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I have written a novel that I want to send out to agents, but am now having doubts if it is polished enough to do so yet. A big problem for me right now is tense.

My novel is written in past tense, first person perspective. When my protagonist is describing the events in the novel, his current place in time is after the events that happened, but only by ten seconds or so if I had to place him somewhere. He does not know what will happen due to that. For all intents and purposes, he is describing things as they happen in the moment.

When he first describes himself, he uses present tense because that is how he still looks when he is doing so. Example:

"Wow, that guy's hair is so white!" a passerby said.

I was the only one he could have been talking about. There was no one else here it could have been. My hair is a pure white, alongside my also white eyes. My other features are tired and weary.

At the start of the novel in the prologue, I also described the setting in present tense because the situation at the start of the novel reflects how the world is to the protagonist at the current time.

Should I do another edit fixing this stuff? A lot of it feels very unnatural when I change it.

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    The switches seem pretty appropriate because the narrator is narrating events that happened in the past, but presently describing unchanging aspects of himself. However if your narrator is only ten seconds ahead of what's going on and you want him to describe things happening AS THEY HAPPEN in the moment, why not just use present tense for the whole thing? – Tasch Mar 21 at 18:54
  • Your text looks fine to me. I didn't even notice the tense change (up until the awkward "My other features are tired and weary," which is just an odd self-observation)... Take a look at Jane Austen's Indirect Free Speech for examples of a Mozart-level genius. 2 centuries later she is still the master of breaking every 'rule' of tense and POV, while somehow making it all work. Indirect Free Speech is having the confidence to state an interior monolog as a narrative fact. It skips phrases like "…," he thought to himself. and instead just says the things that are thought, biases and all. – wetcircuit Mar 22 at 12:39
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Using present tense in quotation or dialogue is correct. Using past tense in narration is correct.

Thus, your example is correct:

"Wow, that guy's hair is so white!" a passerby said.

I was the only one he could have been talking about. There was no one else here it could have been. My hair is a pure white, alongside my also white eyes. My other features are tired and weary.

I would suggest the following:

1) Delete your prologue. Prologues are unnecessary nine times out of ten.

2) Revise as follows: "I was the one he was talking about. There was no one else it could have been. My hair, my eyes—pure white..." You could also revise the sentence to exclude the expletive, but that is your choice.

3) Revise the following sentence, for it is telling, and not showing:

My other features are tired and weary.

Don't tell me the character's features are tired and weary! Show me!

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  • I'm not sure the comments about prologue and telling are relevant to the question... (I'm also not sure they're necessarily the best advice, but that's another story). – DM_with_secrets Apr 30 at 16:56
  • Also, you say that the example is fine, but then in point 2 you suggest the author rewrites it to remove the tense, so which is it? And I can't for the life of me see an expletive - am I missing something? – DM_with_secrets Apr 30 at 16:58

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