of a different person, so it was not in the breath holder's pov. If that makes sense. She knows whether she was holding her breath, but the pov character didn't.

    Trying to write everything as a direct perception, sensation or thought on the part of the pov character (without sounding repetitive) is kicking my butt at times.
    Last edited by Bufty; 01-29-2013 at 04:30 PM.
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    New Fish; Exploring the Written Sea Rbrown8384's Avatar
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    I had someone review my writing and gave me the insight that when using the -ing words, they suggest they are actions that can be done at the same time.

    Here was the example she gave me:

    My Sentence:

    "Without further hesitation, he ran forward scooping the child out of its bed and spun on his heels fleeing the room."

    Her comment:

    Would also like to point out that you have to be careful with these -ing ended verbs. When you use them like that I believe it actually means both actions are happening at the same time. He's running forward and scooping the child up SIMULTANEOUSLY. Also, spinning on his heels and fleeing the room.

    This helped me to understand what was ok and not ok while using the combination.

    Hope this helps!

  14. #14
    Delerium ex Ennui Xelebes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    Thanks. The breath gusting out one was in the pov of a different person, so it was not in the breath holder's pov. If that makes sense. She knows whether she was holding her breath, but the pov character didn't.

    Trying to write everything as a direct perception, sensation or thought on the part of the pov character (without sounding repetitive) is kicking my butt at times.
    I do not know of any verb particles that go well with gust. Maybe gust around. Maybe gust about. Gust is pretty much confined to wind or characteristics of wind.

    Maybe you mean gushed out?

  15. #15
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Aim for clarity. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

    What do you mean by 'without sounding repetitive' in your last comment?

    What do you think you are repeating?
    I just feel like I have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to describing physical gestures or the sensations that accompany emotions. For instance, there's that sort of "starburst feeling" you get in your chest when you get a piece of bad news. Calling it shock or horror is telling not showing. Calling it "that starburst feeling" more than once or twice in a novel would sound, repetitive. Also, some readers may respond the same way as they did to the swallowed hard or breath gusted thing. I know exactly what it means. I have an image in my mind or feeling in my body that corresponds with it. But some readers go "huh?" There's also the issue of character voice, of course. Would a person in a pre-industrial fantasy world even think of it as a "starburst sensation?"

    This is just an example I pulled out of my ***. No starbursts were harmed in the writing of my novel.

    A lot of writers call the sensation of receiving bad news "heart sinking" or "insides freezing." It's a bit cliche, but I'll admit, I've used it in places, as it's also a fairly accurate description of the sensation. But again, if you use it too much, it gets repetitive.

    I could just say that the character sighed, though I was trying to get across that image of a person who sighs in a quick burst, as if she'd been holding her breath without knowing it and just remembered to start breathing again. But even though people sigh a lot in real life (I teach at a college, so I know how much teenagers and young adults sigh), mentioning sighing all the time gets old too.

    Now at the opposite end of the spectrum, I was recently reading a chapter for someone where he felt the need to deconstruct every facial expression in minute detail. That didn't work either, at least for me. Too much detailed description of "everyday" expressions like, smiling or frowning, can also be distracting.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 01-30-2013 at 12:56 AM.
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    The Surreal Thing AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    May I mention this adorable elephant that's in the room? She really is quite nice.

    Reviews are for readers, not the author. For the most part, reading them is folly. The book is out there, warts and all. Let it go and proceed with the next one.

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    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post

    "He flopped down again, swallowing hard."


    and


    "He propped himself on one elbow, bracing himself against the violent rocking motion."
    ... seem perfectly fine to me.
    Also when you flip the sentences around,
    from a technical standpoint:

    Swallowing hard, he flopped down again.

    Bracing himself against the violent rocking motion, he propped himself on one elbow.

    (Very common construction.)

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    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    "Her breath gusted out, as if she had been holding it."


    and


    "He flopped down again, swallowing hard."


    and


    "He propped himself on one elbow, bracing himself against the violent rocking motion."




    The reviewer doesn't know what he's talking about. Those sentences are all grammatically correct and there's no change of tense.

  20. #20
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    May I mention this adorable elephant that's in the room? She really is quite nice.

    Reviews are for readers, not the author. For the most part, reading them is folly. The book is out there, warts and all. Let it go and proceed with the next one.

    Maryn, wondering what to call the elephant
    I'm in the process of editing and polishing my novel, actually. It's not out there yet. When I said reviewer, I mean a person on a password protected writing site who read a posted chapter of my novel and offered his or her feedback about the quality of the writing.

    Maybe critiquer is a better word? But I don't think "critiquer" is a real word. At least, I can't find a way of spelling it that pleases Firefox's dictionary

    Heavens, if I was at the point in my writing career where I had a published novel out in the world, I'd like to believe those kinds of comments about sentence structure would be the least of my worries. But being the bundle of insecurities that I am, they would probably still gall me.

    I feel silly for asking now, though. Now that I have, I am noticing this sort of structure all over the place in the "published by a big name in fantasy" book I'm currently reading.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 01-30-2013 at 05:16 AM.
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    Wicked chicken AW Moderator evilrooster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    I feel silly for asking now, though. Now that I have, I am noticing this sort of structure all over the place in the "published by a big name in fantasy" book I'm currently reading.
    Do not feel silly asking any such question. That's what this room is for.



    (Also, it's quite likely that for everyone who sticks their heads above the parapet and asks, there are ten or twenty people who were wondering but hadn't asked.)
    An excerpt from Bigglethwaite & Windemere's Manual of Proper and Exquisite English on the Capitalisation of Historical Events.

    The capitalisation of historical terms is a matter of concern to many writers. The rule, though simple, requires and reveals the writer's judgment, opinions, and preconceptions, and should be applied with care:


    1. Matters of absolute importance should be capitalised.
    2. Matters of no wider historical import should have only their proper nouns capitalised.
    3. Matters which the author not only considers insignificant, but wishes had never occurred, should have all words rendered in lower-case.
    4. If the writer looks upon history as a kind of fantastical territory, and wishes to assert either that it is wildly unlikely or highly distorted, all matters that can be considered nouns of any sort should be capitalised


    B&W 2:14

  22. #22
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    Maybe critiquer is a better word? But I don't think "critiquer" is a real word. At least, I can't find a way of spelling it that pleases Firefox's dictionary

    "Critiquer" may not be in most dictionaries, but it's a common term among writers. A more informal term is "critter," as in, one who crits or gives crits (critiques).

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    Quote Originally Posted by absitinvidia View Post
    Ya gotta love it when a reviewer reveals his own ignorance with comments like these.
    Your statement reminded me of a famous quote (in a good way):

    "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
    *Abraham Lincoln

    Who was it on here that said something along the lines of: 'if someone points out something feels wrong about the work, then they're most likely right; if they specifically indicate what is wrong, they are most likely wrong.' I saw it this morning somewhere on AW, but I can't remember the exact location.

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    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Thanks for the input on this.

    It is good to be able to double check before getting indignant about "crit" advice that seems inaccurate.
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  25. #25
    has no socks JulianneQJohnson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    ... seem perfectly fine to me.
    Also when you flip the sentences around,
    from a technical standpoint:

    Swallowing hard, he flopped down again.

    Bracing himself against the violent rocking motion, he propped himself on one elbow.

    (Very common construction.)
    This construction is what I am used to. I'm used to the participle clause coming at the beginning of the sentence. For all I know, both are perfectly accurate, but this seems more graceful to me.
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