How not to feel tense while writing tenses
If you are going to become a professional writer, you should definitely get past, present, and future right. It is essential for you to become more conscious of what the choice of verb tense involves. Of course, it can be a quite challenging task to choose which tense form is appropriate for this or that sentence in order not to make your readers giddy. But it is worth to remember that mastering the art of using correct verb tenses in your writing is crucial for your success.
What are tenses?
Tenses give information about when in time something happened. They denote the time of a verb`s action or its state of being. Tenses manage time by placing moments and periods within particular relationships or “time frameworks”. We cannot but mention the notion of aspect when talking about tenses. Aspect refers to how we experience the action.
- The simple aspect is used for strong predictions or facts
- The progressive aspect is used for an event which is not complete or is temporary or changing
- The perfect aspect is used to indicate that something happened before another point in time and is still relevant at that point in time.
Writers use tenses to give a particular meaning and emphasize the regularity or currency of a particular idea. But it is not enough just to know tense rules – you should also learn how to make shifts in tense consistently and clearly while writing a story.
How to choose the right tense for your story?
Fiction writers usually have two viable options – past tense or present tense. But which verb tense is right for your unique story or novel? The answer is quite simple – the best option is always the one that feels more natural for you to write. It is worth noting that past tense is by far the most conventional choice. However, such great novels as “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk and “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins prove that the use of present simple in modern fiction writing has become very common.
Present tense works best in short-time-frame stories with constant action. Its use can intensify the emotions, thus drawing the readers more deeply into the suspense of the story. But this tense is less flexible and doesn`t give you the opportunity to build narrative. That`s why past tense is much easier to manage. Nevertheless, it can slow the pace of your story down.
In spite of the fact that it is highly recommended to stick to one tense, you still can combine present and past together in a wise way. You can advantage of the technique of breaking the fourth wall. It means that you make your character talk directly to the audience even if the rest of your story is written in past tense. Don`t forget to preserve clarity when mixing tenses. Do it when it is really appropriate. The mix of present and past should add color and variety to your story.
Is it a good idea to experiment with different tenses?
If you want to learn how to write tenses perfectly, it would be a great idea to practice rewriting extracts from your story to find out which tense is most comfortable for you and see what effect this or that tense has on your narrative. Here, for example, is a paragraph from Lauren Oliver`s novel “Delirium”:
“I don`t like to think that I`m still walking around with the disease running through my blood. Sometimes I swear I can feel it writhing in my veins like something spoiled, like sour milk. It makes me feel dirty. It reminds me of children throwing tantrums. It reminds me of resistance, of diseased girls dragging their nails on the pavement, tearing out their hair, their mouths dripping spit”
Rewritten in past simple tense:
“I didn`t like to think that I was still walking around with the disease running through my blood. Sometimes I swore I could feel it writhing in my veins like something spoiled, like sour milk. It made me feel dirty. It reminded me of children throwing tantrums. It reminded me of resistance, of diseased girls dragging their nails on the pavement, tearing out their hair, their mouths dripping spit”
It is up to you to choose which tense suits your story best. But it would be quite useful to take all the described-above recommendations into account.