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Understanding POV

Lesson 3: Present Tense or Past Tense

(Because beginning writers usually shift tenses, we have also included this lesson in the course.)

 You can write your story in the present tense or in the past tense. When you write in the present tense, the narration will be in the present (for example: I walk into the classroom). When you write in the past, the story will be in the past. (for example: I walked into the classroom.)

When you write, decide whether you want the story in the present tense or in the past tense. Then write in only one of these tenses. Don't change tense unless you have to (for example, if you write in the present tense and have to show something that happened in the character's past, you can change to the past.) 

Example of a story in the present tense:

Anne goes to the closet by the door to get her jacket. She grabs her jacket and runs out the house. Outside, the weather is cold. Wind is blowing, though not fast. It is late autumn. The whole ground is full of crunchy brown leaves. Most of the trees are bare, except for a few conifers.
Bob's house is at the corner of the street, not too far from Anne's. There are only a few homes in between. Anne runs to Bob's house and as she turns the corner, she bumps into someone. It is Bob.

"Hey, what's the hurry, Anne Marie?" he says.
"Bob, I wanted to talk to you. Let's go to your place." And she runs ahead of him to his house. She opens the door and walks in.

Example of a story in the past tense:

Anne went to the closet by the door to get her jacket. She grabbed her jacket and ran out the house. Outside, the weather was cold. Wind was blowing, though not fast. It was late autumn. The whole ground was full of crunchy brown leaves. Most of the trees were bare, except for a few conifers.
Bob's house was at the corner of the street, not too far from Anne's. There were only a few homes in between. Anne ran to Bob's house and as she turned the corner, she bumped into someone. It was Bob.

"Hey, what's the hurry, Anne Marie?" he said.
"Bob, I wanted to talk to you. Let's go to your place." And she ran ahead of him to his house. She opened the door and walked in.

As you can see in the above examples, only the narration changes from past to present. The dialogue remains the same. Whether you’re writing in the past tense or the present you can have dialogue both in past tense and present tense, depending on the situation.

So when can you change tenses?

You can change tenses when you give a flashback to show something that happened in the character’s past. For example, As John walked past the abandoned school, he remembered the day he had first started going to that school… (This is an example of Past tense with flashback.) The following is an example of present tense with past flashback: As John walks past the abandoned school, he remembers the day he first started going to this school…

Did you understand this lesson? Was it helpful? Any questions, ask in the classroom or email them to writestufffiction@yahoo.com. Make sure you place “Understanding POV Lesson 3 question” in the subject line.

Assignment 3a: Write a story in the present tense with past flashback.

Assignment 3b: Write a story in the past with past flashback.

 

 

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