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Writing Advice & Discussion > Need advice with past/present tense please!

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message 1: by Fic_or_Die (new)

Fic_or_Die | 3 comments Hi all - Have written loads of short stories - all first person, present tense which is fine for short stories but I'm wanting to try past tense but I keep confusing the tense words, so I will switch between both, any advice would be great! Below is a small example of what I mean, just a paragraph, not much as an example. Thanks in advance!

Nobody told me that California had so many bloody bugs. They told me about the movie stars and the huge houses and the heat, dear god…the heat…I’m pretty sure it’s like Dante’s inferno at the moment, the seventh circle of hell seems about right. The deep blue of the Pacific Ocean catches my attention as I drive past on the way to the field office and god; I really, really have to go there. The beaches in the UK do not compare to the beaches here, imagine if you will, thousands of holiday makers on a pebbled beach – no sand even – with about ten inches of bum space for each. No, I thought to myself, it doesn’t compare in the slightest!


Roughseasinthemed | 263 comments Not sure what you want but here's an option for you that gets away from present tense. I take it you mean beaches on the south coast of the UK because I can list a shedload of sandy beaches.

Nobody told me that California had so many bloody bugs. They told me about the movie stars and the huge houses and the heat, dear god … the heat … Like Dante’s inferno, the seventh circle of hell would seem about right.

The deep blue of the Pacific Ocean caught my attention as I drove past on the way to the field office and god; I really, really decided I had to go there.

Beaches in the UK couldn't compare to the beaches here; imagine if you would, thousands of holidaymakers on a pebbled beach – no sand even – with about ten inches of bum space for each. No, I thought to myself, it didn't compare in the slightest!


message 3: by Fic_or_Die (new)

Fic_or_Die | 3 comments Hi there - Thank you so much for your help, I like what you wrote. The line ' I really, really decided I had to go there' - doesn't make sense to me but only because ultimately, I think I want to write in present tense! The rest of it made perfect sense! When I write 'free flow' I have no issue with what I'm trying to say, it's only when I go to 'edit' it that I'm lost, the more I think about it, the less I know how to make it all one tense. And the other thing is, I've fallen victim to the boring narrative a bit with present tense, it sounds stilted a bit or too 'I did this, then I went there'...Not sure if you know what I mean.

When I wrote the part about 'driving past the beach' - to say 'drove past the beach' I don't know - again I just really like present tense!

Also - you're right - Southend was the beach I was talking about! I'm from Essex, it's all I knew!


message 4: by Fic_or_Die (new)

Fic_or_Die | 3 comments Just that one line ' I really, really decided I had to go there. '

Would it make sense to say, ' I decided I really, had to go there. '

I think where I'm going wrong is - Trying to write everything without 'ing' words is so hard, and adding 'ed' to the end of words just doesn't sound right to me when it comes to my character's thoughts - or their internal monologue, I want that to be present tense, not past. Does that make any sense?

Again - I very much appreciate your input, this is a great website!


Roughseasinthemed | 263 comments You could just say, 'I had to go there one day'. It's not just changing the tense, the context may need to alter too.

Actually it sounds like you prefer writing in the present tense. If that suits you, stick with it.

Yes you can do past tense narrative and present tense thoughts. But one par is a bit difficult to explain.

I do understand the boring cat sat on the mat.

SarfEnd? :D


message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol McKibben (carol4dabarn) | 6 comments Roughseainthemed gave you a great rewrite on this. As you are writing, just think about telling it from the perspective that it has already happened.

I write all of my novels in past tense... but that doesn't mean that things can't happen in the present. For instance: "I watched as the dancers whirled across the floor." Or: "The deep blue of the Pacific Ocean caught my attention as I drove past on the way to the field office and god; I really, really needed to get there."


Roughseasinthemed | 263 comments Carol wrote: "Roughseainthemed gave you a great rewrite on this. As you are writing, just think about telling it from the perspective that it has already happened.

I write all of my novels in past tense... but..."


Thank you Carol. Some good suggestions there. You have highlighted how it's not just putting the tense back, it's the need to reword as well.

I still think if an author wants to write in present, stick with it. Depends what they want to capture. I could imagine that paragraph beautifully in past tense.


message 8: by Carol (new)

Carol McKibben (carol4dabarn) | 6 comments No disagreement Rough. Each of us should find a tense in which we are most comfortable. It's good to challenge one's self at times, but not when it doesn't feel right to us.


Roughseasinthemed | 263 comments Carol wrote: "No disagreement Rough. Each of us should find a tense in which we are most comfortable. It's good to challenge one's self at times, but not when it doesn't feel right to us."

Totally. If I was editing it, I word have worded differently. But I was best guessing a simple past tense re-write. I quite liked it! I looked at this, it reminded me of this. I thought past worked well.

But author's choice. And as you say, no point writing in an uncomfortable way. I figured this could work well in past though.

This par was almost going through a lens.


message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol McKibben (carol4dabarn) | 6 comments Right you are, Rough!


message 11: by Rob (new)

Rob Burton | 22 comments Something I always told my students (Not English students - sociology students) and I was reminded of it recently by another published writer who struggles with dyslexia is to read your work out aloud. When we speak, if we are native speakers, we usually use proper grammar, so when we speak our words out aloud then we can hear where we are going wrong - it just doesn't sound right.

Good Luck


message 12: by Ashlee (new)

Ashlee | 12 comments Yeah it seems like you have a strong leaning towards present tense. There's nothing wrong with that--what you wrote sounds good, except for the opening and closing sentences, which switch to past tense.

If you find you're constantly switching and would really prefer to write in past then you could always do what I did -- I decided halfway through my draft that my book needed to be told from multiple POV rather than just one character, which meant changing it from first present to third past. Had to go through and change everything later but it looks a lot better. So if the idea of changing every single present tense to past when you do your revision doesn't make you want to scream you could do that lol


message 13: by Lin (new)

Lin | 213 comments Mod
It pays to learn tenses thoroughly, as used effectively they are yet another tool in the writer's toolbox. One thing I would say is to beware of 3rd person present - personally I hate it, and I've heard the same from many others. It feels to me like someone else is watching TV and they're narrating what they see on the screen. Dropping it into the past tense feels much more natural to read. First person present, however, can pull the reader into the story, as they're hearing the thoughts in the narrator's head.


message 14: by Mickey (new)

Mickey Ann (mickeyann) | 22 comments I am guilty of the verb tense switch. The only thing that has worked for me is paying attention to the very last verb I used in the previous sentence. If it's in the past tense, I usually opt for the past tense. If it's present tense, I will use the present tense. So, in your case, you used "told" as the last verb, so in the new sentence I would have used the past tense again, "I was pretty sure" instead of "I'm pretty sure." It makes for painful editing, but it has worked for me.


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