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'07 Authors Insider Tips

FictionCraft
by Louisa Burton
Formatting Your Manuscript
Scams / Choosing an Agent
Pitching Your Novel...
From The Call to Published...


Hard Business
From Greg Herren
Who Is Telling This Story?
It’s Work, Not A Hobby
Where Ideas Come From


Sexy on the Page
With Shanna Germain
Plotting Erotic Fiction
Seducing Your Muse
Creating Characters...
Description, Action & Dialogue
Fucking on Paper
Ten No-Nos of Erotic Fiction
Climactic Moments: First Draft
Critique Groups
Revising Your Erotic Story
Finding the Perfect Markets...
Just Submit Already
Rejections and Acceptances


Two Girls Kissing
With Amie M. Evans
Verb Tense Confusion
Coming Up with Story Ideas
Attend a Writers’ Conference
The Fundamentals of POV
Should I Sign That?
Etiquette for Authors
Erotica is Serious Work
No Body Writes for Free...
Shameless Self Promotions
The Myth of Writer's Block


The Write Stuff
From Ashley Lister
The Time is Write
The Beautiful People
A Book by Any Other...
Synopsis: the Necessary Evil
Erotica or Porn?
Feedback Whine


2007 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
What's it like being a writer?
Blog
An Apology to Salespeople


Get All Worked Up
With J.T. Benjamin
About Secrets
The Perfect Fuck
About Choices
The Age of Consent
The Kingmaker
Kids and Sex
M.Y.O.B.
The Price of Beauty
The G.O.P.
All Worked Up About Hate
Real Men


Pondering Porn
With Ann Regentin
Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
Thoughts on the Orgasm Gap
The Very Bloody Marys
The Doomsday Erection
Online Threesome Porn

Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica
with Amie M. Evans



Does Verb Tense Make You Uptight?



A Reader Asks: 
Hi Amie,
Would you like to address the subject of verb tense? I've edited the story I'm currently working on to ensure that the verb tense is consistently in the simple past but sometimes I want to switch to the present tense. Is that ever okay?
Thank you,
Kathleen

Great topic, Kathleen. Verbs are critical to your writing and can also be a source of great confusion and frustration. To get us started, let’s review verbs.

What Is a Verb? 
From Webster’s: verb /v rb/ Pronunciation Key(noun) The part of speech that expresses existence, action, occurrence, state, or a relation between two things, may be inflected for tense, aspect, voice, mood, and to show agreement with their subject or object.

Verbs are the worker words that show action (to kiss, to slap, to fuck, to cuddle, etc…) or state of being (to be…in love, in lust, to want, etc…). They make the events in your stories come to life by communicating action.

What Is Verb Tense?

From Webster’s: tense (noun) a category of verbal inflection that serves chiefly to specify the time of the action or state expressed by the verb.

Verbs change tense to show time (present, past, future), that is when an action is being done or when a state of being is occurring.

Present Tense shows action or condition existing at the present time.

Past Tense shows action or conditions beginning and ending in the past.

Future Tense shows action or conditions that will begin at a future time that has not yet occurred.

Present Progressive Tense describes an ongoing action that is happening at the same time the statement is written.

Past Progressive Tense describes a past action which was happening when another action occurred.

Future Progressive Tense describes an ongoing or continuous action that will take place in the future.

Present Perfect Tense shows action that started in the past and continues into the present or which happened at an indefinite time in the past.

Past Perfect Tense shows action that started in the past and ended before another past action began.

Future Perfect Tense shows a future action that will have ended before another begins.

Present Perfect Progressive Tense describes an action that began in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future.

Past Perfect Progressive Tense describes a past, ongoing action that was completed before some other past action.

Future Perfect Progressive Tense describes a future, ongoing action that will occur before some specified future time.

Example:

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect Progressive
Present kiss/es am/is/are kissing have/has kissed have/has been kissing
Past kissed was/were kissing had kissed had been kissing
Future will/shall kiss will be kissing  will have kissed will have been kissing

Verbs also change form depending on who is doing the action or is in the state of being.

Simple Present [to kiss]  Simple Past [to kiss]
I kiss  kissed
you kiss you kissed
he/he/it kisses she/he/it kissed
we kiss we kissed
they kiss they kissed

Irregular verbs’ roots differ in form when tense or number is changed, and it is always a good idea to check a grammar book for the correct forms of irregular verbs.

What Tense Should I Use to Write My Erotic Story?
As a rule, you want to write in Simple Present and Simple Past Tense using the other tenses sparingly when needed, if at all, and avoiding the Perfect and Perfect Progressive Tenses as they are extremely cumbersome to read. Some writers prefer Past and others prefer Present. Either is fine, but not being consistent with verb tenses will cause problems in your prose. The choice of Past or Present Tense will also affect the feel of your story.

I like Present Tense for short erotica, especially when I am writing in first person, because it feels more immediate to the reader. I am in the minority on this. The events are unfolding as the reader reads them; there is an advantage to this in erotica. You can add tension and create an air of vividness and freshness in a story making it feel more immediate or urgent by writing in Present Tense. But beware: depending entirely on Present Tense instead of a strong story line, tight prose, and actual exciting events to create all of the tension and freshness in your prose will not work.

Present Tense can feel more stylized, because it's uncommon (especially for third-person narratives), but if you're writing in the first person, it can feel quite natural and you can use Simple Past Tense for flashbacks. Simple Present Tense can be difficult to use effectively. Many writers find that they slip in and out of the Past Tense when they are writing in Present. (Good editing can solve this problem on your rewrite.) Some readers don’t feel comfortable reading fiction written in Present Tense.

Past Tense is used to show events that are past. It is also the most commonly used tense in fiction. (Once upon a time, there was a dyke named Sue who lusted after Mary...) Most authors use Past Tense in their work. Many readers feel more comfortable reading Past Tense because they are more familiar with it. One great benefit of writing in Past Tense, especially in first person, is that the narrator can reflect on events as they are told since they have already happened. Time has passed so a first person narrator has had time to reflect on the events and can share insights about them that might seem unrealistic for a Present Tense first person narrator to do. But, if the narrator is first person and the story is in Past Tense, the reader on some level is aware that the narrator is relaying past events and, thus, is a live in most cases. So Past Tense can on some levels limit dramatic tension.

Ultimately whether you use Past or Present Tense is your choice. The story you are telling may demand Past or Present Tense and it is always in your best interest to listen to the story. Good writing requires that the author keeps the verb tenses consistent—using either Present or Past Tense without randomly switching from one to the other. A few writers are able to write one portion in one tense and another portion in another tense, but it takes a very skilled author to do so effectively and correctly. (Practice this skill by observing the works that successfully pull it off and those that don’t and practicing switching tense when there is a logic reason to do so.) A lack of consistency in verb tense causes readers to stop reading because of confusion; however, there are legitimate points in stories where you will need to switch tenses.

Switching Verb Tenses in a Story

For the most part, you will write either in Past or Present Tense. When logic calls for a switch in tense (for example, you are writing in Present and include a description of the events that have already happened), you want to switch tenses. However, if you switch without a logical reason, it is going to confuse your reader and make it hard for them to keep track of the events. Switching verb tenses upsets the time sequence of narration; therefore, you will want to keep the verbs you use in the same tense.

Since changes in verb tense help readers understand the temporal relationships among various narrated events, but unnecessary or inconsistent shifts in tense can cause confusion; generally, writers maintain one tense for the main discourse and indicate changes in time frame by changing tense relative to that primary tense. Occasionally, for dramatic effect, you may wish to narrate an event in present tense as though it were happening now or providing back story in Past Tense so the reader knows it has already happened.

Do not shift from one tense to another if the time frame for each action or state is the same.

Correct:  
Yesterday we walked to the beach, but later rode the bus back to the hotel.

Incorrect:  
Yesterday we walk to the beach, but later rode the bus back to the hotel.
Yesterday we walked to the beach, but later ride the bus back to the hotel.

Do shift tense to indicate a change in time frame from one action or state to another.

Correct:  
The women love their new summer house, which they built themselves.
The women love their new summer house, which they are building themselves.

Incorrect:  
The women loved their new summer house, which they build themselves.

Can I Switch From Simple Past to Present Tense?
If you are writing in Simple Past Tense, the only example I can think of to shift to Simple Present Tense is if you are writing in First Person and the narrator is addressing the reader or currently reflecting on events that have already happened. Use care employing this in your writing because like all tense shift it can cause confusion for readers.

Example:

I met Sue five years ago at the Michigan Women’s Festival. When I first saw her, I thought I was dreaming. She was the embodiment of my dream girl—tall, blonde, athletic, outgoing—and she played the guitar. It was the start of a perfect relationship. Or so I thought. Now I know better. I learned the hard way that Sue is egotistical, self centered, and inconsiderate. She is the worst girlfriend I have ever had. Unfortunately, the sex is still great and I am weak of will when it comes to sex. So, I hook-up with her for cheap sexual encounters once a week. I can’t seem to get Sue out of my system.

Some Final Notes on Verbs

Active vs. Passive Voice
Active / Passive
EXAMPLE:

Sue kisses Janet. ACTIVE
Janet is kissed by Sue. PASSIVE
Kathy cleaned the dildo. ACTIVE
The dildo was cleaned by Kathy. PASSIVE

Normally you should write in the active voice, however, sometimes the passive voice is used for stylistic reasons or to show a passive character. Use it sparingly and with clear intent.

Strong Verbs

Regardless of if you choose to write in Past or Present Tense you should always select the strongest verb available to depict the actions you are writing about. Avoid adverbs if possible by selecting verbs that express the exact or near exact meaning you want.

Susan put the dildo into Samantha’s cunt.

Put is a weak verb whose meaning isn’t vivid and action isn’t clear. You can add an adverb to strengthen the verb put and clarify the meaning you intend.

Susan gently/forcefully put the dildo into Samantha’s cunt.

But by replacing put with a more specific verb, you strengthen the meaning of the sentence and tighten your prose.

Susan inserted/shamed/pushed the dildo into Samantha’s cunt.

Sometimes the original sentence just isn’t written correctly and needs to be rewritten to accommodate a more descriptive verb.

Susan probed/teased Samantha’s cunt with her dildo.

Your prose will be enhanced by using strong verbs and reducing adverbs needed to strengthen weak verbs.

Exercises for Verb Tenses

1.  Scan your document solely for verbs and circle each one. Is it in present, past, or future tense? Do you switch tenses within sentences, paragraphs, pages?

2.  Determine the overriding tense for each passage. If a verb does not conform to this tense, ask yourself if there is a logical reason for the nonconformity. If there is no logical reason for switching the verb tense, change the verb to conform to the presiding tense of the passage. You may have to rewrite sentences.

3.  Play with verb tense (as well as first vs. third person narrator) to see which works best for the story you are writing. Often there are a number of combinations that will work. Select one or two pages and rewrite it in a difference Tense and from a different narrator. What changes? How do the changes affect the tone and feel of the passage?

4.  Study the experts. Pay attention to how verb tense is used in works you read. How do the authors shift from tense? Does it work? Why? How? Compare a shift in tense you feel was successful with one you think is a failure.

Careful editing will insure consistency in your verb tenses as well as other elements of your prose.

Some Resources


If there is an issue you would like me to address in Two Girls Kissing, please email it to me, Amie M. Evans, with the column title as the subject line. To be added to my confidential monthly email list, please email me with subscribe as the subject line.

NEXT TIME: Coming Up with Story Ideas

Amie M. Evans
December/January 2007

______
"Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica" © 2006 Amie M. Evans. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Amie M. Evans is a widely published creative nonfiction and literary erotica writer, experienced workshop provider, and a retired burlesque and high-femme drag performer. She is on the board of directors for Saints and Sinners GLBT literary festival and graduated Magna cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in Literature and is currently working on her MLA at Harvard.
Read Amie M. Evans' bio at the Erotica Readers & Writers Association.



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