Tink...tink...tink...anyone out there? Hi! I'm Barbara Donlon Bradley - Author - editor and slightly crazy - ask anyone in my family. I hope to use this blog to talk about writing, editing and whatever pops in my head. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Down the Bones: Past Tense Vs Present Tense

Past tense or present tense - which one will work best for your manuscript? I have found it easier to tell a story in past tense. But I think it comes naturally for me because most of the books I read are in past tense.

I know it can be a little confusing when writing dialog, character thoughts, and description. When and where should you use the present tense vs the past tense?

The best rule of thumb I can give you is the one I use - if in dialogue use present tense. Description is normally in past tense.

Here's an example:

"And Bob stands there while she dumps the whole jar of pickles on him." - how many times have you retold and used present tense to retell a story? As a writer you need to trust your instincts on something like this.

Bob stood there while she dumped the whole jar of pickles on him. - I took the quotes away and turned it into a description so I used past tense.

But what about thoughts?

Most publishers want you to use them sparingly so I'd try to stay away but if you feel the need.

Bob stood there. Please tell me she's not going to dump that whole jar on me. - Bob stood there - past tense because it's a description. Please tell me she's not going to dump that whole jar on me. - internal dialogue - changed to first person and present tense.

I hope this makes sense to you as you write. The one thing I'm trying to say is to watch your tenses as you write. You should be sure if you are writing in present tense you need to stick to it. Same thing with past tense. 

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