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Corinthianblue
09-07-2012, 05:44 AM
Recently I read a book (I won't mention which one) and kept stopping every few sentences because tense would change in mid paragraph. It would switch from present, to past, and then back to present. I was always instructed (by more than one teacher) if I have to change tense, I can either move it into its own phrase or paragraph or maintain tense throughout the entire thought.

This book is fairly new and I'm wondering if it's just me or if this is something that's emerging in publishing, allowing tense to change wildly. Someone care to explain to me if I'm wrong or not?

Kerosene
09-07-2012, 05:49 AM
What is this "book"?

I don't know of any writer, who would even put out a book with unscheduled tense changing. Meaning, the tense can change by chapters or something define so the reader expects it.

Maybe you're reacting to how certain words are presented, but the sentences are still in a single tense?

Some 1st POV present allows tense changing. Dialogue and internalized thoughts are free of any tense rules.

F.E.
09-07-2012, 06:10 AM
Recently I read a book (I won't mention which one) and kept stopping every few sentences because tense would change in mid paragraph. It would switch from present, to past, and then back to present. I was always instructed (by more than one teacher) if I have to change tense, I can either move it into its own phrase or paragraph or maintain tense throughout the entire thought.

This book is fairly new and I'm wondering if it's just me or if this is something that's emerging in publishing, allowing tense to change wildly. Someone care to explain to me if I'm wrong or not?
If you'd put here an excerpt from that book that shows that stuff, then we might be able to give you our 3 cents worth. :)

Bufty
09-08-2012, 12:55 PM
If I'm not mistaken the tenses wander in this paragraph, too- no? Nothing wrong with changing tenses per se - context and POV are both relevant.


Recently I read a book (I won't mention which one) and kept stopping every few sentences because tense would change in mid paragraph. It would switch from present, to past, and then back to present. I was always instructed (by more than one teacher) if I have to change tense, I can either move it into its own phrase or paragraph or maintain tense throughout the entire thought.

This book is fairly new and I'm wondering if it's just me or if this is something that's emerging in publishing, allowing tense to change wildly. Someone care to explain to me if I'm wrong or not?

Captcha
09-08-2012, 04:07 PM
I'd like to see an extract, too.

I don't know the "needs its own section" rule for tense changes, but I definitely agree with the "needs a reason" for tense changes. I've always believed that, and I think I always WILL believe that. ;)

absitinvidia
09-08-2012, 04:41 PM
I'd definitely need to see an example.

There are some instances where it's actually fine to combine tenses. Usually these are first person POV using very informal language, so you could have a sentence like:

Sarah asked me to come over and study--she doesn't like to be alone at night--and I said I'd sneak out in fifteen minutes or so.

I'm seeing this more and more, where the author intentionally inserts the narrator's comments at the time of writing in present tense as distinct from the narrative in the past tense. I think it works best in first person, but I've seen in in third person as well.

Roxxsmom
09-25-2012, 11:32 PM
I'd like to see a passage where this is done as well. Random and unprompted mid-scene tense shifts wouldn't work for me, and I certainly hope they aren't a new fad. I'm still getting used to the deluge of first person present tense stuff that's being thrown out on fiction writing sites, particularly for stuff aimed at YA audiences (with varying degrees of skill--I'm still trying to get a handle on when it is the best tense and pov for a story).

I agree with the others that it's fine to shift from past to present for internal dialog, though, as illustrated in the previous post, or for something along these lines.

Julie really didn't feel like helping Sarah study for her chemistry exam, but she knew her friend hated to be alone at night. "All right, I'll be right over," she said, hoping her voice didn't betray her irritation. She ended the call and shoved her phone back in her purse. I'll sneak out in fifteen minutes or so.

Corinthianblue
10-09-2012, 06:21 PM
I actually didn't get any updates to this post. Wow, you guys were working fast. My apologies.

The book was Divergent. I'll start by saying I like the story and the characters, even the bad ones. But this might've stopped me for no reason. I'll give an example.

Page 458:
"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I did this, I was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."

I could be making a big deal out of nothing, but this thing seems to bounce around. Thoughts?

This is just an example. I started highlighting this short of thing around page 250, and there were more beforehand.

Susan Littlefield
10-09-2012, 06:45 PM
Page 458:
"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I did this, I was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."


Love it! Bravery is perspective, but the first time I did something brave it was hard. Now I can jump off that train because I've done some really hard things in the last few weeks!

In fact, I want to read that book just for that passage.

Corinthianblue
10-09-2012, 06:49 PM
It's a fantastic read, very fast and driven. Just whenever I see these things, it stops me dead in my tracks. I think it just the last half of the book, I highlighted about one for every two pages. That's what drove me crazy about it. So am I wrong?

Captcha
10-09-2012, 07:34 PM
Yeah, sorry, I think you're wrong.

It's a tense shift, for sure, but it's done for a reason. Seems like the book is written in first person present tense, but the narrator is referring to things that happened before the current scene, so past tense is pretty much obligatory.

Otherwise, it would be confusing, right?

"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I do this, it's one of the hardest things I've ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I do more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people do in a lifetime."

The first part is maybe okay, but the "I do more difficult things in the past few weeks" is just gobbledy-gook.

Shifting verb tenses for no reason is poor writing. Shifting verb tense to reflect that things happen at different times is pretty much the whole reason we HAVE verb tenses!

Ctairo
10-09-2012, 08:35 PM
I actually didn't get any updates to this post. Wow, you guys were working fast. My apologies.

The book was Divergent. I'll start by saying I like the story and the characters, even the bad ones. But this might've stopped me for no reason. I'll give an example.

Page 458:
"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I did this, I was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."

I could be making a big deal out of nothing, but this thing seems to bounce around. Thoughts?

This is just an example. I started highlighting this short of thing around page 250, and there were more beforehand.

Oh, the passage bounces around, but it's not an error. If a character is relaying something that's been done (see there? tense shift), the writer is obligated to share that information in the applicable tense.

"The first time I did this"

means she's done this before. She's not doing it now.

"it was one of the hardest things I had ever done"

also references some time in the past when she did this thing.

"Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing"

present/what she's about to do/she's in the process of the action.

"because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."

Again, these difficult things were done; they aren't things she's doing. (see the shift in the language here?)

Corinthianblue
10-09-2012, 08:40 PM
My issue is not about changing tense. My issue is there's a clear bit of thought, this paragraph, and it hops from present, to past, back to present, then future. I was kinda wondering if I was wrong about that. To me, it's sloppy of both the author and the publisher to miss numerous errors like this one.

Ctairo
10-09-2012, 08:50 PM
My issue is not about changing tense. My issue is there's a clear bit of thought, this paragraph, and it hops from present, to past, back to present, then future. I was kinda wondering if I was wrong about that. To me, it's sloppy of both the author and the publisher to miss numerous errors like this one.
Hmm, okay. What's wrong with thoughts skipping from present, to past, back to present?

Why do you see it as an error and "sloppy"?

Bufty
10-09-2012, 10:25 PM
Who says it's sloppy work by the author and publisher?

In full context of the story it's no doubt perfectly in order.

Don't you change tenses when you talk if you feel it suits whatever you're trying to say?

Do folk you're speaking to wave fingers and tell you to stop being sloppy and stick to the one tense?


My issue is not about changing tense. My issue is there's a clear bit of thought, this paragraph, and it hops from present, to past, back to present, then future. I was kinda wondering if I was wrong about that. To me, it's sloppy of both the author and the publisher to miss numerous errors like this one.

Susan Littlefield
10-10-2012, 12:17 AM
My issue is not about changing tense. My issue is there's a clear bit of thought, this paragraph, and it hops from present, to past, back to present, then future. I was kinda wondering if I was wrong about that. To me, it's sloppy of both the author and the publisher to miss numerous errors like this one.

You are not right or wrong, but the tenses in the story were not done in error. I can't wait to get my hands on that book.

absitinvidia
10-10-2012, 12:35 AM
I thought it was a fantastic book and at no point while reading it was I pulled out of the narrative by "changing tenses." It was handled properly, IIRC.

backslashbaby
10-10-2012, 12:49 AM
I think it's just a little complex, if that makes sense. Readers have to pay attention to fully understand what is going on, but there's nothing wrong with that, imho. If it's a light, breezy beach read, it might bug me :D

Captcha
10-10-2012, 01:04 AM
My issue is not about changing tense. My issue is there's a clear bit of thought, this paragraph, and it hops from present, to past, back to present, then future. I was kinda wondering if I was wrong about that. To me, it's sloppy of both the author and the publisher to miss numerous errors like this one.

I don't understand why you think there's an error.

You think the publisher was sloppy on this? If you were the editor, what would your suggestion or comment have been?

Corinthianblue
10-10-2012, 05:35 PM
I don't understand why you think there's an error.

You think the publisher was sloppy on this? If you were the editor, what would your suggestion or comment have been?

This, what Susan wrote. Keep the entire paragraph in the present tense so as not to slow down the reader.


Love it! Bravery is perspective, but the first time I did something brave it was hard. Now I can jump off that train because I've done some really hard things in the last few weeks!

In fact, I want to read that book just for that passage.

To me, this makes better sense.

Bufty
10-10-2012, 05:38 PM
I don't follow what you mean here. It seems contradictory.


This, what Susan wrote. Keep the entire paragraph in the present tense so as not to slow down the reader.



To me, this makes better sense.

BethS
10-10-2012, 05:49 PM
I actually didn't get any updates to this post. Wow, you guys were working fast. My apologies.

The book was Divergent. I'll start by saying I like the story and the characters, even the bad ones. But this might've stopped me for no reason. I'll give an example.

Page 458:
"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I did this, I was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."

I could be making a big deal out of nothing, but this thing seems to bounce around. Thoughts?

This is just an example. I started highlighting this short of thing around page 250, and there were more beforehand.

What the author did there is perfectly acceptable. She (or he?) switched between what was happening in the story (past tense) and universal statements (present tense). (A universal statement is an idea that applies to past, present, and future, and is often rendered in present tense.) You may remember that Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice opens with a universal statement: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune..."

Edited to add:

I originally thought the main story was written in past tense, but I see by this phrase -- "...I have done more difficult things..." -- that the story may actually be narrated in present tense. In that case, the universals would still be in present tense, but the past tense parts are simply the character talking about past events.

Either way -- whether this story is mainly written in present or past tense -- the passage works and it works beautifully. There are no errors.

Susan Littlefield
10-10-2012, 06:47 PM
Originally Posted by Captcha
I don't understand why you think there's an error.

You think the publisher was sloppy on this? If you were the editor, what would your suggestion or comment have been?

This, what Susan wrote. Keep the entire paragraph in the present tense so as not to slow down the reader.


Originally Posted by Susan Littlefield
Love it! Bravery is perspective, but the first time I did something brave it was hard. Now I can jump off that train because I've done some really hard things in the last few weeks!

In fact, I want to read that book just for that passage.

To me, this makes better sense.

I'm not following you. Captcha and I are basically saying the same thing, but I summarized the paragraph to show how it works. The premise of this narrative is using past experience to show how it's affected his life today. It's very well done.

absitinvidia
10-10-2012, 07:51 PM
Either way -- whether this story is mainly written in present or past tense -- the passage works and it works beautifully. There are no errors.


This exactly. The book is written in the present tense. If the author does not switch to the past tense for things that happened in the past, I'm at a loss as to how in the world she can tell an effective story that is intelligible to the reader.

This particular book has been widely recognized as one of the best of 2011--not just YA, but overall. It's extremely well written and well edited.

The OP has a point that many books have problems with tense. However, I would argue--strenuously--that this book is not one of them, and that the example paragraph is an example of good writing.

absitinvidia
10-10-2012, 07:51 PM
I'm not following you. Captcha and I are basically saying the same thing, but I summarized the paragraph to show how it works. The premise of this narrative is using past experience to show how it's affected his life today. It's very well done.


Also, just FYI, the narrator is a girl.

Susan Littlefield
10-10-2012, 11:54 PM
Also, just FYI, the narrator is a girl.

Thank you. :)

Captcha
10-11-2012, 02:12 AM
This, what Susan wrote. Keep the entire paragraph in the present tense so as not to slow down the reader.



To me, this makes better sense.

But Susan's entire paragraph ISN'T in present tense... see bolding.

"Bravery is perspective, but the first time I did something brave it was hard. Now I can jump off that train because I've done some really hard things in the last few weeks!"

Ctairo
10-11-2012, 04:00 AM
This, what Susan wrote. Keep the entire paragraph in the present tense so as not to slow down the reader/

To me, this makes better sense.

Okay, thank you for clarifying. The flow is better in the original version IMO, and truly, I don't see a problem with it. It's possible you read the book with an eye for errors, and a book that immersed you that deeply in a POV could easily jar you out of it when the language changed.

So, yes, while you might have written it differently, the majority of the posters here don't have a problem with it. It's not wrong. Writing it differently wouldn't have been wrong either though. Narrative voice is one of the many choices writers make. Your narrative voice and Roth's would seem to... diverge.

Susan Littlefield
10-11-2012, 06:32 AM
Okay, thank you for clarifying. The flow is better in the original version IMO, and truly, I don't see a problem with it. It's possible you read the book with an eye for errors, and a book that immersed you that deeply in a POV could easily jar you out of it when the language changed.


That is the point, there is no problem with the original version. If the rest of the book is as beautiful and well written as that paragraph, then it's one good book.

I did not rewrite what I thought was a better version, I simply summarized to show why the passage worked. :)

Ctairo
10-12-2012, 01:03 AM
That is the point, there is no problem with the original version. If the rest of the book is as beautiful and well written as that paragraph, then it's one good book.

I did not rewrite what I thought was a better version, I simply summarized to show why the passage worked. :)
Hi Susan,

Oh, I absolutely was not directing the comment at you. I saw your earlier comment; the OP seemed to think you were offering a rewrite. My response was directed at the OP.

Susan Littlefield
10-12-2012, 04:54 AM
Hi Susan,

Oh, I absolutely was not directing the comment at you. I saw your earlier comment; the OP seemed to think you were offering a rewrite. My response was directed at the OP.

Oh gosh, no problem at all. :D I've been enjoying the discussion because I am learning a lot.

Ken
10-13-2012, 03:05 AM
_ _ _ and on top of it all, there's a typo:




Page 458:
"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I did this, I ["it" or better yet, eliminate the comma and "I" altogether] was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."

I agree with your assessment.

F.E.
10-13-2012, 04:49 AM
_ _ _ and on top of it all, there's a typo:


Originally Posted by Corinthianblue

Page 458:
"Half of bravery is perspective. The first time I did this, I ["it" or better yet, eliminate the comma and "I" altogether] was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Now, preparing to jump off a moving train is nothing, because I have done more difficult things in the past few weeks than most people will in a lifetime."

I agree with your assessment.
I had assumed that the "I" was a typo that perhaps the O.P. had accidentally made when transcribing the excerpt. (Though I could be wrong.)

Since this is a Grammar and Syntax forum, :)

I thought the original sentence (or originally intended sentence) was fine as it was:

1. The first time I did this, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

.
Interestingly, as to that other possibility, where the comma and pronoun are deleted:

2. The first time I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

sounded off to my ear. Perhaps #2 is ungrammatical. I suspect that many native English speakers will hear something perhaps off with it, but it might be hard to explain exactly why. (I suspect many ESL speakers will think #2 is good.)

What is so interesting about #2 is the attempt(s) to show that it is ungrammatical. :D

Since this is a Friday night and all, perhaps attempts could be made to show why that version #2 is grammatical or why it is ungrammatical.

(Yes, I've already spent a half-hour or so on such an attempt. A hunk of that time was spent on trying to figure out whether the phrase "The first time I did this" involved a relative clause or a content clause or preposing.)

Ken
10-13-2012, 06:33 AM
Since this is a Grammar and Syntax forum, :)

_ _ _ quite true :-)

A good way to tackle sentences like this is to substitute the proxies with the actual subject, verb, or whatnot.

So:

The first time I (jumped off a train) was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

The first time I (jumped off a train), it was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

Both seem rather ungrammatical. In any event, they’re downright awkward. Substituting “did this” for “jumped off a train” doesn’t change that. It merely disguises it, making the sentence seem better. Object to either of these two versions and you’re objecting to the author’s original.

-Ken
No expert on grammar by any means!
All I've done is offer my opinion here.

Olika
10-13-2012, 09:10 AM
I disagree, Ken. Only the one with the "it" sounds correct to my ear, and I don't find the author's version (I/it typos aside) particularly awkward. Here's how I read the sentence:

The first time I [jumped off a train], [the act of jumping off a train] was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

I, too, am having some trouble pinning down why. I think it's because "...was one of the hardest things I had ever done" wants a noun (or a gerund).

"When I jumped was one of the hardest things" is understandable, but it sounds wrong. "When I jumped, it was one of the hardest things" and "jumping was one of the hardest things" both sound fine to me.

F.E.
10-13-2012, 11:02 AM
That's a good idea, to replace some of the pronouns and pro-forms (which can be pronouns that have antecedents or which can be other words that have antecedents) with their antecedents. :)

So for the original sentence (or originally intended sentence):

1A. The first time I did this, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. (book author's original)

1B. The first time I did this jumped off a moving train, it (the act of) jumping off a moving train [for the first time?] was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

The crucial bit (I think) is that which answers the question that is sorta posed by the main/matrix clause: What was one of the hardest things she had ever done?

And the answer to that is: The act of jumping off a moving train [for the first time?]. That answer is the antecedent for the pronoun "it" that is acting as the subject for the clause headed by the verb "was".

I think that version (#1) is fine, imo. (Though trying to show what all the antecedents are for all the pro-forms, and to show what elements belong to what type of constructions, well, that could be an interesting exercise.)
.
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Now for the second version, #2:

For the second version #2, for it to have the same meaning as the original version (#1A or #1B), then it (#2) would also have to mean that the subject for its clause headed by the verb "was" is also the same in meaning as the subject of #1B, which is the subject: The act of jumping off a moving train [for the first time?].


2A. The first time I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

2B. The first time I did this jumped off a moving train was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

And now, it might be helpful to figure out exactly what that leading phrase "The first time I did this" actually is. Is it a noun phrase where its head noun "time" is modified by a relative clause, or is it a noun phrase that involves a content clause, or is it a clause with a preposed element, or what?

It might be possible to show that, syntactically, the subject of #2B is different in meaning from the subject of the matrix clause in #1B.
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(Aside: And the matrix verb phrase (VP) "was one of the hardest things I had ever done" seems to have a maybe similar sort of ambiguous appearance, in that exactly what is the phrase "I had ever done" with respect to that matrix VP (which is headed by "was").)

F.E.
10-13-2012, 11:36 AM
Suppose I contrasted #2B with a sentence (#3B) that I think is grammatical:

2B. The first time I jumped off a moving train was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

3B. The first time I jumped off a moving train was one of the most exhilarating times/moments of my life.
.
But the grammatical parsing of the sentences is still interesting . . .

F.E.
10-14-2012, 05:54 AM
I think that version #2 is ungrammatical, and the following might support that opinion.

The original #2 and a version where some pro-forms are replaced with their antecedents interpretations:

2A. The first time I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done. (original #2)
2B. The first time I jumped off a moving train was one of the hardest things I had ever done.
.
Showing possible versions of #2 as three formal types (wh-, that, bare), where the relative clause is underlined:

2A1. The first time when I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done. -- (wh- relative)
2A2. The first time that I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done. -- (that relative)
2A3. The first time I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done. -- (bare relative) -- which is the same as original #2 version
.
All three versions have the same meaning. I think version #2A1 shows what the problem is, that the subject deals with a time. That is a problem because the VP is talking about a thing, not a time when.

2A1. The first time when I did this was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

.
I think that is sufficient to show that version #2 is ungrammatical.

But as to the original version #1 in the OP's original post, trying to grammatically show what the interpretation is for the matrix subject pronoun "it" and where the pronoun's antecedent is located and how the pronoun's interpretation was derived from that antecedent, that might still be interesting. :)

Roxxsmom
10-14-2012, 11:15 AM
I don't have a problem with it, because he's telling the story in first person. He's using the present tense to describe how he feels about doing something in the here and now, while he's using the past tense to describe how he felt about doing that same thing in the past.

Seems legit, even without invoking character voice as an explanation.

Personal Prose
10-15-2012, 03:51 PM
I'm not sure if this is the correct thread to ask this. If not, please feel free to move it to another.

I write in the third-person POV, and continue to struggle maintaining present tense in dialogue and past tense in the narrative. The dialogue is usually fine, but it seems as I return to the narrative, my brain remains in the present tense.

Has anyone struggled with this in the early stages of their writing? If so, how did you fix it?

ULTRAGOTHA
10-15-2012, 06:46 PM
Try reading it aloud. You ought to catch more then.

Personal Prose
10-16-2012, 01:26 AM
Try reading it aloud. You ought to catch more then.

Thanks Ultra, that's what my beta suggested and I do and it helps. I keep kicking myself for making the same mistakes while writing a first draft.

Roxxsmom
10-16-2012, 11:18 PM
I think we all have various first draft blues we have to deal with. As long as you catch these kinds of mistakes on rewrites, it's all par for the course, I'm afraid.