Tense Control: How to Maintain it?
By Lisa Brown
Deciding to write in past, future or present tense can leave you wondering which might be best.
What about switching tenses in writing?
There really is no right or wrong answer as all options are valid and important in writing. Many writers suggest using past tense when it comes to novel writing.
Think about it. Writing in the future tense may work for some writers but you will soon run out of things to write. This might be more appropriate for short story writing.
The present tense is not the worst and many writers also prefer to write in the present tense. Past tenses stay on top as the most popular form of writing novels. This is just the way readers expect a story to be told.
Professional / Educational Writing
Let’s say you are doing your SOP (statement of purpose) formatting and all of a sudden you realise that you wrote the entire piece in the future tense. This will less likely be the case because it is a professional type of writing.
By the time you do your statement of purpose formatting, you’ll probably realise that you’ve written it either in present tense but most likely in the past tense.
This is because you are introducing the committee to who you are and talking about your achievements and qualifications. It will just make for a better read if you’ve written this in the past tense.
The same applies to essay writing. Narrative writing is what is usually associated with essay writing. You can really switch between past, present and future verb tenses here, but it’s not that simple.
The key is, when you start writing in a particular tense, you have to be consistent unless there is a valid reason to switch between tenses. A good writer will be able to switch effortlessly when needed.
I already stated that my preference for storytelling is using the past tense. Here are my reasons why.
1. You can switch between the order of events happening. Time can be manipulated when writing in past tenses.
2. When writing in the present tense, there is no future yet, so it limits your writing. With past tense, you can decide at what pace the story goes because you know there is still more to come. With the present tense, it’s just a blank.
3. Character and the narrator are separated by time. The narrator can almost look back and see what happened or could have happened to the character and tell it from that angle.
4. Your writing will sound more natural and will flow better. You are able to have flashbacks to what your characters might have gone through and how they felt.
For fiction writers, switching from past to present tense in a story is possible. But it is also important to choose the correct point of view for a novel.
When you’re writing an online article or post, you are probably talking about something that happened already. Unless of course, you are writing as an event is happening, which seems unlikely.
Blog writing is often times like news reporting. You are telling the reader about events that occurred before you sat down to write.
Of course, the flow would be more natural, and you can then also give your opinion about what your story is based on.
Be aware at the beginning of your blog about the tense you are using to write. Here is an example of how the impact differs depending on the tense you use.
I was walking down the stairs, and there he stood, staring at me. My emotions were all over the place, and I had all intentions to run away, but my body could not move.
I am walking down the stairs, and he is standing right in front of me. He is just staring at me. My emotions are all over the place, and I am thinking about running away. My body does not want to move.
Writing about an experience before it happened is almost impossible.
Writing in the past tense has a better flow to it for a great blog post. This is why I love blogs written in this tense. You can remember every emotion you were feeling.
There is also the hope that the story will end with a happy ending. You cannot do that with the present or future tense.
Here are some ways you can control your tenses.
Figure out your natural tense
You will be able to write more naturally if you figure out what tense you use in your head. There will be a lot of time saved by doing it this way. Less time will be spent on revision.
If you write in perfect tenses that you’re not familiar with, such as present perfect or future perfect, you will find yourself shifting back to your natural tense somewhere along the line.
Then you have to go back and correct all those mix-ups.
Talk in your head
Imagine you are having a conversation with a good friend in your head. Don’t actually say anything out loud, but just silently think about how the conversation will go.
If you imagine you are talking to your friend and say something funny, surely your friend will smile or laugh. Now when you write your dialogue, you can add “she laughed”. This is also great when you put yourself in the shoes of the character.
Proofread or hire an editor
It’s easy to confuse your tenses or to go back and forth amongst them. You will have to proofread your work and even ask a friend or family member to do the same.
If all else fails and you are still not confident, consider hiring an editor to do all the hard work for you. We become a bit biased when it’s our own work and getting an outsider’s opinion is very important. They might pick up mistakes we take for granted.
There is so much to learn about languages, and I wonder if we’ll ever figure it all out. Learning something new every now and again will help us become better writers.
Continue to improve your abilities to produce well-written content. Tenses are very important because they transport the readers to the time of the story. There is so much power in writing and reading a good story.
More reading: Using Register In English Writing And How To Control It
Lisa Brown works as a content manager. She is specialized on writing useful articles for writers, students and people who want to improve their writing skills. Her hobby is reading, travelling and blogging. Lisa`s life motto is “Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching”.