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What tense(s) are ya'll using to write your memoirs?

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metamemoir

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I hate this. To me it's a constant back and forth -- one minute one sounds unnatural, the next its the other. In fact, sometimes just switching from present to past and back throughout feels like the most comfortable thing to do.

What do you all do?
 

PinkAmy

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My first 1 page chapter is present, the rest is past. I use first person to draw the reader in and emphasis the conflict that sets the book up. Then in my 2nd to last chapter the first page is present, for dramatic emphasis, the rest is past. The scene is life altering, and the moment by moment action is important. It's 9/11/2001-- I'm driving to the doctor on my way to being diagnosed with breast cancer (which I didn't know) when I heard about the planes hitting the tower. With every news bit about another horror--another plane, tower falling, the pentagon etc. the reality that terrorism doesn't happen in other places could also mean breast cancer doesn't happen to other people etc. Anyway--I wrote it in past tense but it seemed more removed and distant than in the present.

Funny thing is, I hate reading books that switch from past to present and back and forth so I struggled whether to do this or not. I ran it by my betas and they seemed to like the way I wrote both parts.
 

Evelyn

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My memoir is about struggling to survive in the world of fine arts-and-crafts shows, realizing at each turn how clueless I really was. Just when I'd have it all figured out - I'd up and switch to a different media and have to start almost from scratch again. There's nothing like making life hard on yourself.

My memoir is all written in the first person. Like Amy, I wrote the opening scene in the present tense. It's a scene from a recent art show, and illustrates that I did finally manage to get my act together.

In the following chapter, the story jumps fifteen years into the past, and the writing switches to the past tense.

At the end is a short epilogue, where the story catches up with the present. I again switch to the present tense.

I feel this works well in the context of the time-line, and in the interest of the story. My readers have told me it works for them.
 

janwyl

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Mixture of past and present. It's written in a journal format though, so in general each entry is a story / event (past), then what I think of it at the time of writing (present).

Although I do relate one "story" in the present, because it's an example of me taking guests on a walk through the bush (I'm a safari guide), and it just seemed to work better that way to make the reader feel more like they're on the walk with me.

I do flip between tenses quite a bit. Will have to see what beta readers make of it. It may be too much, no-one's really noticed it in the bits that have been read so far (except for a few obvious howlers) so I'm hoping it's gonna work...
 

PinkAmy

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My memoir is all written in the first person. Like Amy, I wrote the opening scene in the present tense. It's a scene from a recent art show, and illustrates that I did finally manage to get my act together.

Can I ask why you decided to start by giving away the ending of your book? It's an interesting approach. How do you keep the tension?
 

J'Dubee

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AW is the nearest I've come to being in a writing class in my 76 years and in my brief time as a member, I've learned mucho gud stuff.

Kin folks think of me as a story teller and urged me to, "put it in writing."
I, laboriously, typed my memoirs in first person, read the stuff and wasn't happy.

Some here confirmed my suspicions and suggested I use a different POV.

I switched POV and even decided to make the short stories (which can be arranged chronologically but are written as I recall them) fiction based on fact.

I'm having a blast with the results, but because I lack many technical tools of writers -- such as I wonder if I should throw a comma in here? Aw Hell, Why not? I got plenty of them.

I get frequently bogged down looking for grammar and punctuation answers instead of working on the stories.

Right now, I'm wondering how the knowledgeable would handle: me writing a story my grandmother is telling me about story of an event she and my grandfather experienced -- but I'm writing the story in third person?

I've discovered, sometimes when I write out a question, the answer magically appears in my head --


or sometimes, the answers appears on my computer screen.
 
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sonyablue

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Mine is entirely past tense, at least so far (but I don't really intend to change this). I just don't think that present tense would make sense or work for the topic.
 

Flexi

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Can I ask why you decided to start by giving away the ending of your book? It's an interesting approach. How do you keep the tension?


I've done this with my memoir too. The first chapter is present tense of a scene near the end of the memoir and the rest is past tense of the events leading up to that last scene.
 

Purple Rose

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My first and last chapters are in present tense. The rest are all in past tense.
 

booker c

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I really like this since I find myself switching back and forth unintentionally and I always think it's just me! Glad to know other people do it, too but also intentionally for circumstances.
:hooray:
 

Writer-2-Author

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Mine is written in past tense/first person throughout the book until the epilogue which is the telling of where everyone is today.
W2A
 

Siri Kirpal

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I hate this. To me it's a constant back and forth -- one minute one sounds unnatural, the next its the other. In fact, sometimes just switching from present to past and back throughout feels like the most comfortable thing to do.

What do you all do?

Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I started my memoir writing in present tense, except for a few flashback-to-early-childhood scenes. But I couldn't maintain it, bogged down really badly. So am reworking the entire thing in past tense, except for a few short things that are ongoing.

I find that present tense is great for remembering the scenes, but it makes it really difficult to add depth and perspective to the whole process. And depth is part of what my memoir is about.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away