Tense and Narrative Voice

Tense, at first glance, seems like an easy enough thing to understand. Right now, I am writing in present tense. It is easy to do so for me because this blog is following my stream of consciousness, and I think in present, not past tense. It’s harder to do when you’re writing a story, because it’s more tempting to say, “Sally went to the market” than it is to say, “Sally goes to the market.” Even if you start out a story in present, it’s easy to accidentally slip into past. i.e. “Sally goes to the market and picks out a nice bouquet of flowers. She stands in line for a long time. The cashier was very slow.”

If you choose to narrate in the present tense, that is your choice. You just have to constantly remind yourself to keep to the right tense until it becomes more natural to write that way. Also, some stories just sound better in the past. If your writing starts to sound awkward in the present tense, it might be because it is meant to be in the past. Sometimes it is necessary to try out both and see which you like more.

Narrative voice is another thing to think about here. Is your narrator one of your characters? If so, is he/she narrating as an adult about something that happened to him/her as a child? Is your narrator still a child, describing every event as it happens? Those two scenarios call for past tense narration and present tense respectively. If your narrator is not a character, but rather a third person omniscient or close third person, then you have more leeway. Maybe your third person narrator is talking about stuff as he/she sees it happen as in my Sally examples, or maybe they are telling what has already happened. That is all up to you, and maybe to your readers (friends and family who read this stuff because they love you). If you have someone read it, don’t take offense to any criticism they give you, just learn from it.

My next post will focus more on narrative voice, and how to make it fit with your narrator.

That’s all for now.

Word of the Day: Pompous (adj) – Characterized by an ostentatious display of dignity or importance.


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