1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Were or Are?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Androxine Vortex, Jul 10, 2012.

  1. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    77
    28
    I'm in the middle of editing some stuff I wrote today and I came across this passage:

    (Keep in mind this is about a hunter stalking a deer, not some little girl. I realized how wrong this sounded out of context!)

    He had been watching his prey for sometime now. She was young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where are it's parents or siblings? But it does not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come.

    Should it be, "Where are it's parents..." or "Where were it's parents..."
    I had initially used "were" but didn't think that would work because it wasn't past-tense but "are" doesn't sound right either. I can't make heads or tails on this. So which version should I use?
     
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    11,096
    1,533
    313
    If you're aiming for present tense, I think it's the "she was young" that's the problem. Should it not be "she is young" instead? Unless the deer has aged significantly since the hunter has started stalking her, using "was" doesn't make a lot of sense. Also, I'd switch the final sentence to present tense as well. "All that matters now is..." etc.
     
    Androxine Vortex likes this.
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,941
    163
    I'd prefer...

    "The deer looked young."

    It's a more active sentence and from the perspective of the hunter.

    Be careful with "were & are" they can be passive which you want to avoid most of the time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  4. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    77
    28
    I am horrible when it comes to grammar rules sometimes and past/present tense has always stumped me. I guess I can see what you mean but even when I say, "she is young" it still sounds different. Maybe because I'm so used to writing in the incorrect way. I guess I should think of it like if I was the actual hunter I wouldn't look at the deer and say, "she was young" because I'm looking at her right now so she IS young.

    I don't know, for some reason it still sounds weird when I don't use "was" but I'm pretty sure you are more informed about these things than me. I guess it's just an easy thing for me to mix up and something I'll have to work on.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  5. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    844
    122
    43
    Not a bad little paragraph. It has some atmosphere and I can almost imagine the tension.

    -------

    This would be the passage in present tense:


    He has been watching his prey for some time now. She is young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where are its parents or siblings? But it does not matter. All that matters now is the kill to come.


    Past tense:

    He had been watching his prey for some time now. She was young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where were its parents or siblings? But it did not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come.

    You would use 'are' in the past-tense one if you make the 'where were/are its parents or siblings?' into the hunter's dialogue or thought. You would probably italicise it if it is the hunter's thoughts, but I put "" to make it clearer.

    He had been watching his prey for some time now.The doe seemed too young to be wandering around at night alone. "I wonder where its parents or siblings are," he thought/said. But it did not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come.

    --------

    You could use 'fawn' as well, since 'doe' is probably more accurate for an adult female deer.

    You could ditch the dialogue or the thoughts about its parents and siblings. It is almost a repeat of 'the doe seemed too young to be wandering around at night alone' (which I shortened a little):

    He had been watching his prey for some time now. The doe seemed too young to be wandering around at night alone. But it did not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come.

    Etc. Lots of ways you could work with it.

    --------

    Also, 'it's' should be 'its'. Only use 'it's' when it stands in for 'it is'. That is how you remember which to use if you are not sure of the grammar rule. 'It' doesn't have that possessive apostrophe. You can say 'The doe's parents'. 'The deer's parents'. 'Her parents'. Or 'its parents'. If you say 'it's parents', that is like saying 'it is parents'.

    This is a hasty edit so people should correct me if I missed something.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
    Androxine Vortex likes this.
  6. To answer the original question: You're writing in the past tense, so it should be "were".

    Also, "But it did not matter."
     
  7. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    77
    28
    I actually read on multiple sites last night that you shouldn't use quotations or italicize a character's thoughts. Anyone want to clarify if this is true or false?

    But I thought that Ireth said it should be in present tense. I'm confused now :(
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    I have a different take on this than the others who have responded. Before I comment however: I want to make clear that I in no way, form, or fashion endorse the use of such horrible, dreadful words as "was," "were," or "are."

    This is the way I read your passage:

    He had been watching his prey for sometime now. She was young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where are it's parents or siblings? But it does not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come.

    The italics are all important as they indicate that it is internal dialogue. It is quite the norm to have the narrative be in past tense and dialogue and thoughts in present. This is the way I read it, so that sentence works fine.

    The next sentence, however, is a problem. "But it does not matter" does not read as internal dialogue. You need to make one of two changes: Either 1) make it simply "It doesn't matter." and put it in italics or 2) "But it did not matter."

    Hope that helped.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    It's a style choice, but you have to call it out in some way. Here are your options:

    1. Quotes: I can't recall a lot of instances where I've seen quotes to indicate thoughts, so I'd definitely ditch that idea.

    2. Italics: The reader knows that italics indicate thought. It's the style I use, and I prefer it. I haven't really researched the arguments against it. My guess would be that some may think it distracting?

    3. Speech tag: Simply write: This isn't my favorite way to indicate what the POV character is thinking, BWFoster78 thought. To me, this method is more distracting than the italics.

    You're the author. It's your call.

    Hope that helped.
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    Some people like using present tense for their stories. Personally, I hate it with a purple passion. Writing in past tense as you've done is perfectly acceptable.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,260
    3,613
    413
    I don't think you have to explicitly call out thoughts in this example. The following works just fine:

    He had been watching his prey for sometime now. She was young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where were her parents or siblings? But it did not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come.

    You relate what the character is thinking, but not via direct internal monologue. If you do use direct internal monologue, you'll generally read that italics are disfavored. This despite the fact that you can find any number of published books that use them for this purpose.

    Also, the above example is in past tense. It works equally well in present tense, so go with what you prefer.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,941
    163
    Just a quick point on this. More often than not I agree with BWF on this. However, I want to be clear on my stance. These "to be" verbs - "was, were, are" often find themselves in passive voice sentences BUT they are not ALWAYS passive. Trying to write an entire novel without using the word "was" may be a tad extreme.

    They're really words you want to watch out for that might clue you in that you're being passive when you don't realize. There may be times though that you want to be passive. For example, if I'm using dialogue to show character in an introverted or submissive person, passive voice may help that.

    It's all about making conscious choices to find what works. Most of the time, in my opinion, you'll want to avoid passive voice.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012
  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    Good point. I agree completely. Just a little attempt at humor/hyperbole.

    My official position is: avoid using those words unless you have to do serious gymnastics to do so.

    I also am much more lenient on the topic when we're talking about dialogue (pun intended).
     
  14. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    1,766
    373
    83
    That's true, the passive voice needs other elements besides simply one appearance of a 'to be' word. Passive sentences place the object in a more important position than the subject, and they usually (but not always) follow this equation:-

    Object + To be word + a past participle (+ by subject) - In brackets as it can easily be left out.

    e.g A lamp was placed on the table by Jeff. = passive

    Jeff placed the lamp on the table = active.

    I hope this explains passive structure.

    The passive voice is used quite a bit in the crime/thriller/mystery genres, where the person who has done the action is an unknown and the emphasis is on the objects of say a murder scene. It can be used effectively to add suspense in that a character is being acted upon. A good example of this is in the film industry an opening to a particular James Bond Film - Die another day. Die Another Day Opening Titles - YouTube - we know he's being tortured by not by whom. That's passivity in motion. How would you write that scene without this tool? If you did, I doubt it would have the same impact.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    This clarifies, but also simplifies, the concept. There are other ways to create passivity than by using the past participle.

    I think, however, that we have to be careful about getting into the weeds. The writer who's advanced enough to be getting this far into whether something is passive or not is probably advanced enough to make the determination whether the form of "to be" works in their piece. For the purposes of the OP, I think saying: try to avoid using "was" is the best bet.
     
  16. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    77
    28
    When I write I typically write in past tense.

    He walked over to the door.
    The water flowed down the side of the cliff.
    His head was pounding.

    So I guess when I write internal monologue it feels more natural to me to make it in past-tense. Sometimes I can see it wouldn't be the best choice, like I could write:

    His head was pounding. Where am I?

    Steerpike is saying that it wouldn't matter which tense I write in for the original example though. So would,

    "He had been watching his prey for sometime now. She was young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where were her parents or siblings? But it did not matter. All that mattered now was the kill to come."

    be just as appropriate as,

    "He had been watching his prey for sometime now. She is young, too young in fact to be wandering around at night alone. Where are her parents or siblings? But it does not matter. All that matters now is the kill to come."

    To me, the first seems better.
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    This is correct. Narrative is past and dialogue, internal or not, is present.

    You can write this like this, and it is technically correct. Instead of converting "Where were her parents or siblings?" to internal dialogue, you're having the narrator talk directly to the reader. If that's what you're going for, you're fine.

    It's kinda like you're watching a show on TV, and the actor turns to the audience and says something. It can be used to good effect, but it can also be distracting.

    Ultimately, this is a style choice.

    I think that using italics or some other way to denote this as internal dialogue is the best way to do it.

    This example is the same technique as above; the actor is addressing the audience directly. The only difference is you're writing in present tense instead of past.
     
    Androxine Vortex likes this.
  18. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    77
    28
    Thank you very much and to everyone else as well. I just prefer keeping most of my stuff in past-tense. And I think I'm not going to use italics because most books I read do not have them.
     
  19. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    942
    113
    That's a valid choice. Please remember this, however:

    Whatever method you choose to indicate internal dialogue is up to you. You do, however, have to choose some method. You can't put internal dialogue in your text without letting the reader, via italics or speech tag, know that it's supposed to be internal dialogue.
     
  20. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    77
    28
    Ok help me on this for a second. I was actually reading a book and I'll use a quote here:

    He glared at the nobleman. Who does this fool think he is? He turned on his heel and left the chamber with a sour taste in his mouth.

    There were no italics or quotations to let the reader know that he was thinking, "Who does this fool think he is?" to himself. I thought that not using anything was a suitable method? I guess this is only fine when it's obvious that that's what he was thinking or something?
     
Loading...

Share This Page