Thursday, May 21, 2015
A Good Read and a Verb tense writitng tip
Question from the e-mail: What are the most common mistakes you see in the manuscripts you receive. I don't expect you to answer all at once, but if you could put one up on your blog every few days, I will compile my own file of "What NOT to dos!" I'm getting it, Keep Sending Them!!
Answer: Verb tenses.
It's quite common for verb tense to wanders back and forth between present and past tense now and then. This is easily confused as dialogue is always spoken in present tense, as it happens in "story-time." So it's correct for dialogue to be in present tense, because the person is speaking in the present of the story.
Narrative should be in past tense, because the events in the story happened BEFORE it was written down and the use of past tense there denotes something that happened at an earlier time.
Narrative is written in past tense when there are mini-flashbacks they get past perfect tense for the mini-flashbacks.
Here's an example of a mini-flashback, which is when a character remembers something for a moment and then goes on with the present scene. I have bolded the past perfect tenses to make them easy to find:
I grew up feeling miserable and scared all the time, but I thought that was the way you were supposed to feel, until Lupe Gonzalez became my best friend. First day at Grenadier High, everybody's scared I guess, but I think it was worse than usual for me.
Until then I had gone to private schools, but my Dad's construction business had some problems so there wasn't money for tuition anymore. Not that we were poor or anything. We still lived in our big house in Meadowland. We still had the pool, the gardener and Hannah, our live-in housekeeper. My little brother, Todd had inherited my old pony Roscoe, and my sister Ashley and I still had our horses and riding lessons, and ballet twice a week. (End of mini-flashback and switches to regular past tense verbs.)
Ashley hated horses and loved ballet. With me, it was just the opposite. But we both had to participate, because our parents thought it was good for us. There was still plenty of money to keep the bars well stocked too. All three of them, the one in the pool house, the one in the family room, and the one in my Dad's office-at-home.
A Whole Scene set in the past is written in regular past tenxde like regular scenes, but introduced with a time transition or set in Italic type to show they are happening in someone’s remembered thoughts.
Some time ago (back when I was in college, so it's quite awhile back by now), in literary circles the use of present tense for both dialogue and narrative became a popular fictional conceit.
Then popular thriller writers adopeted it, arguing that present tense lent an immediacy to the prose. (The action does read faster!) Once it had been adopted by popular thriller writers who wrote for the general public, the literary academics immediately frowned upon it. I can't say I've never done, or even that I've never seen it done successfully, but...I sure don't do it anymore.
Some readers didn't notice the difference anyway, though critics always will. Many Readers found it confusing and thriller writers went back to past tense for narrative, because the first rule of getting published is:
Never Confuse the Reader!