Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

Present Tense Question (1 Viewer)

Status
Not open for further replies.

TheMightyAz

Mentor
This is having me scratch my head and yet it feels right. My novel is in third person limited (past tense). The idea of the last sentence is to convey more a thought than simply describing. It's that 'is' that throws me. Is this grammatically correct given it's a thought layered into the narrative? I don't want to use italics or quotation marks.

edit: It's not really a thought is it. What is it about it that bothers me then? I feel as if I want to put 'was' there instead but then I'd lose some impact I feel.

In his mind, an itch. Often, he longed to scratch it with a bullet. In these moments, he felt wretched. Less a saviour and more a coward. But the relentless imperative driving him forward triumphed every time. To track, to hunt, to kill is all he was and could ever be.
 
Last edited:

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
In his mind, an itch. Often, he longed to scratch it with a bullet. In these moments, he felt wretched. Less a saviour and more a coward. But the relentless imperative driving him forward triumphed every time. To track, to hunt, to kill is all he was and could ever be.
I would suggest a comma between "coward" and But, with a small b. The "to track, to hunt, to kill," are action sequences that you are trying to ascribe as an identity for your character. For example, if you said "All he ever wanted was to track, hunt and kill. It was all he could ever do," describes the action of your character. If you want to say what he is - "he is a tracker, a hunter and a killer. That's all he could ever be." Just ponder a bit on this, AZ and I' sure you'll come up with the right answer. Try reading it out loud, which may give you some insight.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
If you are scratching your head it probably doesn't feel right. When the events of a story follow past tense, setting and philosophy can be present tense. But I would guess that present tense is more for things that are true in the actual world. So you might say "Icharon was the capital of Lenorin" and "Albany is the capital of New York."

By that formula, was is correct, and I'm guessing you would not be scratching your head over:

To track, to hunt, to kill was all he could ever be.

However, replacing is with was in your sentence creates two was's,. which I'm guessing you don't want. You should be able to change that and keep your meaning. And saying He is what he was is a little illogical.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I would suggest a comma between "coward" and But, with a small b. The "to track, to hunt, to kill," are action sequences that you are trying to ascribe as an identity for your character. For example, if you said "All he ever wanted was to track, hunt and kill. It was all he could ever do," describes the action of your character. If you want to say what he is - "he is a tracker, a hunter and a killer. That's all he could ever be." Just ponder a bit on this, AZ and I' sure you'll come up with the right answer. Try reading it out loud, which may give you some insight.
I originally had the lower b with a comma. It's beyond the simple tasks of tracking, hunting and killing. Those are what he does but it's also what he is. To cut a long story short, and to use what always comes across as a comical explanation, he's been placed under a curse/spell which drives him. He's the flesh version of The Terminator in that regard if you get my drift. He knows there's something more but every time he gets close to something approaching the truth (the itch), his life is reset and the cycle begins again.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
If you are scratching your head it probably doesn't feel right. When the events of a story follow past tense, setting and philosophy can be present tense. But I would guess that present tense is more for things that are true in the actual world. So you might say "Icharon was the capital of Lenorin" and "Albany is the capital of New York."

By that formula, was is correct, and I'm guessing you would not be scratching your head over:

To track, to hunt, to kill was all he could ever be.

However, replacing is with was in your sentence creates two was's,. which I'm guessing you don't want. You should be able to change that and keep your meaning. And saying He is what he was is a little illogical.
I'm going to give that some thought. I'm not sure it's got the weight I was looking for but I could be wrong.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Just as a tip, if I'm having that much trouble justifying wording, I typically blow the sentence up and write it differently. Sue suggested two sentences, and it's often the case we try to pack too many thoughts into one sentence, even though the sentence under discussion isn't long. Having two linking verbs in the space of four words would raise a red flag to me (if I was looking at it in my own writing), and I'd be pausing for a big think on how to rephrase to eliminate at least one of them. Maybe something like "Track, hunt, kill defined him and always would." or "Track, hunt kill defined him, and he'd never live for more." I was also a bit leery of stringing those three infinitives together.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Just as a tip, if I'm having that much trouble justifying wording, I typically blow the sentence up and write it differently. Sue suggested two sentences, and it's often the case we try to pack too many thoughts into one sentence, even though the sentence under discussion isn't long. Having two linking verbs in the space of four words would raise a red flag to me (if I was looking at it in my own writing), and I'd be pausing for a big think on how to rephrase to eliminate at least one of them. Maybe something like "Track, hunt, kill defined him and always would." or "Track, hunt kill defined him, and he'd never live for more." I was also a bit leery of stringing those three infinitives together.
It's just that 'is'. If it's grammatically correct then I'll leave it as is until later. I'm always tinkering but I feel as if it has gravitas with the repeated 'to'. A relentless inevitability. 'all he was and could ever be' is suitably fatalistic and hopeless.
 

TL Murphy

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
“…to kill is all he was and could ever be.”

In general, one should not change tense within a sentence unless there is a specific reason to do so. But this sentence poses other problems as well. “To kill” is a verb, then followed by the noun “all” which is the object of “to kill”. But this doesn’t work. The object of a sentence must refer to the noun/subject. This is like saying, “to kill is the man he was.” You would have to say ”a killer was the man he was.“. But the double verb-to-be is redundant anyway, whatever tense it is and then followed by a third verb-to-be just makes the sentence awkward. Redundancy on redundancy. Change the initial verbs to nouns, change “is” to “was” and cul the second “was”.

“A tracker, a hunter, a killer was all he could be.“
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
In general, one should not change tense within a sentence unless there is a specific reason to do so. But this sentence poses other problems as well. “To kill” is a verb, then followed by the noun “all” which is the object of “to kill”. But this doesn’t work. The object of a sentence must refer to the noun/subject. This is like saying, “to kill is the man he was.” You would have to say ”a killer was the man he was.“. But the double verb-to-be is redundant anyway, whatever tense it is and then followed by a third verb-to-be just makes the sentence awkward. Redundancy on redundancy. Change the initial verbs to nouns, change “is” to “was” and cul the second “was”.

“A tracker, a hunter, a killer was all he could be.“
Sue also suggested that and I might change it in accordance. I'd still want to write it like this though:

A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and could ever be.

I know there's a grammar problem but I feel it has more punch.

Or perhaps change the 'could' to 'would'.

A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and would ever be.

edit: Yeah, I prefer the 'would'. Could suggests he's incapable of being anything else but would suggests it's his lot in life, which is closer to the point.
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and would ever be.

edit: Yeah, I prefer the 'would'. Could suggests he's incapable of being anything else but would suggests it's his lot in life, which is closer to the point.
Does this make any difference?

Such is his lot in life: a tracker, hunter and killer are all he would ever be.

no ...
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Does this make any difference?

Such is his lot in life: a tracker, hunter and killer are all he would ever be.

no ...
A perfectly fine sentence but tonally it doesn't fit the voice I'm using. I don't intend to hold the same intensity throughout the novel but the opener, which is what I'm working on right now, needs a hard edge. We know nothing about the protag. The protag knows nothing much about himself. Therefore, the weight, authority and poetry of the prose needs to carry the piece until the action begins. Imagine a speech:


This conveys the information required:
Such is his lot in life: a tracker, hunter and killer are all he would ever be

This makes a definitive statement:
A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and would ever be.

"That's your lot in life"

v

"That's all you'll EVER be!"
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
This is having me scratch my head and yet it feels right. My novel is in third person limited (past tense). The idea of the last sentence is to convey more a thought than simply describing. It's that 'is' that throws me. Is this grammatically correct given it's a thought layered into the narrative? I don't want to use italics or quotation marks.

edit: It's not really a thought is it. What is it about it that bothers me then? I feel as if I want to put 'was' there instead but then I'd lose some impact I feel.

In his mind, an itch. Often, he longed to scratch it with a bullet. In these moments, he felt wretched. Less a saviour and more a coward. But the relentless imperative driving him forward triumphed every time. To track, to hunt, to kill is all he was and could ever be.

I see what you're saying. I suspect it's one of those situations where English is a little insufficient to capture what you want to say elegantly. In my mind, "...was all he was..." is correct but it's also messy. But using "...is all he was..." breaks the tense, assuming you don't have any other present tense type framing stuff going on. So maybe just try and rewrite it a little, and manage the flow around it:
To track, to hunt, to kill - that was all he was, and could ever be.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I see what you're saying. I suspect it's one of those situations where English is a little insufficient to capture what you want to say elegantly. In my mind, "...was all he was..." is correct but it's also messy. But using "...is all he was..." breaks the tense, assuming you don't have any other present tense type framing stuff going on. So maybe just try and rewrite it a little, and manage the flow around it:
'To track, to hunt, to kill - that was all he was, and could ever be.'

That would have sorted it. I've plumped for a compromise:

'A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and would ever be.'
 

Bloggsworth

WF Veterans
Hmm. How about:

In those moments, he felt wretched. Less a saviour and more a coward. But the relentless imperative driving him forward triumphed every time. To track, to hunt, to kill was all he was and would ever be.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
"To track, to hunt, to kill is all he was and could ever be."
Should be: Tracking, hunting, and killing...it was all he would ever be.
It would read best if you made it a standalone sentence following the previous paragraph.

And that first part, about the itch, that could be cleaned up a bit. It derails you when you read it.*

*Derailment is when a reader has to break pace and reread a phrase or passage.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
"To track, to hunt, to kill is all he was and could ever be."
Should be: Tracking, hunting, and killing...it was all he would ever be.
It would read best if you made it a standalone sentence following the previous paragraph.

And that first part, about the itch, that could be cleaned up a bit. It derails you when you read it.*

*Derailment is when a reader has to break pace and reread a phrase or passage.
I eventually opted for:

A tracker, a hunter, a killer is all he was and would ever be.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top