Lesson Five from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Let’s keep it in the past

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

I suppose this doesn’t work for those of you who are trying to write your novel in the present tense.  If you are, personally I have to ask you to stop.  Yes, okay, it is a style thing, but I just can’t get into it.  I’ve read a few passages in present tense, and I always end up feeling tense (as in irate).  To me, past tense is the way to go.  (Of course, maybe I just haven’t read a good one)  Anyway, for those of us writing in the conventional fashion…

This publisher noted that present tense words are okay in dialog only.  In narration, they should be cut.

Now, in the gold mine manuscript, the present tense word was “almost” used as narration.  It was “sort of” an inner thought.  The POV character looked at a big mess, and was thinking about cleaning it up, and the narration said “he’d have to tackle it today.”  Now, I think the problem is that it was set off as narration, not as a complete inner thought.  If it was in italics, like the POV character was actually saying it in his head, it may have been okay (again, this is my opinion here).   But since this writer’s style is to have most of the character’s inner thoughts as narration instead of italic thought, this publisher found the use of “present tense” words to be a problem.

So, in a nutshell… if the narration says:  He’d have to take care of things today.  This is no good.

However, if the same character says out loud, or as an inner thought: “I’ll have to take care of this today.”  That is fine.

That’s a pretty simple one, but it might be one many overlook if they have their inner thoughts as narration.  This can be overcome simply be making your inner though more concrete, and putting them in italics so it is very clear that this is an inner-thought, and not the narration.

Amendment:  Guess what?   I just found one of these in my own manuscript!  In the MC’s POV, the narration says:  – It isn’t cold, like it is here.— Now, this isn’t past tense, but the “here” sounds weird because it is in the narration.  I need to change this into an italic thought, or change the wording to be slightly more detached.  One or the other.  It is basically the same principle.

Happy editing!


8 responses to “Lesson Five from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Let’s keep it in the past

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. I love the present tense and now have a harder time getting back into the past tense for my books with the past tense. My superlong Russian historical novel is in the present tense, and I chose that because shortly before I began writing it, I read Ida Vos’s Hide and Seek. It was like a revelation to me that a book could be written in the present tense, since it made the action so much more immediate and gripping, as opposed to a story where we know everything’s in the past and that it’s been resolved. It seems more natural now to read and write in present tense. Though I began using present tense in early ’93, which I believe was quite some time before present tense became so widespread.

    • Carrie Ann: Funny, I popped over to your blog, and what you have posted is in the past tense. I’d love to see something I can connect with that is in the present tense. Everything I’ve read in the present tense, tough, has felt forced. I’m sure if it’s done well, it could work. From what I’ve seen though, it appears hard to write that way.

      • Yeah, that was from one of my Atlantic City books, which have been in the past tense since I started writing them in late ’91. I started them when I thought all books had to be in the past tense, and even after writing the books with my other two sets of characters (my Russian characters and Adicia’s story) in the present tense, the past tense just stuck with the Atlantic City characters. I guess the past tense works for those books because that’s what I’m used to writing them in, and the present tense works for the other two series because it makes the action more intense and immediate.

  3. I read somewhere that it’s okay to use present tense for thoughts. I agree that this is okay if it’s in italics, but even then, if it’s not done well I find it jarring. I like to read without noticing the technique used. If the tense jumps out at me, I try and understand why? Then I try not to make the same mistake. Easier said than done.

  4. Hi Jennifer great blog and thanks for the mention on note 127.

  5. another excellent blog post. I’m amazed at how much a story can change just by getting a goldmine manuscript edit like this one. *wink*