'This' or 'That'?

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Thread: 'This' or 'That'?

  1. #1
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    'This' or 'That'?

    Help! Another newbie here! I'm currently writing a fiction novel (Genre: detective/mystery/suspense). I'm having trouble with a construction that I have seen used many times (by famous writers, including Ken Follett), but one that confuses me. I am wrting in the past tense. Example 1: (my main character has stopped to browse around in a general store) 'He loved to browse around in places like ... do I use 'this' or 'that'? Example 2: 'He was feeling a lot better ... 'that' or 'this' morning? What are the rules or what is generally accepted here? Thank you!

  2. #2
    Member Adeline Addison's Avatar
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    Oh! I love detective novels, I look forward to keeping an eye on your progress...

    I think grammatically either 'this' or 'that' can be used correctly while keeping to the past tense, but 'that' has always felt better more... pastish. When I see 'this' my brain automatically goes into present tense mode, and it feels clumsy.

    Write the paragraph twice, once using each, and see how it flows. See which one you like better.
    Last edited by Adeline Addison; January 17th, 2011 at 07:58 PM. Reason: Need moar coffee.
    "What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if, one day, our dreams no longer needed us?"

  3. #3
    Hmmm...I don't think I personally use 'this' or 'that' in my stories... Not unless it's character dialogue. In the examples you gave, 'this' and 'that' aren't really needed.
    Example One- He often browsed in such places.
    Example Two- He was feeling a lot better the next morning.

  4. #4
    For me, "this" implies immediacy whereas "that" is more distant. I don't think the tense matters much, but the context and whichever feels right. In the example you gave I'd prefer "this" before morning.

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    Thanks ...

    Thank you, ISW ... Your first suggestion is perfect. I'm trying to get my head around your second suggestion, but (no offence) it seems awkward to me. Still you've provided some good insight into trying different re-wordings when in doubt (I guess that should go without saying)!

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    Great - right from the mouth of the moderator! Thanks, caelum. I'm going to go back through all 55,000 words I've written so far, review each example of where this construction occurs, and try to go with what "feels right"! Hope I'm not biased ...?

  7. #7
    Haha, moderators aren't necessarily wise about writing. Take their opinion as you would anyone's here: with a heavy grain of salt. And yeah, I'd go with what feels right in terms of immediacy.

  8. #8
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    As Adeline said, when you write in the past tense, there are still some things that need to be in the present tense. Even further, sometimes grammar rules need to be broken for the reading to be smooth. For example, I'm writing in the past that "he loved to browse around places like this. It reminded him of when he was a child, and he would help out at his father's general store. On one occasion (slipping further into the indefinite past, calling for past-perfect tense) when he had been running the store all by himself, a robber had come in. The robber had demanded all the money, but the poor boy had been so nervous that he had been unable to do anything but stand. The robber had eventually..." Too many "hads" break up the flow. So even though grammar calls for past-perfect, smooth reading calls for past simple: "On one occasion when he had been running the store all by himself, a robber came in. The robber demanded all the money, but the poor boy was so nervous that he was unable to do anything. The robber eventually..."

    As for an actual informed choice of this and that, refer to location rather than time. "This" is close, "that" is far, both are past or present.

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  10. #10
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    LMAO!! That's a blast from the past! Boo on Black Sheep for selling their song to a CAR!

    A bit further on the "correct grammar's not always right" theme. This is a grammatically perfect sentence:

    Jim, while John had had "had," had had "had had," "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.

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