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Eri raised her eyes to the screen again. What a terrible thing it must be for an earthquake to hit right on your birthday. She wondered how often that happened. Maybe earthquakes are completely indifferent to what's important to us. People, special days. Perhaps to them, we're no more than little ants scurrying around on the surface.

It sounds a bit strange to me, but maybe just because of the tense change.

Should I use past tense or present tense in cases like this?

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  • I'm definitely interested in answers to that. In my opinion both versions sound a bit strange, each in a different way, and I always hesitate while choosing tense for internal dialogue, reported speech executed by narrator, etc.
    – SF.
    Sep 25, 2013 at 15:05
  • Good question. I think that this is going to end up being partially a matter of context and partially a matter of style, but I'm interested in seeing the answers. Sep 25, 2013 at 15:07
  • It confuses me only when, from the POV (omniscient/limited/etc.) of the narration (not the narrator, if it exists), the sentence discusses a universal/most-often-true statement. For that I usually use the same tense as the rest of the narration. - When it's internal dialog/monologue, I just write it so it sounds right, as spoken dia/mono-log; and it is.
    – Mussri
    Sep 25, 2013 at 19:36
  • @Mussri So you would use past tense in the passage above?
    – wyc
    Sep 26, 2013 at 0:50
  • 1
    @AlexandroChen Yes. Past tense, third-person.
    – Mussri
    Sep 26, 2013 at 8:03

1 Answer 1

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Present tense in some different formatting (I like italics) if those are Eri's thoughts presented as interior dialogue. Past tense if that's her thought in narration.

As presented above, you have her thoughts in interior dialogue, so I'd italicize them and leave them in present tense.

For comparison:

Eri raised her eyes to the screen again. What a terrible thing it must be for an earthquake to hit right on one's birthday. She wondered how often that happened. Maybe earthquakes were completely indifferent to what was important to people. People, special days. Perhaps to them, people were no more than little ants scurrying around on the surface.

Eri raised her eyes to the screen again. What a terrible thing it must be for an earthquake to hit right on your birthday. She wondered how often that happened. Maybe earthquakes are completely indifferent to what's important to us. People, special days. Perhaps to them, we're no more than little ants scurrying around on the surface.

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  • Thanks for the advice. So, if I decided to not to italicize them, I should change them to past tense? (I say this because I already have italicized thoughts in the previous paragraph, and I don't want to overuse it).
    – wyc
    Sep 26, 2013 at 1:17
  • exactly. change to past tense AND third-person POV, not first-person. Sep 26, 2013 at 2:12

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