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Advice on shifting tenses (Story development through recollection) Options · View
Guest
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012 2:33:21 AM

Rank: Lurker

Joined: 12/1/2006
Posts: 816,693
Hi,

I may be committing a cardinal writing sin, but I have a story that I have nearly finished which basically revolves around a chance encounter between a guy and girl, but I am writing it from the point of view of the guy the morning after. It is looking likely to be 4-5000 words.

Basically, in summary:

Start of the story involves him waking up, then trying to recollect what happened.

Basically, he makes about three distinct moves around the flat he is in, recollecting more and more about what happened and who he was with.

It ends when she comes back and they talk.

OK, so my question, or my request for advice, is about how to handle the change in tenses. Within the context of the actual writing, I am happy with the way it is reading, but my BIG CONCERN, is how it will read. Should I do something in the formatting to differentiate between the present and the recollections?

Any advice appreciated.

SDIMDM
RumpleForeskin
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012 7:33:39 AM

Rank: The Right Rev of Lush

Joined: 7/3/2009
Posts: 3,311
Location: Lost in the desert west of Apache Junction, USA
There's no hard and fast rule when it comes to flashbacks, except, don't confuse the reader. As you mentioned, they can be alerted most reliably with a punctuation mark such as a series of three astericks or number signs.

It's the going into a flashback that's the trickiest.

You might google 'flashbacks in writing' to get more (and better) advice. Just one writer-to-writer type suggestion. Consider opening in the flashback, then have him wake up (flash forward), do what you want, then have the female join the scene. This way you avoid a flashback and can then, if you wish, open with a bit more action.

glasses8

RUMPLATIONS (in, The Pub, forum) Home of the Lush 'in' crowd: indecent, intoxicated, & insolvent. Check it out.

FROM:
Becky -- FOR: Matt -- With Love:
a Festive contest winner – honest

HOW HUMANS DO IT: a fish-eye view of sex an Editor's Pick - no kidding

GETTING A LOT OF WHAT SHE WANTS a Recommended Read...believe it or not
Guest
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:38:22 AM

Rank: Lurker

Joined: 12/1/2006
Posts: 816,693
Thank you ... I'd love your opinion on the result of my efforts!

Its the story striking for gold on the front page at the moment!
RumpleForeskin
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012 1:35:13 PM

Rank: The Right Rev of Lush

Joined: 7/3/2009
Posts: 3,311
Location: Lost in the desert west of Apache Junction, USA
Skinny, as I mentioned in my comments, you have a real talent as a story-teller. There are technical, 'craft of writing' type areas, such as wordiness that need work, but all of them can be fixed.

As for your flashback, IMHO, the transition into the flashback lasted too long. Variations of 'remember' appeared for several paragraphs into the FB. I believe it was the writing coach,
Sol Stein who said to get out of the transition ASAP. In your story, the reader doesn't need to be reminded this is a flashback.

Bottom line is, you earned the five I gave you. Yes, there are areas that need work, but they can be learned.

Thanks for the read and good luck with your writing.

:glasses8

RUMPLATIONS (in, The Pub, forum) Home of the Lush 'in' crowd: indecent, intoxicated, & insolvent. Check it out.

FROM:
Becky -- FOR: Matt -- With Love:
a Festive contest winner – honest

HOW HUMANS DO IT: a fish-eye view of sex an Editor's Pick - no kidding

GETTING A LOT OF WHAT SHE WANTS a Recommended Read...believe it or not
showmeguy
Posted: Saturday, October 11, 2014 2:18:17 PM

Rank: Rookie Scribe

Joined: 10/9/2014
Posts: 1
Switching tenses is something that many great writers do all the time. Tense is a feature of language and grammar, and as such is a tool the writer can exploit. I recall reading a novel written in the past tense by an author who was a slave to tense. He wrote about something he and his brother had done long ago when they were in elementary school. The sentence that jarred my reader's ear was: "My brother was two years older than me."

Now, I have a brother and he is two years older than me. He has been two years older than me for as long as I can remember, and he has never gotten more than two years older than me. Never. There is no good reason for that sentence to be in the past tense.

I received a manuscript of a novel written in the past tense, and there was action in the past of that past, with the result that the word "had" appeared 18 times on the first page. This is not good writing, and it is not good reading either. I call such writers "haddocks."

You can think of writing as having two aspects, which I call articulation and imagery. Tense is a part of articulation. The important part of creative writing is the imagery aspect. You need to be articulate; you need to have some structure that supports your imagery, but you do not want the articulation to call attention to itself. Consider these two sentences:

I would have had to have left earlier if I had wanted to be on time.

AND
I was late again. Mary will kill me.

Some people like the articulation of the first sentence. It flatters their sense of grammatical perfection that they can follow the intricacy of past and past perfect tenses without effort or without getting confused.

There is nothing inherently wrong with switching tenses. You should do it gracefully, which takes some extra work. The reader is not apt to be confused so long as the sequence of images has continuity and the story is developing. If switching tenses jolts the reader in a way that makes him aware of the articulation and he loses contact with the imagery, then you have failed as a writer. But the same is true if your writing becomes awkward by maintaining an arbitrary tense.

In erotic writing, it can be very effective to have a sex scene in the past tense and orgasm in the present tense.

MsTrib
Posted: Monday, November 7, 2016 1:06:26 PM

Rank: Forum Guru

Joined: 10/19/2016
Posts: 115
Location: United Kingdom
Guest wrote:
Hi,

I may be committing a cardinal writing sin, but I have a story that I have nearly finished which basically revolves around a chance encounter between a guy and girl, but I am writing it from the point of view of the guy the morning after. It is looking likely to be 4-5000 words.

Basically, in summary:

Start of the story involves him waking up, then trying to recollect what happened.

Basically, he makes about three distinct moves around the flat he is in, recollecting more and more about what happened and who he was with.

It ends when she comes back and they talk.

OK, so my question, or my request for advice, is about how to handle the change in tenses. Within the context of the actual writing, I am happy with the way it is reading, but my BIG CONCERN, is how it will read. Should I do something in the formatting to differentiate between the present and the recollections?

Any advice appreciated.

SDIMDM



I totally sympathise with this. I really struggle with verb-tenses and keep getting referred back to them by the verification team. Think I'll write in present tense only from now as it's beyond me. Good luck to all who struggle as I do and any tips would be greatly received.

Hey sister, The waters sweet but blood is thicker.
Saucymh
Posted: Saturday, November 12, 2016 10:13:06 AM

Rank: Story Verifier
Moderator

Joined: 10/23/2014
Posts: 506
Location: United Kingdom
There's nothing wrong with switching tenses in a story if it's done deliberately. Present tense stories with past tense flashbacks are great. It adds depth and interest. Unfortunately, a lot of writers accidentally switch between the two. That's not okay. It should be obvious when reading that the switch is deliberate. If it's not, then it doesn't work. My 2 cents



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