Monday, June 13, 2011

Verbs and Tenses - Writing tip

Verbs and Tenses

Verbs are action words, everyone knows that. And it’s a good idea to use the active form of verbs whenever possible. One thing that will instantly make your writing read better is to avoid gerunds and verb participles, by using the active form of the verb. That helps keep you in "active" voice. Almost all "ing" words follow a "to be" verb–is, was, were, are– one that's in static, if not exactly passive voice. In fact if you look for was, were, etc. you can pick up on those passive phrases and turn them around pretty easily. Instead of "He was still chuckling as he closed the trunk...," try "He chuckled as he closed the trunk." It’s more direct, more specific. Better writing. Do you see what I mean? This is no big thing, but the writing will feel more “participatory” to the reader if you do that.

Some modern fiction is written in present tense, but that is fast going out of style. Once
it was the province of the Very Literary in writers’ programs at ivy league schools. But once the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Lisa Scottolini adapted whole novels into present tense, it quickly
went out of fashion as a literary device. Critics now find it passe and quite a few editors hate it, because they can’t be certain at first glance whether the writer meant to do it, or if he or she doesn’t have a clue which tense they're in. Trust me, getting manuscripts where the tenses wander back and forth for no rhyme or reason happens about once a week.

My advice is to only use present tense in narrative only when writing synopses and outlines. Direct thoughts are always in present tense (and Italics) while "Internal dialogue" -- someone thinking to him or herself -- is in past tense and gets no Italics.

By it’s very nature, a story that is written down happened BEFORE it was written down. Therefore it should be in past tense. Likewise references using the word NOW can be harmful. Now is when the reader is reading the story. It gives me a “time out of place” signal every time I see it. Kind of like seeing old movies with shots of the Twin Towers.

No comments:

Post a Comment