Devin_Strauch's picture
Devin_Strauch from Denver, Co is reading Joyland March 29, 2016 - 10:56pm

I usually always write in first person present . Lately I started work on a 3rd person past tense book. The switch has been mainly easy, but I catch myself writing some present tense words, mainly to help clear timelines on when something happens. 


I found some examples from The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith to give example of what i'm doing and what is confusing me.

first example:

"Finally he pulled on his overcoat and walked, in what was now a downpour, down a sodden, dark Charing Cross road to buy food at the nearest supermarket. There had been too many takeaways lately."


Emphasis added by me. The narrator seems to exist in that time as if it's the present tense, but still describes action in the past tense. I can't seem to find any rules that dictate how this works.
another example from the same book: "...people were trapped in cars, or evacuated from homes and now huddled in emergency centers"


Essentally my question is how can the narrator be using the word "now" in a past tense book? I mean, I think the writing is great, and it works and has clear meaning. But still i'm confused with my own personal writing: can the narrator  use present tense modifiers to describe the time of an action relative to a story, as  as long as character actions and place descriptions AND VERBS of the sentance are kept in the past tense? It seems that's the biggest thing in the examples above that I just noticed, so maybe I just answered my own question: the verbs are past tense (pulled, had been, were, evacuated, huddled), and that's what makes it not break tense? It still seems weird to have past tense verbs but present tense modifiers for time. 


any help would be great. Maybe a nice long article I could read to wrap my head around this? 

 

Thanks! 

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann March 30, 2016 - 4:48am

This is the past perfect tense. Adverbs don't necessarily carry a tense by themselves, although they are often used in conjunction with tenses. "Now" is in past perfect tense because it is preceded by the past tense form of the verb "to be." "Lately" doesn't carry a tense for the above stated reason.

The main function of the adverb "now" is to indicate that something happened at a specific and immediate moment in time (immediately before or after: e.g., Did you hear that just now?; Come inside now). "Now" in the past tense means effectively "in the new circumstances," "at the time under consideration," "at the time referred to." You are telling a story that exists in linear time, and so long as that is true, it will make sense to use the word "now," e.g., "Now the time had come to etc. ..."

This discusses the past perfect: http://www.davidappleyard.com/english/tenses.htm

edit: This may make it less daunting to wrap your head around.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal March 30, 2016 - 6:27pm

^what she said

razorsharp's picture
razorsharp from Ohio is reading Atlas Shrugged March 31, 2016 - 4:05am

Although your examples don't actually use present tense in a past tense narration, if you'd like to read some examples check out William Faulkner. Light in August comes to mind. He switches to present tense at times as a sort of change of pace to emphasizes certain parts. But he does this for a paragraph or more at a time, he doesn't intersperse present tense into past tense sentences.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 31, 2016 - 9:40am

Can? Whenever the author decides. That doesn't make it a good idea.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal April 1, 2016 - 9:25pm

There's a book I haven't read called Speed of Dark that does present tense for an Autistic character and past for the rest to emphasize the difference in how they think. I should probably read it just to see what the author did.

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest April 2, 2016 - 8:28pm

1. There was no past perfect in the excerpt (past perfect usually includes "had" and describes a past before the current past).

2. You can put some present tense within a past tense narration. Obviously you can do this in dialogue. It's trickier in narration, and is usually done for the sake of voice. For example: I really dug Suzie. What's not to like? She fucks like an angry man, doesn't say more than a hundred words a day, and she makes me breakfast in the morning. - - the idea being that these attributes have happened in the past and the narrator expects them to be continuing.

 

 

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann April 3, 2016 - 11:45am

There was no past perfect in the excerpt

 

"There had been too many takeaways lately."

"...people were trapped in cars, or evacuated from homes and now huddled in emergency centers"

As you said, Past Perfect allows you to refer to "a past before the current past," which is why words like "now" and "lately" are acceptable to use. This function of Past Perfect is used in combination with Past Simple, since Past Simple is what grammatically gives you the "current" past. The link I attached has some good examples: "Rosalind, who was now quite breathless (Past Simple), had climbed ten flights of stairs (Past Perfect)." :)

For the second one, it should be "had + verb", but "were trapped" there is synonymous with "had been trapped". If it said "people were trapped in cars, or evacuated from homes, and some of them huddled in emergency centers", implying that these things are all happening to different groups of people in one given time in the past (where "were trapped" is continuous), then it would not be Past Perfect. However, the sentence is saying that the first two things happened to a group of people in the past before this past ("were trapped" is a past state, not a continuous one), and the last thing is now happening to that same group of people in the current past. I'd say those layers of past-ness, for lack of a better word, can be understood to make it fulfill the functions of Past Perfect tense to speak about the past before the past.

I hope that makes sense! Confusing time travel talk.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal April 3, 2016 - 9:07pm

2. You can put some present tense within a past tense narration. Obviously you can do this in dialogue. It's trickier in narration, and is usually done for the sake of voice. For example: I really dug Suzie. What's not to like? She fucks like an angry man, doesn't say more than a hundred words a day, and she makes me breakfast in the morning. - - the idea being that these attributes have happened in the past and the narrator expects them to be continuing.

 

Whoa. So, is Suzie on like, Tinder, or..?

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest April 4, 2016 - 7:27pm

I missed the "had" though I'm not really sure if that's past perfect. Is "had" plus a "to be" verb past perfect? 

past perfect |ˈˌpæst ˈpərfəkt|
adjectiveGrammar
(of a tense) denoting an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied, formed in English by had and the past participle.

"were trapped" is passive, not past perfect.

 

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money April 5, 2016 - 1:18pm

"were trapped" is passive, not past perfect

Passive voice can will be used in different tenses. (some version of future tense, I'm sure Bethwenn can identify. EDIT: Now that I think about it, "can be used" is really more a modal present tense.)

Passive voice is used in different tenses. (present tense)

Passive voice was used in different tenses. (simple past)

Passive voice had been used in different tenses. (past perfect)

All passive voice. Passive voice is not a tense, it's a grammatical form where the object of the verb is the subject of the sentence.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal April 11, 2016 - 8:33pm

Too much terminology in this thread, not enough examples.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 13, 2016 - 7:52pm

Where is a good break down of all the tenses in English?