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vicky271
01-22-2015, 11:02 PM
I struggle with tenses. Past, Present, Future. I switch tenses while writing by accident because I have a difficult time determining which is which. I feel that this area is greatly affecting my writing style negatively. So I'm here to ask you guys if you have any methods, articles, etc. that help you with tenses. Or ANY advice at all.

If you need to see some of my work, I will be glad to post it.

p.s my apologies if this is in the wrong category

Locke
01-22-2015, 11:07 PM
I used to have a problem with that, too. I just had a very understanding editor that highlighted where the tense problems were and I eventually got myself out of it. Practice will have made perfect.





:tongue

Roxxsmom
01-23-2015, 12:49 AM
Hmm, this probably stems from a misunderstanding about how the different tenses work in English. I've never had a lot of trouble with it, because I've always read a lot, and I seem to have the kind of brain that assimilates the rules and norms of written English without a lot of conscious thought. But I probably benefited from having some decent English teachers and from taking Spanish (nothing like learning rules for a different language for giving you new insights into your own) as well.

A common sticking point many people seem to have with English is that some of the past tenses (the ones that require auxiliary or helper verbs) have verb forms that overlap with present, and people will mistakenly think that they're switching tenses when they aren't.

Frex, She is sitting at the table (present progressive) vs She was sitting at the table (past progressive). In this example, the actual tense is provided by the attached "to be" verb, not the conjunction of the main verb.

Without seeing a snippet to illustrate the issue, I'm just guessing that this could be part of your problem, though.

blacbird
01-23-2015, 08:13 AM
Bookmark the Purdue OWL site (google is your friend), and consult it for really solid information about grammatical things like this. It's very good, and straightforward; will help you a lot.

caw

cornflake
01-23-2015, 08:26 AM
I struggle with tenses. Past, Present, Future. I switch tenses while writing by accident because I have a difficult time determining which is which. I feel that this area is greatly affecting my writing style negatively. So I'm here to ask you guys if you have any methods, articles, etc. that help you with tenses. Or ANY advice at all.

If you need to see some of my work, I will be glad to post it.

p.s my apologies if this is in the wrong category

It might be helpful if you'd post something, just because I don't think it's that clear how pervasive a problem or what level it is from this. I mean I've seen people switching within sentences, back and forth from sentence to sentence, full tenses, and it's a major problem they don't notice, but I've also seen people who fret over a character speaking about the past and the person wonders if the tenses are correct for dialogue or whatever.

In general, if you're aware you have a problem like that, that tends to be a good sign toward being able to fix it. Depending on the problem, you could maybe try reading aloud and noting tenses, highlighting words that indicate tense in a certain colour - pink for past, etc., and then looking for a pattern if where you switch off, to be aware of what you're doing so you can train yourself out of it, etc.

blacbird
01-23-2015, 08:49 AM
If you need to see some of my work, I will be glad to post it.


Please do so. Generally, it's recommended for longer excerpts that you post in the Share Your Work forum, but for simple questions like this, it would be appropriate to post a short example excerpt right here. A paragraph, maybe. Find an example that you feel is troublesome, and let us have a look at it. It helps a lot to have context to questions like this, and I'm sure you'll get some useful comments.

caw

vicky271
01-23-2015, 09:12 AM
It might be helpful if you'd post something, just because I don't think it's that clear how pervasive a problem or what level it is from this. I mean I've seen people switching within sentences, back and forth from sentence to sentence, full tenses, and it's a major problem they don't notice, but I've also seen people who fret over a character speaking about the past and the person wonders if the tenses are correct for dialogue or whatever.


Please do so. Generally, it's recommended for longer excerpts that you post in the Share Your Work forum, but for simple questions like this, it would be appropriate to post a short example excerpt right here.

Here's an assignment I recently submitted for school; its my second attempt so far in my life at murder mystery. I do realize there are other issues with it, but my current focus are tenses:

Tackles and Murder
Ms. Mavery did not murder Fawkin.

From the football field huddle with his teammates, Julian Abel caught a glimpse of men in black outfits and hats escorting a middle aged woman to police cars parked on the street curb. Her outfit was classy; she wore a purple dress top with sleeves that extends to her wrist, and a pair of dress pants. Her hair is in a updo, with a over-sized bobby pin sticking out to the sky. But the odd green bracelet around her wrist with the small, lizard pendant along with the black cape that fell from her shoulders was how Julian identified her.

Ms. Mavery. The math teacher.

Her eccentric ways of dressing is well-known. Once he had spotted Ms. Mavery in a multi-coloured parka and pants with jade coloured shoes. Another time she wore a red hat with a small teddy bear at the front and grey leotards. The entire school would stare at her. Anyone would stare at her. He knew she didn’t kill Fawkin. But what he thought didn’t matter, because no one could know that she didn’t do it.

"They finally got her," George, Julian's teammate, follows his gaze. His broad shoulders and blond hair stand out.

Julian nods, "You think she did it?"

George opens his mouth, but not a sound emerges from his lips. Instead, he continues to watch the police escort the teacher off of school property, "I'm not sure," George crosses his arms over his chest, "it doesn't make sense."

"Doesn't make sense?" Julians heartbeat accelerates. He glances down at his fingers, all but his forefinger have a couple of inches of yellow tape wound around so a inch of fingernail is showing, “what do you mean?”

“Ms. Mavery is eccentric. I’ll give her that. But she’s too frail to...murder anyone.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“True,” George laughs, “I’m sure its nothing. I heard from a friend that they found something odd at the crime scene...”

“Odd?”

“A piece of tape. Can’t remember the color. It’s probably nothing.” George wanders off towards the other group huddled on the other side of the line. But Julian wasn’t so sure. The captains voice booms over his thoughts, and after a play has been decided, they form a line in front of the opposing team. All of the players on the field wore red, the only difference being the number of their backs and the name. Julian frowns, staring at the grass. It was suppose to be easy. Did anyone else feel like George did? Unsettled about the crime scene and how it was set up? He didn’t know for sure, but deep down something was bugging him. He rubs his bare forefinger with his thumb, and suddenly the players in front of him disappear.

“Abel!” His captain yells, stomping over towards Julian. He stood up, brushing the wet pieces of grass from his knuckles, "Is this a joke to you?"

The captains stale, pungent breath enters Julians nostrils, "No sir."

"Is THIS a JOKE to you?"

"No sir!"

"Then why aren't you doing your job?"

"I don't know sir..."

"You don't know?" The captain chuckled, glancing around at the field, "this isn't ballet school, Abel. This is football practice. When you walk on to MY field, I expect you to come prepared. None of this..." He points at his head, "...thinking stuff. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." Julian gazes at the ground, attempting to avoid the captains eyes.

"Do you?" The captain pushes, "do you understand?"

Julian swallows, "Yes sir!"

"I don't think you do. So you are going to run TWENTY laps around the field. NOW!"

Torture. Julian frowns, but he couldn’t argue the captain. He takes off towards the sidelines, he would have to run the laps. And he was going to do so. Julian ran slowly on the sidelines around the field a few times, contemplating. He didn’t know what he was going to do. If anyone else had an unsettling feel about the crime scene….especially the police, he was going to have to do something about. “Excuse me!” A far off voice calls. Julian’s head snaps up, a figure approaches from the road. A man with brown hair, a grey coat and a black outfit. He stops, watching the man as he grew closer."Detective Ryan Harris. NYPD," He flashes his badge, "I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about the murder." The detective was now in front of him.

"Murder?" Julian's heart begins to pound harder in his chest, masked by the exhaustion of completing two laps around the field, "What murder?"
The detective scowls. Julian was thankful the man couldn't read his mind, "Fawkin Brown was found stabbed to death this morning outside a classroom."

"Wow," Julian scratches the back of his neck, "I'm embarrassed. That's terrible."

"Yes..." The detective reaches into his pocket for notebook and pulls it out. Julian couldn't figure out why the detective wanted to talk to him, but didn't push it, "where were you between two and four this morning?"

"At home. Sleeping."

"Can anyone verify that?"

Julian nods, "My mother. She comes into my room once every hour," The detective frowns, "She's over-protective and...obsessive."

"Okay..." The detective scribbles something down into his notepad, "did you know the victim?"

"Not really. We were on the same football team, but Fawkin was a loner. He didn't talk to anyone."

"And you know this because...?"

Julian's eyes widen a little. He wasn't suppose to say that, "Saw him around school. Most of the time he kept to himself."

"Ah," The detective scribbled down more words into his notepad. Julian's back starts to tense up, he didn't like being questioned and if this continued much longer he'd say something else incriminating, "one more question. Did Fawkin have any enemies? For example your math teacher."

The moment of truth, "I don't know. But I heard them arguing once a while back."

"What was the argument about?"

“I only got pieces. Something about money...drugs maybe.”

Detective Harris doesn’t push the matter. He continues to scribble down words into his notebook before closing it up and slipping it into his pocket, “Thank you for your help.”

“Can I ask a question?” Julian asks, a bad move but he was dying to know, “did...she murder Fawkin?”

“We think so,” Detective Harris smiles, “have a nice day.”

A smile stretches on Julian's lips. He strokes his bare fore finger with his thumb, watching the detective walk away. It had worked.

He didn't mind the weight of his teammates judgmental stares anymore. Or the laps he had to run for missing that tackle. Julian was sure the police wouldn't be coming back. He wanted to celebrate.

The culprit had gotten away.

-----

My issue is staying away from other tenses and consistently staying with present. I HAVE been reading a good portion of my life, but I have always had issues with grammar (I think it hates me :P )

blacbird
01-23-2015, 09:34 AM
Some immediate things noticed:



From the football field huddle with his teammates, Julian Abel caught a glimpse of men in black outfits and hats escorting a middle aged woman to police cars parked on the street curb.

You're in past tense here.



Her outfit was classy; she wore a purple dress top with sleeves that extends extended to her wrist, and a pair of dress pants.

And here, until you hit the word "extends", which is in present tense. Then you continue in present tense:



Her hair is in a updo, with a over-sized bobby pin sticking out to the sky.

It goes on from there. But you obviously are indeed switching tenses, randomly, it seems. What you really need to do is look at EVERY verb form, sentence by sentence, and pay attention to what is present tense and what is past tense. It really isn't that difficult to tell the difference. I can't give you any advice further than that; the problem is a simple one. You just need to come to grips with the differences between present tense verbs and past tense verbs, and be consistent in the usage of whatever tense you choose.

I'll opine here also that most of the writers I've encountered who had difficulty in using narrative tense consistently were trying to write in present tense, and messing it up. A lot of inexperienced writers seem to fall into the default of writing in present tense, under the concept that it is "easier". I don't think it is.

caw

morngnstar
01-23-2015, 09:45 AM
If you have trouble staying with present, could you try consistently writing in past tense? For me, that's the more natural tense for storytelling. Present tense - no one actually talks that way. Do you say, "I talk to my friend on the phone. She makes dinner." No, you say, "I'm talking to my friend on the phone. She's making dinner." Present progressive completely replaces present except for a few verbs like see, have, and know. Yet when people choose present tense for a narrative it's plain present tense.

I noticed you never once made a tense mistake in dialogue. You shifted tenses only when correct to do so. Your problem is just with the artificial style of language that's used in present tense writing, which is unfamiliar.

morngnstar
01-23-2015, 09:52 AM
What you really need to do is look at EVERY verb form, sentence by sentence, and pay attention to what is present tense and what is past tense. It really isn't that difficult to tell the difference.

I think it is hard for some. Yet they know what's what. Just putting a label on it is what's hard. The thing to do is just ask yourself about each sentence, "Could I say that if it happened yesterday?" If so it's past.

blacbird
01-23-2015, 11:04 AM
I think it is hard for some. Yet they know what's what. Just putting a label on it is what's hard.

It's not an issue of "putting a label on it". It's an issue of understanding, clearly and precisely, what a given verb form is saying.

At its simplest:

"is" is present, what's happening NOW.
"was" is past, what has happened BEFORE.

Similarly, "do" v. "did", "go" v. "went", "see" v. "saw" . . .

This need not be considered voodoo or the equivalent of cosmic particle physics.

But it does require that ANY writer pay attention to the words, what they say, and not get lost in what the writer assumes or thinks they say. Grammar is meaningful. It's a major piece in any good writer's toolbox. Reference sources abound. Never in human history has it been easier to look up stuff like this. I teach composition, and find myself increasingly impatient with people unwilling to take the necessary steps to get such information, or (even worse) making excuses for not doing so.

You want to communicate in writing, learn how to do so.

caw

ArtsyAmy
01-23-2015, 05:31 PM
I wrote my first novel in past tense, and my current novel is in present tense. I agree with blacbird--present tense is not easy. :) After I decided that the current novel would be told in present tense, I found it helpful to start writing sessions by taking a few minutes to read from a well-regarded novel that's also told in present tense. I don't have to do that so much now, but it helped a lot in the beginning.

Vicky, it might help you to decide which tense you want to use for your story, and then read several books told in that tense. That might serve to get you into thinking in that tense when it comes to your own writing. And you might want to start off your writing sessions by reading something told in the tense you'll be using. Also, remember that there are times when it's correct to change tenses in fiction. As you read good books, look for examples of that so you can see how and when it's done.

beckethm
01-23-2015, 06:51 PM
I have to agree with Blacbird: there really are no shortcuts here. If you know you have a problem with switching tenses, you need to take the time to proofread slowly and carefully, checking the tense of each verb. With enough practice, what takes effort right now will become second nature.

Reading your drafts aloud might help. Your ears might pick up what your eyes aren't seeing.

morngnstar
01-23-2015, 07:29 PM
Solving a quadratic equation is easy for me. It's simply a matter of putting it in standard form, identifying the coefficients, and plugging them into the quadratic formula. But for some reason some people find it hard.

If someone finds grammar hard, it isn't likely to be useful to tell them to just identify the verb in the sentence, and see if it ends in ed or en or if it's an irregular past tense form. They will probably have a hard time identifying the tense and person / number of a verb in isolation. But they do not say things like, "Yesterday she thoughts she would tried to was more careful." They know perfectly well how to use and understand verbs in context.

Yes, it's a matter of checking every sentence, but instead of analyzing its grammar, all you have to do is read it, understand it, and ask yourself if it makes sense in the context your narrator is saying it.