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Phil Moscowitz
Feb 19, 2007

Avant de chanter
Ma vie, de fair' des
Harangues
Dans ma gueul' de bois
J'ai tourne sept fois
Ma langue
J'suis issu de gens
Qui etaient pas du gen-
re sobre
On conte que j'eus
La tetee au jus
D'octobre...

Question about dialogue and tense. Obviously, keeping tense consistent in a passage is important to ensure it's easily understood. But I'm in the process of writing a scene with a quick flashback to a relatively recent timeframe, and some conversation that happens in that timeframe, and I'm wondering what people think of using simple past dialogue tags as opposed to past perfect.

In other words, the scene is unfolding on a naval vessel, with two characters waiting to leave. While they are waiting, the POV character thinks about a meeting that happened an hour or so previous to the narrative. The bolded part is the flashback and the underlined verbs are some examples of inconsistent tenses.

quote:

“What about Otto’s people?” Virgil asked.

“They’re being debriefed now,” Buck said.

Once Virgil and Buck had been cleared by medical after landing on the Ponce, the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Walter McGowan, had brought them into his wardroom for coffee and a relatively gentle round of questioning. Within twenty minutes, though, a Blackhawk helicopter had arrived from Camp Lemonnier, this one carrying two men in khaki naval officer uniforms. They introduced themselves to Captain McGowan as Commanders Fanning and Giles, naval intelligence, and although the Captain outranked them both, they demanded to speak with Virgil and Buck alone. After voicing the requisite displeasure at being told what to do on his own ship, McGowan had relented and given his wardroom over.

The debrief had lasted approximately an hour, and by the end of it Virgil was exhausted. The two men in khaki uniforms weren’t naval intelligence at all, of course. They were CIA officers who identified themselves to Virgil as attached to the mission in Yemen, and they’d been hot to know what the gently caress had happened to their man in Crater.

“When did you get in country?” the one whose nameplate read "Giles" had asked Virgil.

“Today, actually.”

“We weren’t informed about any meeting with Intelligence today,” said Fanning.

“I only learned about it recently myself.”

“What did you and Metzger talk about?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” Virgil had demurred. Then they’d tried with Buck, who’d given the same response.

“Anything Metzger told you,” sniffed Giles, “you can tell us.”

“Sorry,” Virgil lied.

“Look,” said Fanning, "whatever clearance you think we need, we have."

“Not according to DD/CIA.”

At the mention of O’Brien, the two officers had exchanged a look that Virgil still couldn’t figure out.

“We’re trying to piece together what happened,” Fanning had gone on. “We’re reviewing intercepts, monitoring their social media. But nothing about the bombing anywhere. Yemeni government is investigating. Looks like nineteen civilians dead, including five al-Islah elders; forty-plus wounded. You guys are lucky you weren’t still in the building when the bomb went off.”


Now, down below inside the Ponce, Virgil thought back to that conversation and the fundamental wrongness he’d felt on hearing those words. At the time, it had just gone on top of the jumbled pile of information rattling in his head—one more factoid on top of a pile of puzzle pieces that didn’t seem to fit together. But now, standing in the belly of the Ponce, a picture was starting to coalesce.


This is a first draft and so this is how it came out. I know the simple solution is just to put all of the verbs in past perfect and I think that's what I'm going to do. I'm just wondering how this reads and generally what people think about tense in this context, especially where there are some actions that are actually taking place in the "present," but described in the flashback, e.g. "At the mention of O’Brien, the two officers had exchanged a look that Virgil still couldn’t figure out."

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Squidtentacle
Jul 25, 2016



Phil Moscowitz posted:

Question about dialogue and tense. Obviously, keeping tense consistent in a passage is important to ensure it's easily understood. But I'm in the process of writing a scene with a quick flashback to a relatively recent timeframe, and some conversation that happens in that timeframe, and I'm wondering what people think of using simple past dialogue tags as opposed to past perfect.

In other words, the scene is unfolding on a naval vessel, with two characters waiting to leave. While they are waiting, the POV character thinks about a meeting that happened an hour or so previous to the narrative. The bolded part is the flashback and the underlined verbs are some examples of inconsistent tenses.

This is probably a personal thing but I'm not a fan of how "had verbed" sounds and I try to avoid it wherever possible. I think if you keep them to single past-tense verbs and clearly denote at the start that the POV character is remembering something an hour ago, people will understand what you're doing. You already have it noted down in the last paragraph that the perspective is switching back to the present, so the end of that flashback is already marked.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Squidtentacle posted:

This is probably a personal thing but I'm not a fan of how "had verbed" sounds and I try to avoid it wherever possible. I think if you keep them to single past-tense verbs and clearly denote at the start that the POV character is remembering something an hour ago, people will understand what you're doing. You already have it noted down in the last paragraph that the perspective is switching back to the present, so the end of that flashback is already marked.

Yeah, I'd do what you need to do to get it back to past tense once you're past a para or two. People will follow it no prob if it's unambiguous.

neongrey
Feb 28, 2007

Plaguing your posts with incidental music.

Life hack: write in present tense so your flashbacks are always clear.

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


Okua posted:

We know that 500 question character sheets suck, but does anybody have some actually good resources for creating characters?
I'm starting a new novel and this time I'm trying to *actually plan things out* and have some reference sheets for setting/characters/magic stuff.

NERD ALERT!!!
If they're a central character I use character sheets from the World Of Darkness line of storytelling games.


If you're worried about mary-suing a character or having them be too perfect they're a great way of setting what they can & can't do, better yet it's graphical.

You can ignore the stuff about magical powers in the game and just use the attributes, abilities, & virtues and you shouldn't even need to worry about character creation rules. I jumped to using these after I came to realize that all of my best characters that I've created were for this silly little role-playing game I've been a part of for 7 years. Real people are bad at things and completely irrational about some things - show that.

Sitting Here posted:

woah dude sorry, I wasn't trying to pick a fight or anything. I thought you were joking because your last few posts on this page were blatantly non-serious. A bunch of us were putting serious effort into making posts about literary style vs "traditional" character-driven plots but that kind of tapered out.

I don't have any resources on writing middles because my strategy is to splart out the whole story and THEN figure out the arc. I think it's easier to deal with the middle if you don't approach it as "the middle" in the initial drafting process. But that's just me and I wouldn't necessarily advise anyone to do it the same way.

That leads me to a question I wonder about a lot: how esoteric is the actual writing process for you guys? When I try to articulate my methods sometimes, they end up sounding wrong, or they just plain don't work for other people. But I get decent feedback from readers and publications, so apparently something in there is working. Obviously, writing blogs and books have to speak in general terms because they have a wide audience. How much do you guys tend to skew the process to better suit the weird machinations of your brains?

With all the screenwriting stuff I've been doing lately I have found it effective writing a story in the order of:
Beginning -> End -> Okay how did we get there?

Then go in to throw rocks at my characters and B-Plots. My proto-first draft isn't even a full screenplay at all it literally just the beats of a story and important exchanges of dialogue. It's basically an outline but it's a very... thorough one. I've never seen anybody else's outlines of anything so I may actually be doing less of it than most people do.

code:
INT. A lovely HOUSE - LATER THAT DAY
A bland white room is painted amber with the light of the setting sun. SOME BULLSHIT 
TO SET THE SCENE AND/OR CHECKHOV'S GUN PULLSHIT

             [u]DIALOGUE[/u]
     DICK & DOUCHEBAG talk about how
     much they hate their current situation.
     DICK thinks they're hosed and wants to
     do something about it but DOUCHEBAG is 
     mostly worried about how they're going to
     score blunt wraps and Jaegerbombs if they
     become poor people.

[i]Relevant screen action.[/i]

             [u]DIALOGUE[/u]
     The two decide to rob a bank or some poo poo
     DOUCHEBAG acts like an insufferable loving
     fanboy about the old thing but DICK is DEADLY
     loving SERIOUS about that poo poo.

[i]He pulls out some BLUEPRINTS AND WIRING DIAGRAMS...[/i]

             [u]DIALOGUE[/u]
     DOUCHEBAG is too awestruck to ask where in the 
     hell DICK got all of this stuff. DICK explains
     that he's always hoped to find someone who was
     able to keep up with his lofty ambitions and
     poor life choices.                        
                                                          CUT TO:

Ironic Twist posted:

This is one of those things that comes down to writing style and it's usually a mix of both. For me, I'd rather define the setpieces that are central to the story and let all the ancillary stuff be figured out with context clues.

Buzzword City was basically how I felt about Dune when I read it fwiw and it didn't end up mattering because Herbert was able to make it feel natural, so do what you feel like you can pull off
I don't like when a story tries to insult my meager intelligence so I try not to do it in my stories. The stories I like generally try immerse you in the culture and vernacular of the world and provide significance through context. There's good books by good writers that hold your hand through everything but I've found that my favorites generally make you do some thinking about things.

SkaAndScreenplays fucked around with this message at Mar 21, 2017 around 07:40

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


Djeser posted:

present tense is a flashy, distracting fad in fiction



I'll also confidently add that I've never found an example of first person present tense that worked outside of some character relaying some anecdote or story inside of a story.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013



that was actually a joke, i really liked the present tense in Angelmaker and it never bothered me, even during the part where the girl had sex on a bed bolted to train tracks so she could get train orgasms

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


I've never read Angelmaker but if there is literal running-of-a-train in a sex-context of sex I think I pretty much have to now.

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

'Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' -Samuel Johnson

SkaAndScreenplays posted:



I'll also confidently add that I've never found an example of first person present tense that worked outside of some character relaying some anecdote or story inside of a story.

You need to read more James Ellroy then.

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


Thranguy posted:

You need to read more James Ellroy then.

I will do so.

Chairchucker
Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.

First person present tense worked p. well in Hunger Games.

neongrey
Feb 28, 2007

Plaguing your posts with incidental music.

Present vs past in general is such a minor style difference, the sheer hate some people have for it just baffles me. Inertia, man.

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


neongrey posted:

Present vs past in general is such a minor style difference, the sheer hate some people have for it just baffles me. Inertia, man.

I don't hate present tense, I've just had limited exposure to first person present tense done well as prose. I don't deny that it exists - I just haven't really seen it.

neongrey
Feb 28, 2007

Plaguing your posts with incidental music.

Nah I don't just mean you, I mean that there's a lot of people who really hate present tense in fiction, and they really want you to know that. Really, there's nothing special about it; people see bad present tense prose but I guarantee you they as much bad past tense prose, it's just that present tense prose is less common in general so it's always more noticeable.

neongrey fucked around with this message at Mar 21, 2017 around 09:36

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


neongrey posted:

Nah I don't just mean you, I mean that there's a lot of people who really hate present tense in fiction, and they really want you to know that. Really, there's nothing special about it; people see bad present tense prose but I guarantee you they as much bad past tense prose, it's just that present tense prose is less common in general so it's always more noticeable.

Gotcha. I'd be willing to go sofar as to say there's actually more lovely past-tense prose as it's more prolific.

I'm gonna be picking up Angelmaker on Djeser's endorsement and if the reviews are anything to be believed it will break the streak.

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


Sitting Here posted:

Not everyone is aspiring to be the Frank Zappa of writing.

I'd settle for being the Residents or Captain Beefheart of the literary world in all honesty...

Mrenda
Mar 14, 2012



SkaAndScreenplays posted:

I'd settle for being the Residents or Captain Beefheart of the literary world in all honesty...

How about Garage Writing? Small writers with none of the virtuosity or out-thereness of the big names but who write passionate and touching work.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

Mrenda posted:

How about Garage Writing? Small writers with none of the virtuosity or out-thereness of the big names but who write passionate and touching work.

im the skip spence of literature

star eater
Jan 1, 2006



Fallen Rib

Present and past is even more minor when I tend to write past as "present, but 10 seconds ago," which feels even more noticeable since I work a lot on discover.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Better Fred Than Dead posted:

Present and past is even more minor when I tend to write past as "present, but 10 seconds ago," which feels even more noticeable since I work a lot on discover.

can you explain

TequilaJesus
Mar 17, 2009

CONFIRMED FOR JAY

Better Fred Than Dead posted:

I tend to write past as "present, but 10 seconds ago,"

Like, you put the word "just" before every verb?

The Sean
Apr 16, 2005

Am I handsome now?



Better Fred Than Dead posted:

Present and past is even more minor when I tend to write past as "present, but 10 seconds ago," which feels even more noticeable since I work a lot on discover.

I currently do not understand this ten seconds ago.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

The Sean posted:

I currently do not understand this ten seconds ago.

I will always not have been about to understand it

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003


I'm assuming they meant writing in past tense, but not from a time after the whole story has ended. In some cases, there is a clearer sense of when in the future a story is being told from -- for example when you see asides like "I was about to be proved very, very wrong."

Not sure how that relates to mixing tenses for various times in the past, though, since the writing is still in past tense. There's not a grammatical distinction between "I climbed the stairs (10 seconds ago)" and "I climbed the stairs (10 years ago)."

star eater
Jan 1, 2006



Fallen Rib

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

I'm assuming they meant writing in past tense, but not from a time after the whole story has ended. In some cases, there is a clearer sense of when in the future a story is being told from -- for example when you see asides like "I was about to be proved very, very wrong."

Not sure how that relates to mixing tenses for various times in the past, though, since the writing is still in past tense. There's not a grammatical distinction between "I climbed the stairs (10 seconds ago)" and "I climbed the stairs (10 years ago)."

Yeah there isn't a tense confusion so much, but that's what I meant. Framing wise, I don't really relate writing in past tense as strictly "this has ended". I was pretty tired when I posted that and it doesn't really make a ton of sense or matter very much either.

The Sean
Apr 16, 2005

Am I handsome now?



Better Fred Than Dead posted:

Yeah there isn't a tense confusion s I was pretty tired when I posted that and it doesn't really make a ton of sense or matter very much either.

To be honest, i think the thread gave you the benefit of the doubt but the wording was too awesome to pass up.

crabrock
Aug 2, 2002

aka sticklegs



Grimey Drawer

I think a lot of past tense is written in that way. You're writing about something you just watched happen. like "holy poo poo, she just got punched in the face!" but instead with the benefit of a few seconds for internal editing: "Rob punched her in the face." "She punched back!"

Jagermonster
May 7, 2005

Hey - NIZE HAT!


Chairchucker posted:

First person present tense worked p. well in Hunger Games.

I read the Hunger Games when it came out and I don't remember being bothered by it.

I recently read Red Rising and it definitely bothered me in that. But that's also a garbage book for garbage people.

Currently reading Handmaid's Tale and the first person present tense is very off-putting. The book has wonky rear end prose in general. What the gently caress is this yoda-rear end sentence in chapter 2: "Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family."

Stuporstar
May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?


Jagermonster posted:

Currently reading Handmaid's Tale and the first person present tense is very off-putting. The book has wonky rear end prose in general. What the gently caress is this yoda-rear end sentence in chapter 2: "Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family."

That's stream-of-consciousness style writing. I find myself doing it sometimes when I write a difficult scene in first person, and have to decide after whether I want to smooth the sentence out or leave it choppy, in the way a character in shock would try to piece their thoughts together. Yeah, it can be off-putting until you get used to it (so if I do use it, I use it minimally, for impact). I thought in the Handmaid's Tale it was pretty well done—it gave me the sense the protagonist couldn't shake off the shock at her new hosed-up reality.

Stuporstar fucked around with this message at Mar 28, 2017 around 20:21

Jagermonster
May 7, 2005

Hey - NIZE HAT!


Stuporstar posted:

stream-of-consciousness style writing

awww crap, this is one of those?

hated reading Faulkner in school

funny how stream-of-consciousness writing results in the exact opposite style of reading in that you have to reread the same passage multiple times to figure out what the gently caress the author is talking about

Stuporstar
May 5, 2008

Where do fists come from?


Jagermonster posted:

awww crap, this is one of those?

hated reading Faulkner in school

funny how stream-of-consciousness writing results in the exact opposite style of reading in that you have to reread the same passage multiple times to figure out what the gently caress the author is talking about

It's probably one of the most readable entries in that style. If you're already past chapter 2, you pretty much already know what you're in for.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Stickying this since the OP is fantastic but we're not getting the traffic to keep it on the first page. Let me know if you think there's anything else that should get pinned, either for a while or indefinitely.

Detective Thompson
Nov 9, 2007

Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. is also in repose.

If I was going to be mentioning a specific street a few times in a story, is it acceptable to abbreviate to St. after the first time? As in, "They walked hand-in-hand down State Street." and later on, "Police cars raced down State St. as they watched.", or should it always be spelled out fully? This is outside of dialogue, of course.

HIJK
Nov 25, 2012

People were stupid, sometimes. They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library.


I vote for spelling it out.

Phil Moscowitz
Feb 19, 2007

Avant de chanter
Ma vie, de fair' des
Harangues
Dans ma gueul' de bois
J'ai tourne sept fois
Ma langue
J'suis issu de gens
Qui etaient pas du gen-
re sobre
On conte que j'eus
La tetee au jus
D'octobre...

No abbreviations.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013



Generally in prose I'd spell everything out, including numbers unless they're unwieldy to write in prose. State Street, and fifty-five, but 1849. The only time I wouldn't do that is if you're quoting a piece of written text that did use the abbreviation.

Detective Thompson
Nov 9, 2007

Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. is also in repose.

Thanks. I had the feeling it should be spelled out every time, but couldn't find anything about streets/roads/avenues in particular when I tried to look it up.

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003


Detective Thompson posted:

If I was going to be mentioning a specific street a few times in a story, is it acceptable to abbreviate to St. after the first time? As in, "They walked hand-in-hand down State Street." and later on, "Police cars raced down State St. as they watched.", or should it always be spelled out fully? This is outside of dialogue, of course.

I don't know about where you are from, but most of the time people just say the name of the street.

"I was walking down Lombard," v. "I was walking down Lombard Street." This works with numbered streets, too: "I was at the corner of Sixteenth and Park when the police cars raced past me." In this case, you would use the standard rules for writing numbers, so it would be "I was at the corner of 116th and Park." (http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/01/1...ers-in-fiction/)

This is especially, though not exclusively, true when the context clearly indicates it's a street (walking, driving, the shops along, at the east end of, at the intersection of, etc.)

Some exceptions:
1) when the type of street has become part of its name through custom (Abbey Road, Bourbon Street, Fifth Avenue, etc.), in which case both abbreviating it and leaving off the type would look unnatural.
2) when there could be confusion if you don't specify that it's a street (Hollywood v. Hollywood Boulevard).
3) For highways, use whatever the person would say out loud, probably. So I'd say I-5 up here. In Austin most people call Loop 1 "Mopac" most of the time, and the signs usually (but not always) say both. I don't know how I would deal with Austinite's calling Capitol of Texas Highway/Loop 360 only "360" most of the time....that actually seems common in a lot of places. If your narrator isn't your character, you have to figure out what it would be in the narrative voice instead.

neongrey
Feb 28, 2007

Plaguing your posts with incidental music.

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

3) For highways, use whatever the person would say out loud, probably. So I'd say I-5 up here. In Austin most people call Loop 1 "Mopac" most of the time, and the signs usually (but not always) say both. I don't know how I would deal with Austinite's calling Capitol of Texas Highway/Loop 360 only "360" most of the time....that actually seems common in a lot of places. If your narrator isn't your character, you have to figure out what it would be in the narrative voice instead.

Three-Sixty for most conversational usage, most likely, as in "I was driving down [the] Three-Sixty when I heard a thump so I pulled over and..."

One of those things where you don't think about how it's actually said most of the time. God I dealt with too many roads in my last job.

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Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003


neongrey posted:

Three-Sixty for most conversational usage, most likely, as in "I was driving down [the] Three-Sixty when I heard a thump so I pulled over and..."

One of those things where you don't think about how it's actually said most of the time. God I dealt with too many roads in my last job.

Ok, there's only one thing to do, and that's start paying attention to how other authors do this.

"When I left Lydia I didn't go straight down 101 into the city; instead, I veered off at the 580 and drove to Oakland." BUT ALSO "I drove back to the 101 and up to Sonoma County" --Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran

My ramblings:

If I read three-sixty, I definitely would not think of the road. The problem, and I don't think this is just me, is that for numbered roads like that, it's not just the sound, it's the look. Like when I read, three-sixty and 360 are not the same at all even though they would sound the same out loud. Similarly, you can't really write "the 101" as "the one-oh-one."

Everyone just writes 360 casually, and I would be inclined to do the same if I was writing from an Austin person's perspective. Maybe call it Loop 360 the first time or if I really wanted to start a sentence with it.

The 360 issue doesn't bother me as much as Highway 71, because at least 360 should be written in numerals according to the standard rules. If I saw "driving down Seventy-One," or even "Driving down Highway Seventy-One," I would not think of the Hwy 71 that I know and hate. And Oh god, what if you were talking about the part that was Seventy-One/290?!



(https://www.yelp.com/topic/austin-m...-just-wondering if you want to read a bunch of Austin people talking about roads)

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at May 11, 2017 around 22:08

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