Re: Present & Past Tenses

#1
This is a little bit embarrassing to ask, but I got confused after seeing other authors using them in their different ways so here I am.

For a non-conversation sentence, when should I use past tense and when should I use present tense?

From my understanding, past tenses are used when you want to describe or tell a story about something that happens. And present tenses are used when describing a normal fact. I also saw authors using them like these.

Then again, I saw some author always using present tenses in sentenses that are used to describe the events instead of using past tenses. And readers posted that his work is excellent in grammar.

As the result, I got really confused. Did I use them wrong all along? Which one is wrong and which one is right? Can anyone help me?

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#2
Your descriptions of the tenses are not quite correct. Past tense is something that happened. Present is what is currently happening.
e.g.
Past
As the boxes came down to Jeff, I thought about what was inside
Present
As the boxes come down to Jeff, I think about what is inside.

You can choose to write in present or past tense. Which one is up to you, they each have their advantages. Once you pick one, as a general rule, that should be the tense for the entirety of your novel.

There are some exceptions. Dialogue is in present tense, as is internal monologue. There are also times when writing in first person past tense where present tense is appropriate. Imagine someone verbally telling a story. Most of it happens in the past but some descriptions are elaborated on in present. This is all I can think of off the top of my head.

As a new author, I recommend you stick with past tense for your narrative. Present is considered the harder one to do well.

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#3
As how @AlexM says it.

As for myself, I stick with past tense in my whole storytelling and present tense when it involves most dialogues (When it involves the current scene). Only that. I find it easier for me to describe something that is happening by using a past tense 'voice'.

My advice(s) is/are:
1. Stick to one style. Be extremely consistent.
2. Use what you are at most ease with. For me, it is as how I had explained above.

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#4

acederequiza Wrote: As how @AlexM says it.

As for myself, I stick with past tense in my whole storytelling and present tense when it involves most dialogues (When it involves the current scene). Only that. I find it easier for me to describe something that is happening by using a past tense 'voice'.

My advice(s) is/are:
1. Stick to one style. Be extremely consistent.
2. Use what you are at most ease with. For me, it is as how I had explained above.



I did some homework and found out the fact that I should just stick to one tense in writing a novel. Both past and present are alright.

However, there is some tricky case in a novel with third-person view where sometimes a fact was mentioned using an outsider view. In these  should I just stick to using past tense? Will it look weird?

Let's use this as an example.

Past: John drank the sea water. It was salty. This was a common fact since sea water contained salt.

Present: John drank the sea water. It was salty. This is a common fact since sea water contains salt.

Which one is better? For me, I felt weird when using past tense on a normal fact...

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#6
acederequiza Wrote: Perhaps this link might be better to explain your dilemma.

present or past tense when using a fact
and
backshifting


Now I have a better idea. Still, the blogs states the back-shifting of the clauses toward the past tense of its main clause (same sentense.)

Then how about beginning a new paragraph, new sentense with pure common facts? Should I also back-shift the facts into past tense?

Example:

Past Tense 

John drank sea water. It was salty.

It was a common fact that sea water was salty because it contained salt.

Present Tense 

John drank sea water. It was salty.

It is a common fact that sea water is salty because it contains salt.

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#7
Wrote:
acederequiza Wrote: Perhaps this link might be better to explain your dilemma.

present or past tense when using a fact
and
backshifting


Now I have a better idea. Still, the blogs states the back-shifting of the clauses toward the past tense of its main clause (same sentense.)

Then how about beginning a new paragraph, new sentense with pure common facts? Should I also back-shift the facts into past tense?

Example:

Past Tense 

John drank sea water. It was salty.

It was a common fact that sea water was salty because it contained salt.

Present Tense 

John drank sea water. It was salty.

It is a common fact that sea water is salty because it contains salt.



Both work, but the meaning is slightly different between them.

In the example above, if the infodump is done in past tense it basically signals John reflected upon the attributes of sea water (unless the story is set in a world where sea water got drinkable between the events John experienced and some version of 'now'). Running the infodump in present tense signals the author (not John) stating a fact.

Observe that past tense doesn't always mean it's written from the current character's point of view, but in you example above it does.

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#8
StenDuring Wrote:
Wrote:
acederequiza Wrote: Perhaps this link might be better to explain your dilemma.

present or past tense when using a fact
and
backshifting


Now I have a better idea. Still, the blogs states the back-shifting of the clauses toward the past tense of its main clause (same sentense.)

Then how about beginning a new paragraph, new sentense with pure common facts? Should I also back-shift the facts into past tense?

Example:

Past Tense 

John drank sea water. It was salty.

It was a common fact that sea water was salty because it contained salt.

Present Tense 

John drank sea water. It was salty.

It is a common fact that sea water is salty because it contains salt.



Both work, but the meaning is slightly different between them.

In the example above, if the infodump is done in past tense it basically signals John reflected upon the attributes of sea water (unless the story is set in a world where sea water got drinkable between the events John experienced and some version of 'now'). Running the infodump in present tense signals the author (not John) stating a fact.

Observe that past tense doesn't always mean it's written from the current character's point of view, but in you example above it does.


Thank you, this is the best answer I can ask for.

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#9
Wrote: Thank you, this is the best answer I can ask for.



Just a small observation: If written in FP then we open up an entirely different can of worms.

I drank sea... etc


Now we get three possible meanings to the two variants. The past tense one, I'd argue stays as for the TP retelling you used.

The present tense, though, could imply an author statement (and note that the author doesn't have to be identical to the FP character), in which case the meaning from your example is retained.

However, there is also what I call the 'camp fire' meaning. Alex M above mentioned this one. Basically it implies the FP character is indeed the author and tells a story in some kind of 'now' (hence 'camp fire' -style storytelling), and by switching to the present tense the storyteller brings his/her audience (you) out of the story to the here and now (sitting around the camp fire).
If you don't like the camp fire reference think an old prisoner writing down adventures from youth, and from time to time there are references made that applies to the current world (inside or outside of the cell).

Re: Present & Past Tenses

#10
Wrote: This is a little bit embarrassing to ask, but I got confused after seeing other authors using them in their different ways so here I am.

For a non-conversation sentence, when should I use past tense and when should I use present tense?

From my understanding, past tenses are used when you want to describe or tell a story about something that happens. And present tenses are used when describing a normal fact. I also saw authors using them like these.

Then again, I saw some author always using present tenses in sentenses that are used to describe the events instead of using past tenses. And readers posted that his work is excellent in grammar.

As the result, I got really confused. Did I use them wrong all along? Which one is wrong and which one is right? Can anyone help me?


First lets get this out of the way. "It is OK to mix tenses!" However, before you go crazy in making a big hot mess of mixed tenses, there are rules that need to be followed!

1) You should pick a predominant tense for your novel. 90%+ of your novel should be written in this tense. If there is no predominant tense in your novel, this will lead to confusion as well as interfere with the flow of your story from the constant shifting in tenses.

2) The changes in tense needs to be valid when applied to the actions within the sentence, don't just pick a different tense because it "feels" or "sounds" better. <-- this is the most important when mixing verb tenses, and i suggest googling into this subject to get examples of how to and how not to do it.

3) All tenses are valid when it comes to Dialogue, even when done improperly. It's a common thing to use improper tenses or grammar to portray a character's eccentric speech habit, so as long as it's intentional and specific to that character. Otherwise refer to #2.


With that being said, DO NOT use the majority of the stories on this website as a guideline to "proper writing". There are many things here that contribute to really bad writing habits and errors. Most of it can be blamed on the poor translation of korean and chinese light novels, from which i imagine most amateur writers here are inspired by. Others simply speak a different language and aren't familiar with proper grammar when writing in english. With that being said there are a few really good/high-level writers here in which their grammar, tenses and style are spot-on that are worth learning from, but nothing will beat reading a good, professional, published novel by one of the more renown authors out there.