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Knowing that I'm writing using the present simple, should I switch to the past simple when summarizing an event that does not need a long description? Or this would be considered as a misuse of tenses?

For example, I'm describing a group of students discovering a place during an educational trip, should I say

"We explore that, we do that, and we take pictures..."

or

"We did and saw and explored and went..."

I thought it has to be in past tense, does it?

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    I'm assuming we're talking about fiction? Would it be possible for you to give an example of the sort of thing you mean, please? – DM_with_secrets Feb 24 at 0:05
  • I'm sorry to be late, but here is what I mean. For example, I'm describing a group of students discovering a place during an educational trip, shall I say "We explore that, we do that, and we take pictures..." or "we did and saw and explored and went..." I thought it has to be in past tense, does it? – Nour Fourti Mar 1 at 16:40
  • Is it just a regular part of your story (even if summarised quickly), or is your main character looking back at something that happened previously? – DM_with_secrets Mar 2 at 0:34
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    Then it should be in present tense, the same as the rest of the story (as per @Charlotte's answer) – DM_with_secrets Mar 2 at 11:45
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    Yeah, I agree with DM_with_secrets - if you're just narrating something like normal in your present-tense story, not looking back on anything, then just summarize the event in present tense. You've probably heard people tellings stories around a dinner table do that all the time when they're trying to get to the point of their story. It does work – Tasch Mar 2 at 19:08
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If it's not a flashback, you can use present tense! A lot of YA books are written in present tense, and they use the same tense to summarize events.

Example from Boy Meets Boy (David Levitahn) (no copyright intended):

[Joni] drives us aound in the family sedan. We roll down the windows and crank the radio - we like the isea of music spilling out over the neighbourhood.

Examples from Fly on the Wall (E. Lockhart) (no copyright intended):

Tuesday and Wednesday are uneventful. Pop leaves for Hong Kong, and it's a relief, since he and Ma have been snipping at each other every time I leave the room. One day, the day before he leaves, he smells like cigarettes again, which makes me wonder if he is bringing is girlfriend on the business trip with him. But I don't speak about it. Then, on Thursday, Titus comes up to me in the hall.

Or:

We walk around the room, looking at what other people have done. Kensington is giving quiet critiques to people, one at a time. Surprisingly, she doesn't say anything to me at all.

If you want more examples, check out other books by David Levithan, E. Lockhart or Bret Easton Ellis.

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  • This. Good job finding some nice examples as well! – DM_with_secrets Mar 2 at 11:46
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I am not sure how you would be able to do anything else. What you are describing happened in the past as far as the point of view is concerned. Thus, past tense.

So, no, not a violation.

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  • The story is in present tense, though. OP didn't say this bit is a flashback or reflection on past events. (I've asked in a comment on the question for clarification). – DM_with_secrets Mar 2 at 0:36
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If the event was a flashback (which I don't think yours is) then you could write in present tense because you would be "flashing back" to what the character's experiences through their eyes, but since your event is only being summarized, you would have it in past tense.

For example,

wrong:

Will started his story, "I walk into the store and I look around. "Hi, Frank!" I say as I notice the manager. He is very nice to me and helps me find a present for Julie."

(Note, you may see the above example type in stories, but it isn't really the most proper way to do it. If you are flashing back and your main story is present tense, I would still recommend avoiding this but it is less frowned upon. See 3 Tips for Writing Successful Flashbacks.)

right:

Will started his story, "I walked into the store and I looked around. "Hi, Frank!" I said as I noticed the manager. He was very nice to me and helped me find a present for Julie."

And to your examples:

"We explore that, we do that, and we take pictures..."

Listen to this sentence slowly, it doesn't sound right does it?

"We did and saw and explored and went..."

This sounds way better and far more natural than your first example.

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  • But if it's dialogue surely Will can say whatever he likes? People often tell anecdotes in the present tense. I've asked for an example on the OP because I'm not quite sure what sort of event summary is being referred to. – DM_with_secrets Feb 24 at 0:07
  • @DM_with_secrets Yes, correct. I believe that my way is the most proper way to do it but it is mainly my style and opinion. Without an example from the OP, I can't accurately define my answer to their desired scope (which is also not stated). – Nai54 Feb 24 at 3:33
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    Not that OP is asking about flashbacks, but they can also change tense. Either for a segway or for the whole thing. The last is mostly used in present tense stories. – Erk Feb 24 at 4:26
  • OP is writing in present tense, and did not say that this is a reflection on past events (or a flashback), so why would it automatically be in past tense? (I've added a comment on the question for clarification). – DM_with_secrets Mar 2 at 0:38

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