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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » past-present tense

   
Author Topic: past-present tense
arriki
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What is this? I know past and I know present tenses. Even past perfect.

I'm being asked to show ambivalence by using "past-present" tense in a sentence. And my trusty old college grammar book has disappeared.
I tried to look it up online and got nowhere.

I feel so brain dead that I cannot think what is being asked for.

Danielle

[ August 24, 2013, 11:06 AM: Message edited by: arriki ]

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Meredith
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I don't know about ambivalance. To my knowledge, past perfect is used to show something happened farther back in the past.

Check out the explanation here:

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

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arriki
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Yeah, I understand "past-perfect"

what is "past-present" ???

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extrinsic
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Past-present isn't taught in grammar school nor even mentioned in grammar or style manuals. Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse expends a few lengthy paragraphs of a chapter expounding on the topic of the past preterite to represent a present tense transference.

Some past tense examples that illustrate past-present:

//My flailing hand knocked the vase off the end table. It shattered on the parquette floor into hundreds of glass shards. Beryl went and got the broom and dustpan.//

Each sentence is in the prescriptive past tense; however, the sentences' chronological sequence implies the actions have just now in the present happened. This is past-present tense. It's a rhetorical mode where past tense represents through a substitution scheme the present.

Read any past tense narrative and note how the sentences' sequences imply the action has just this past moment happened in the present. Past-present is the number one most common tense of fiction and creative non-fiction.

Past-present isn't per se connected to ambivalence. Ambivalence is simply conflicting emotional reactions. If a character has an ambivalent attitude toward an emotionally stimulating circumstance, he or she may be at the same time angry and pleased, afraid and confident, or blustery and reluctant, any two opposing emotional reactions.

Using ambivalence and past-present together may begin with anger first but shade sequentially into joy, without dropping the anger. Ambivalence in that sense is what people mean when they say they are conflicted. When people are conflicted they are emotionally upset from being drawn in two or more emotional directions and seeking a satisfaction soon. Ambivalence in that regard is a powerful method for emotionally engaging readers in a narrative.

[ August 24, 2013, 12:16 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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KellyTharp
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Nice explanation extrinsic . . . thanks.
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extrinsic
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You're welcome, KellyTharp.

Past-present is a creative writer's friend. Its strength is the more objective characteristic of unbiased reporting. Since it is prescriptively past tense syntax, already happened but just now happened, it feels more trustworthy and reliable than present or future tenses, yet reports the immediate past of the present moment.

Many writers use past-present intuitively and artfully without even giving it a thought. I'm one of those writers, though, who has to know what I'm doing and why so I can use exceptions, like seemlesly changing tenses for strong dramatic effect, hopefully artfully. I change grammatical persons too, third person being similarly the more objective, trustworthy, and reliable person. First person less, more subjective and unreliable; and reflexive second person, a whole other person from imperative or impersonal second person with special uses, even in a mainly third person narrative.

Past-present also works to perhaps strong dramatic effect due to its enhanced reliability when managing character voice for close narrative distance. In that scenario, third person is a transference for first person, feeling as close to a character for readers as first person by default does but more reliable than first person.

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