In Tense Writing

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Slippery Tip #5: Keep your tense consistent

This seemingly simple little rule trips up a lot of writers (including me sometimes). Your story will most likely either be told in past tense or present tense – “She fingered her pussy” vs. “She fingers her pussy.” A problem I often see is that the writer unintentionally shifts between the two tenses. There are certain cases where different tenses can be employed, but almost all of the time you need to stick to one or the other. Where I see the shift happen most often is when the story goes from general narration to the action of a sex scene. This is a natural tendency, so watch for it when proofreading your own work.

Past tense is the most common and most “invisible” tense. To keep things easy for yourself in the beginning, this should be your default tense to write in. You’ll most likely find that you don’t really have to think much about it since this is how most of us naturally tell stories to our family and friends. “So, I went to the store and bought a dozen condoms, and the girl behind the counter flashed me her boobs” more often than, “So, I go to the story and buy a dozen condoms, and the girl behind the counter flashes me her boobs.”

Where using present tense is useful is when we want to give more immediacy to a story (especially when it’s being told from a first person point of view). “I open the door and see my naked mom shove a zucchini up her snatch” instead of “He opened the door and saw his mom shove a zucchini up her snatch.” Both work fine, but using present tense has the benefit of being able to put the reader more in the moment. They’re experiencing events along with the characters, whereas with past tense the narrator is recounting events that already occurred.

The key is to consciously pick a tense before you start writing, and stick to it. When I decide to write a story in present tense I often find myself slipping into past. Once I’m done writing a story in the present tense, of often find myself slipping into it when I’m writing my next story in past. It’s a common problem, but one that’s easily fixed if you remind yourself to be aware of it when you’re proofreading your story.

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5 thoughts on “In Tense Writing

  1. Rachael, you are truly an inspiration! (And a sexual beast of the first order). Damn, I love your stories…

  2. I’ve noticed that a lot of amateur writers have a large problem keeping their tenses straight, You, m’lady I am glad to say haven’t seemed to have that problem so far.

  3. I stop reading once it’s clear that the writing is in the present tense. It makes me think that the author’s only experience with narrative is via live sports play-by-play. Regardless, mixing up the tenses is even worse.

  4. I was just working on a story today and I saw that I had some tense issues. I got so swept away in the raunchiness that I switched to present tense. I then fixed it. Writing in the first person present tense is exhausting. But I’ve done, quite a bit actually. Past tense is so much easier.

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