When Writing Becomes “In-Tense”

Author: “Doctor, Doctor, Sometimes I write in the present, sometimes I write in the past. What’s wrong with me?”

Doctor: “It’s obvious… You’re two tense!” boom boom.

With my first novel, Legitimate Targets, I wasn’t happy with the way it read, but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. Until, that is, another writer read a few chapters and immediately identified the problem – I was changing tenses and was even doing it within the same sentence.

For example, “He crawled to the door, keeping his back to the wall.” Argh, both past and present tense.

It can work in the same paragraph however, For example, ( PRESENT TENSE: “Tonight, as she lay in bed waiting for him to come home, Rachel was wearing one of Jake’s T-shirts.  The air was thick and humid. Even with the curtains open and the window ajar, there was no breeze.  Sleep had been elusive. PAST TENSE: She kicked off the thin sheet, pulled the t-shirt over her head and flung it across the room. She lay back again and looked down at her naked body. Thin fingers of pale moonlight stretched into the room from the window, highlighting and caressing her curves.  She reached down and stroked her thighs. Closing her eyes, she wished now more than ever, that Jake was beside her.)

 I went throught the whole novel and changed most of it to the past tense and the difference to the readability was startling.

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