2

This may seem like an off-topic question, but it's really more about writing than about the grammar.

I use a lot of dialogue in my writing, sometimes too much, but while I'm writing it, though the story itself is in the present tense, I don't know whether it would be confusing to use the past tense for dialogue tags. For example:

I swallow and look at Mac.

He looks back at me, just as frightened.

"Tell me the truth, should I be scared?" He asked me.

I answer, "I don't know."

Is this confusing to do? The way I usually look at it is by imagining the way the narrator is hearing it. Like, if the narrator is narrating after it's said, use the past, or he/she is narrating during use the present, etc.b

Is it best to just stay in one tense in dialogue regardless of when the narration is happening?

5

It doesn't matter how much dialogue you have. If your story (the narration) is in present tense, then all the verbs have to be in present tense. All the dialogue tags, all the narration, everything. The only exception is if you're talking about something which happened in the past relative to the present moment of the story.

[Bolding is for emphasis, not because the story needs it.]

I swallow and look at Mac.

He looks back at me, just as frightened.

"Tell me the truth, should I be scared?" he asks me.

I answer, "I don't know."

When we left town an hour ago, we were tired and hungry, but uninjured. We walked for an hour before we fell into the crevasse. Now we're tired and hungry, Mac has a broken arm, and my ankle is twisted. I don't know if we can get out of this.

0

Avoid the tags and you avoid the problem.

I swallow and look at Mac.

He looks back at me, just as frightened.

"Tell me the truth, should I be scared?"

I hesitate. "I don't know."

Most readers will assume that any un-tagged quote came from the most recently mentioned character. Even when the speaker is unclear, most readers are willing to read a few more lines to figure it out.
In the case above, either character might have said "Tell me the truth...", but "I don't know" is obviously a response from the POV character. This clarifies that Mac spoke the earlier question which makes the now-absent tags redundant.

0

This is just wrong. Or Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice should be rewritten! As clearly shown on page 1, she uses a mix of present & past - past dialogue tags & present dialogue.

Pride and prejudice - mix of present & past tense - past tense novel. In addition, the first sentence is present & last one is past. Using "says" for tags is just weird.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it."
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
"Do not you want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.