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I am writing a past-tense personal narrative and I'm having a hard time distinguishing which term would be best in this instance. Quote for context:

My parents always told me not to lie because lying was wrong, but I couldn’t just tell her the truth, either. Maybe it was okay, just this once.

The whole story is written in past tense, but 'that time' instead of 'this once' feels less connected to the character - is "this once" grammatically incorrect / a continuity issue?

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  • Hi, this concerns your narrative voice, and when in time the described events are happening (already happened?) at this point in the story. 'Simple' grammar rules don't apply in narrative fiction: verb tenses have the added effect of distancing the reader, or placing the reader in the immediacy of the character's experience and POV. The reader has a construct of what time 'now' is suppose to be, and whether this moment of story is dynamic and open to changing possibilities, or if events have already long been settled and are unchangeable at this point. Write for POV, not grammar.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 13:58

2 Answers 2

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Pretty sure your use of grammar is fine. Either that or 'Maybe it was okay, just this time' could work.

You asked this question some time ago, so you may have either finished the draft for your story, stopped working on it, or are still writing it. A word of advice: while writing, don't get too bogged down in editing. You can always come back to it during the editing phase.

If you are/were in the editing stage when you asked this question, you can either leave it as it is, change the wording slightly, or just remove the sentence/segment altogether.

One other trick: if you really want to keep the sentence as it is, turn it into the character's thoughts. Even in a past-tense story, the protagonist's thoughts will still be in present tense. Example: John went to the store. I'm really hungry, he thought.

So, you could change it like this:

My parents always told me not to lie because lying was wrong, but I couldn’t just tell her the truth, either. Maybe it's okay, just this once.

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How you said it should be okay, as I use it in my own writing and have seen this in many professional works.

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