Watch Your Tenses

Few things will pop me out of a story faster than a sudden change in tenses. One minute, we are in the past tense, then poof! we are in the present tense. It’s even worse when the change happens in the middle of a sentence. He ran over to where she stands putting up decorations. It doesn’t take much to see that and correct it. He ran over in the past to where she stands in the present. It’s enough to pop a reader out of the story. A little proof reading can prevent it, if the writer cares enough about the story to do so.

I have the computer read me the story. Well, when the piece is short enough. I have let the computer read scenes or chapters in longer works. The computer doesn’t sound like a real person reading the story. But I can hear the typos and where I’ve made inadvertent tense changes, not that I do that very often. That’s the easiest way to proof read, have the computer read it. Or you could read it aloud yourself.

It seems to happen more in stories written in present tense than in past tense. I suspect that’s the author trying to write to draw the reader in. It can work well, but the writing should remain in one tense throughout the piece. If it doesn’t, I know I pop out of the story. My mind tries to cope with time traveling characters in a story that has nothing to do with time travel. The two characters above were doing what I call inadvertent time traveling. He was in the past while she was in the future. As I mentioned that’s easier to see than if the two characters time traveled in separate sentences.

“I wish you weren’t leaving.” He tells her.

“I wish I wasn’t either.” She folded a sweater and put in in her suitcase.

In that bit of dialog, he was in the present. She was in the past. Again, simple proofreading can help you overcome that. Read the piece and you should find any instances of changing tenses. Pay attention when you are writing. You can completely end inadvertent time travel.

If you find yourself switching to past tense when writing a story in the present tense or vice versa, stop. Think about which tense makes the story better. You may find it is your subconscious mind wants the story in the other tense. If you find it during revision, well, that’s what revision is. You find mistakes and correct them. The simple act of reading can fix so many problems. So when you finish a piece, read it. Then make any changes you need to. Then read it again, line by line to ensure that the story is the way you want it. After all, why should you expect others to read your story if you aren’t willing to do so yourself?


I am not one who is comfortable talking about myself but here goes. I enjoy writing, family history, and reading. I decided to do this blog because I wanted to try something new. I decided to make it a weekly blog because I wasn't sure that I could keep up with a daily one, and monthly seemed like I was writing a magazine. I think I did ok with my choices. You'll notice that there are not a lot of graphics on my site. That's because there are graphics plastered everywhere on the Internet and those sites sometimes take forever to load. This blog is a place where you can kick back, relax and be ready to be amused. At least I hope I willbamuse you. This blog is on a variety of subjects from my ficitional cat agency, the FFL, which is monthly, to instructional blogs to editorials, which are my opinions only. I admit that I don't know everything and could be wrong -- I frequently am. Now, stop reading about me and read what I have to say!

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© Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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