“Third tense”???

Today I read a blog post about mistakes made by indie authors. One piece of advice from the blogger was not to switch between third and second tense in the middle of a paragraph.

Think about that for a moment, friends…

In case you aren’t already aware of this fact, let me make it clear: There is no such thing as third tense; there’s no such thing as second tense, either.

There is such thing as third person, though.

Sometimes I forget that some writers (and readers) don’t know that tense and person are not the same thing. When I say I don’t care for fiction written in present tense, some people think I mean I don’t like fiction in which the story is narrated by the main character: I woke up in a strange place and wondered how I got there. What I actually mean is that I don’t like fiction written with everything happening right now: I wake up in a strange place and wonder how I got here.

See the difference?

If you don’t, you’re not alone.

(Some writers, by the way, would write the present-tense example as I wake up in a strange place and wonder how I get here. Don’t do that. Seriously. Just don’t.)

Person is I/we (first), you (second), or he/she/it/they (third). Tense is (at its very simplest — I’m just trying to show the difference between person and tense, not fully conjugate a dozen verbs) present (go/goes, do/does, say/says) or past (went, did, said). Person affects which form of a verb you should use, as does tense, but the terms are not interchangeable.

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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