Watch Those Tenses
By Janice Seagraves
What are tenses exactly?
There’s the past tense, the present tense and the future tense. There are more of course, but for this lesson I’m keeping it simple.
Have I lost you?
To put it simply: Past tense is things that have already happened. Present Tense is things happening right now. Future tense is things that haven’t happened yet.
Example Past Tense: Sally went to the store to get some milk.
Here I used the past tense: went
Example Present Tense: Sally is going to the store to get some milk.
Here I used the present tense: going
Example Future Tense: Sally will go the store to get some milk.
Here I used the future tense: will go.
What tense should you use for writing?
In most fictions such as romance, suspense, paranormal, fantasy etc., I suggest you use past tense as most editors (not all) will prefer it. It was explained to me this way:
“When you tell a story, you tell it like it has already happened.”
But there will be times when you’ll need to use another tense: when something hasn’t happened yet or when someone is doing something right this moment in your story.
Here’s an example from Lord of the Ring:
[Galadriel descends to a glade and fills a silver pitcher with water from a stream. She stands before an ornate stand with a shallow silver basin upon it. The Lady turns towards Frodo.]
Galadriel: “Will you look into the mirror?”
Frodo: “What will I see?”
Galadriel: [stepping up to the basin] “Even the wisest cannot tell. For the mirror… shows many things…”
[She begins to pour the water into the silver mirror.]
Galadriel: “…things that were… things that are… and some things…” [She empties the ewer and steps back] “that have not yet come to pass.”
Past tense: –ed words, had, was/were, gone, done, finished, verb forms ending in -ing.
Example: I had already studied tenses for writing.
Present tense: am/is/are, going, doing, verb forms ending in –ing.
Example: I am studying tenses for writing.
Future tense: will be/shall be/will have, verb forms ending in –ing.
Example: I will be studying tenses for writing.
As you can see –ing words work for all tenses, but –ing can weaken your prose, so don’t use them too often.