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My story is told by one of the characters and frequently uses the past tense when describing events. But occasionally I feel like some of the events should be told in the present tense, and I switch between the two. Does this as an example work? Is it alright to do so?

Our guest grabbed a bread stick without asking, and as Jack, I now also wanted to get to know this stranger a bit better. “Thank you for taking away the burden of us having to order. What is your name?” I asked him. My guess is that it would have to do with either eyebrows or a hypnotized cat.

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I think the yo-yo effect is jarring to the reader. This is even worse when it's character voice changing. Changing "now also wanted" to "wanted" and "is that" to "was that" is fairly minimal and an easier read. I don't believe it impacts your writing negatively to keep the tenses consistent.

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As far as there are ever hard-and-fast rules in writing (which there aren't!) you should avoid switching tense within a paragraph or even scene unless the change is consistent. Just as you should avoid changing person mid paragraph or section.

Any change that jars the reader pulls them out of the story. And any time a reader is pulled out there is a chance they won't bother to go back in.


As an example; in a scene in Fallen Dragon by Peter F. Hamilton, there is a scene where he changes person and time mid-section. He goes from a soldier walking up a beach being pelted with stones as he walks through the town, to a woman watching the soldier begin to emerge from the water and gathering stones to start throwing.

If the change is consistent it can be handled, particularly if it is clear why the change is happening, but if the change just happens it will be impossible for the reader to become accustomed to it. Every time I hit a change like this, whether it’s time, tense, person or even a consistency fail — a pipe becoming a cigar because the writer forgot the character was smoking a pipe — I’m thrown out of the world and back into my chair while I try to figure out what just happened.

Peter F. Hamilton’s one of my favourite authors, despite his faults, and I give him time and allowances I would not give an author I was reading for the first time.


Regarding your example specifically:

I now also wanted to get to know...

Using now in this context doesn't have to be a tense change, it can still be used in past tense, and simply adds a sense of immediacy to the moment without changing tense. On the other hand...

My guess is that it...

This one is definitely present tense and is a sudden and jarring change. The edits that Aibrean suggests would be ideal.

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Personally, I think it's best to avoid tense change in the same section of the story. However, in stories where the POV changes, it may be ok to change the tense.

For example. I am more comfortable writing in present tense when using the first person point of view within the story but prefer to use past tense when writing in the third person. I am currently writing a story in which the POV changes between first (main character) and third (side characters). Here is an excerpt - from both third and first.

The white-washed corridor smelt of bleach; he wrinkled his nose in disgust and sped up his footsteps. Hospital corridors had always unsettled him; he had never liked their emptiness or the hollow way sounds echoed around it. Nevertheless, he pushed on, ignoring the resonating sound of his footsteps. He spotted a group of signs on the wall and frowned at them, loosening the navy scarf he'd thrown around his neck in an attempt to look cool. Somehow he'd managed to go in the complete opposite direction of the CAMHS room. He wasn't sure how.

-example of third person, past tense

I rub my eyes fiercely as I follow Jay down the corridor. He looks back briefly and sends me an encouraging smile; I summon some courage and smile back nervously. Our footsteps are loud and harsh; the sound pierces my ears like a nail through ice. We pass the ward where the rest of my friends are resting. I peek through the small curtained window, but Jay quickly ushers me on.

-example of first person, present tense

If you do choose to do this, make sure you clearly differentiate the two. Hope this helped a bit!

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