Gertrude, my truck, was a rust bucket.
I chose her name because it reminded me
of the word “gratitude.” I’m thankful
to have her even if she’s none too pretty.
Gertrude and I had been through a lot together.
Everyone who has edited my writing has redlined when I’ve changed tenses. They’ve convinced me that it takes the reader out of the story. I used to think changing tenses lent more dimension to my writing, creating an edge between what was—was—but now—isn’t. I realized that doing so breaks up the flow. So, I started to study how writers change tenses.
One of my critique partners changed tenses. When I pointed it out, she was defensive, asking if I would be redlining all of her changed tenses, as if I’d drawn a line in the sand. I told her that, having been redlined for the same offense, I needed to indicate the variations and intimated that perhaps she should re-think them. Her response was vehement, indicating that if I persisted, she’d drop out of the critique group. I decided to back off.
Wouldn’t you know that it was the last time she changed tenses? Had she thought about it and later agreed with me, or did she hate redlining so much she conformed?
It was neither. I’ve concluded that when authors change tenses, it’s a blip. Authors—in one paragraph in one chapter of a book—changed from past to
tense and then—never again. I’ve found this phenomenon in many contemporary
novels, especially romance novels where the character addresses the reader
directly, stepping out of POV.
After writing a blog for WWK last year in which I cited changing tenses as a problem with indie books, some readers came to the conclusion that I was against self publishing. No, I’m not against self published books in given situations where it makes sense and in a marketplace that has fluctuated. But, in any type of publishing, traditional or indie, readers have complained about a lack of writing quality and inadvertently changed tenses indicates a lack of editing to me.
Why does changed tenses set off such a staunch defense from authors who do so? Does conforming to standards violate their right to artistic license? What do you think?