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Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago

Okay, I have no excuse for having this problem (I got a 34 on both the reading and English parts of the ACT despite missing half the reading test while outside trying to de-stress), but for whatever reason, this is vexing the hell out of me.

Here's the issue: most of my game is written in present test, but when describing an ancient city (one that still exists in the story), every instinct in my body is demanding that I use the past tense to describe it and what goes on in it. For example, "[Insert city name] was a bustling metropolis, with a very large underground illegal fighting circuit. Some fought for the money, given the lucrative gambling market, but most were after the prestige of being the best."

No matter how many times I try to write that sort of description of a city in present tense, it ends up sounding stupid to me. I keep reverting to past tense descriptions. So the question for the day is this: is there ever going to be a grammatically consistent and correct situation where the story is written in the present tense, but long-standing institutions such as ancient cities are described in the past tense? I should point out that there is no mixing of tense within paragraphs or sentences.

It may just be that I'm having this problem because nearly every novels is written in the past tense. Maybe that keeps subconsciously creeping into my mind, but I am completely at a loss with this issue. Whatever the cause of my problem, thanks for any help!

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
Even when the action occurs in the present, characters or narrators can comment on things that happened in the past.

E.g.

We march onto the wide barren plain. A grand city stood here, centuries ago. Merchants rambled through cobbled streets, peddling chickens. Monkeys tossed poo. And children ran naked through the streets. But no more. We merely pass through a wide desolate landscape.

Edit:

Could still be done in present if you really wanted.

E.g.

Legend tells of a city in the far northern mountains. A city where merchants peddle poo and monkeys rule men. Hippos guard the city walls, firing dung cannons at marauders. Or so the legend claims.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
What if the city still stands? And you're about to enter it? In that case I'm thinking it all has to be present tense, right?

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
Well, if you're walking through the city, then you're probably narrating things that are presently happening.

If you're still outside, you could maybe be musing on how the city was previously.

Hell, you could even muse on how the city used to be while walking through the city and then contrast that with what is happening in the present.

---

Just take away this. If you're describing something that is CURRENTLY happening, then you have to stick with present tense since that's how you're telling the story.

If you're describing something that had happened, well, then it's not presently happening, is it?

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
What if it's something that happens now and in the past (and in perpetuity)? E.g., "the city was full of drug dealers" versus "the city is full of drug dealers."

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
The city used to be full of drug dealers and is still plagued by them to this day.

The city has a history of drug dealers.

You observe a grungy man peddling crack. “I see things haven’t changed?@ you mutter.

You’re really overthinking this.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
The city has always been full of drug dealers.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
The city of Camelface had been founded two hundred years ago by a traveling fortune teller. Clowns and freaks and carnies of all kinds had flocked to her banner and the selling of popcorn and peanuts funded the war against PETA. Now, trained elephants patrol the walls, one of them tipping a comically tiny hat at you before lumbering over to turn the crank to open the gate.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
You're a wizard, Harry.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
Then you wake up and realize it had all been a dream.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
The Ghost People reference? Lol.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
I think that you'll just have to follow the grammar rules over what your brain is telling you here. Something that might make it easier is showing more. For example, instead of just saying it's a bustling metropolis, describe the many merchants, yelling at the top of their voice to be heard over the noise of the crowd. Or perhaps show us how a man bumps into a woman, sending her bags flying from her hands. He doesn't even notice however and is swallowed by the crowd once more, leaving her to pick the vegetables from the bricks on the ground.
I just gave you 2 brief descriptions of situations without any imagery and my examples were probably not the best, but I hope you get the point. If you talk about some event that is clearly happening now, that should make it harder for you to switch to the past. Remember that when you describe the city, the protagonist is actually there, seeing it with their own eyes, unless the city is from a memory.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
Thanks to all for the replies. In any event, I think there are certain exceptions. For example, you could say, "the city has always been a den of thieves," and you wouldn't necessarily be sacrificing the presence of the moment. Just adding, "and it still is today" should solve that problem.

But I'll go with consistency instead of instinct born of reading a bunch of novels written in the limited third person past tense.

Grammatical issue with past/present tense

5 months ago
"The city has always been a den of thieves" is Present Perfect Simple. By saying that, you already tell us that it still is one, so adding that would be redundand. Of course, I suck at this thing called English, so I might be wrong. But for example, if you say "They have been living here since 1992" (Present Perfect Continuous), it is clear that they still do. If you however say "She has already done her homework" (another example of Simple) that means that she isn't doing it anymore.