A Tense Post

Everyone makes this mistake. Everyone. Especially in the first draft.

You’re writing in the first person and suddenly you make the switch to third person. There’s no narrative reason for this, it’s just a simple mistake. Or is it?

Sometimes Nathanielle writes a story in the first person. And in the first draft, he’ll catch himself changing tenses for no apparent reason and that’s when I go back over the story and make the necessary changes. It can also be helpful if someone highlights this during a beta or proofread because we all miss things, even if you’re like me and you edit as you go.

But can there be a legitimate narrative reason for changing tenses? In a story I’m currently working on, the tense is defined as third person present tense.

Nathanielle attempts to demonstrate present tense in the third person. Hands fly across the keyboard as Donnie Iris drowns out the ambient noise of the library. But in order to demonstrate an acceptable deviation from this tense, within the story, he remembers the first day he began the blog Confessions of Cart Jockey.

He had been an employee at Target for a while before that. At first the job was fun and it seemed as though he had earned the respect of his coworkers, but as time went on that became less apparent. In addition to the sometimes rowdy customers, Nathanielle also had to endure the disrespectful nature of the other employees, whom he would find it in him to tolerate if they would only put the same level of commitment into their jobs as he put into his, at least while on the clock.

Nathanielle returns to the third person, present tense to finish the blog post. He hopes he has given the reader a fair idea of when it is acceptable to change tenses.

That doesn’t mean you can just change tenses all willynilly. Like any rule of writing, you need to know it and follow it before you can know how to break it. And even the most experienced writers will read your first draft and call your attention to the changes in tense, just so you are aware they noticed, and they will probably think you’ve made a mistake.

That’s fine. Nathanielle reminds you that you should take all advice with a grain of salt.

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