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  1. #1
    Sam Fletcher
    Guest

    I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    These are a couple of paragraphs from my current chapter (chapter 13). The old wizard (Nathrum) is slowly slipping into insanity and his young apprentice (Theore) doesn't know what to do. In order to distract himself he goes outside to gather wood for the fire so that he can begin to cook breakfast.

    He opened the back door and looked out. The wood was piled end to end and covered with wood chips to keep the winter moisture out. It wasn’t cold enough to need a jacket so Theore dashed out to the pile and back. One arm load of wood wouldn’t last very long but it was enough for a light lunch and that’s all he wanted. Nathrum used to get the wood, or at least part of it, but he wouldn’t be getting anymore because, because… No, it was best to think of something else. The trees were all turning to red and gold, and the ground was nearly covered with a carpet of their remains that crackled with every step. Nathrum would want him to clean them… Well, who’s knows what Nathrum would want. Maybe he would write their names vowing revenge against every leaf that the trees had allowed to fall.
    Oh, this could not continue, Nathrum lying brittle and alone like a fallen leaf, dying slowly as the darkness worked it’s way into his heart? What would he be when the process was complete. Theore had already lost him. He had died in the black pool. This thing lying in Nathrum’s bed was not his master. It was something else, some alien, foreign creature that spoke with his lips and reveled in his memories; a not him, but almost him. He wanted to throw the firewood against the fence. He wanted to take a piece of it and kill the thing that had taken his master from him. But there was still something of Nathrum left in it, and if he killed it then his master was truly be gone. So he just stood there and did nothing because there was no right thing to do.

    The problem is that in these two paragraphs I use...
    ..."had" 4 times
    ..."was" 10 times
    ..."would" 4 times
    out of a total of 298 words

    Two questions.

    1. Is this going to be a serious impediment to getting my book published?
    2. Can you give me specific suggestions on how to change the past tense verbs in order to make it better?

    I know that this is a bit intrusive and niggling but I really feel like this is something I need to work on.



  2. #2
    Busy Lizzy
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    As far as I'm concerned, this reads well and there is no reason to get all fret up about using the past tense.

    Most books are written in the past tense and then you naturally need some "hads, wases and woulds".

    But they don't influence the readabilty of your text at all.

    Just write on and stop worrying about something not worth worrying about.

  3. #3
    james heller
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    'He opened the back door and looked out. The wood was piled end to end and covered with wood chips to keep the winter moisture out.'

    I would he more concerned with the repetative use of words (you ended both sentances with the word 'out') and the use of several short sentances in a row.

  4. #4
    Rogue Mutt
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    Really, most books are written in past tense.

  5. #5
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    Simple past tense is fine. "Had" is unnecessary most of the time, just remove it. You are correct to question your use of the verb "to be"; it deadens writing. Also, the words "would", "could", and "should" require some caution as well. Here is my re-write with an over 25% reduction in words:

    Theore peered out the back door at the wood piled end to end and covered with wood chips to keep out the winter moisture. He dashed to the pile and back with an arm load of wood, enough to cook a light lunch. Nathrum used to get the wood, or at least part of it, but not anymore because, because… No, better to think of something else. Red and gold leaves painted the trees, and nearly covered the ground with a crackling carpet. Nathrum would want him to clean them...

    Oh, this could not continue…Nathrum lying brittle and alone like a fallen leaf, dying slowly as the darkness worked its way into his heart. What would he be like at the end of the process? Theore already lost him; he died in the black pool. This thing lying in Nathrum’s bed was not his master. It was something else, some alien, foreign creature that spoke with his lips and reveled in his memories; not him, but almost him. He wanted to throw the firewood against the fence, or maybe use a piece to brain the thing that stole his master from him. But something of Nathrum still lived in it, and if he killed it, he killed his master. So he just waited because no right action presented itself.


    I didn't understand the vengeance line - it seemed kind of silly to me, so I removed it. It reads better without it. Loved the first sentence of the second paragraph - great transition.

    I assume you've seen my list of empty verbs that everyone ridicules. You would do well to rid your writing of empty verbs and replace them with better more descriptive verbs. Unless of course you're one who ridicules, then pack your writing with as many dead verbs as you want.

  6. #6
    Sam Fletcher
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    Thanks John. I've copied off your paragraph and will compare it to my original.

    As I mentioned this is the 13th chapter and the vengeance line has to do with material that has come before and is necessary to flow of the story.

    I haven't seen your list of empty verbs, but will try to find them. There's probably a link somewhere that I haven't seen yet.

    Thanks to you all. This is the kind of feedback that I needed.

  7. #7
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    Hereya go.

    Follow these four principles as much as possible, and your writing will improve and become more lean. Several other considerations enter the mix as well, but these four, and especially the first two, enliven writing.

    1. Write in simple present tense (he sits, they write) or simple past tense (he sat, they wrote). "ing" verbs often blunt meaning and helping verbs usually just clutter writing.

    2. Write in active voice, not passive voice, unless you seek to emphasize either the passivity of the subject or the unintentionality of an act. Ex: The car hit the man (active), The man was hit by the car (passive).

    3. Eliminate any variant of the verb “to be” (be, been, being, am, are, is, was, were). #1 and #2 usually achieve most of this goal.

    4. Eliminate any variant of the following empty verbs. Replace them with stronger more descriptive verbs. Writers employ some of these verbs to good effect as nouns or adjectives, or as verbs with a meaning different than ordinary. Ex: The boy suffers deep want; He is a man on the take (or make or go, but careful with idioms); His use of her shows glaringly on her face.
    to have - have, having, has, had
    to do - do, doing, done, did
    to take - take, taking, taken, took
    to make - make, making, made
    to go - go, goes, going, gone, went
    to see - see, seeing, seen, saw
    to look - look, looking, looked
    to use - use, used, using
    to get - get, got, getting, gotten
    to keep - keep, keeping, kept
    to seem – seem, seeming, seemed
    to want - want, wanted, wanting

  8. #8
    Rogue Mutt
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    Argh, spare us from the "Four Principles" again.

  9. #9
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    They weren't meant for anyone but Sam. He wanted them; I provided them. I already know you have no use for any kind of writing standards. Your last post of your writing made that abundantly clear.

  10. #10
    Rogue Mutt
    Guest

    Re: I have a tendency to write in the past tense

    Your last post of your writing made that abundantly clear

    Um, how do you figure that?

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