Walk inside me without silence,
Kill the past and change the tense.
Empty gnawing and the ache is soaring;
Take me places that make more sense.
― Melina Marchetta, The Piper’s Son
Albert Einstein said that “the distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” And while he is no doubt right on a cosmic level – I would not dare challenge Einstein on a cosmic level! – every day we writers are faced with tense decisions which are far from illusory.
Before even setting pen to paper, we must choose between telling our story in the past or present tense, mindful of just how that choice will influence what is to come. I am omitting the future tense today as it’s virtually never used; it presents problems of divine omniscience that tie you in verbal knots and…
When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down.
One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.”
Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!”
I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I?
I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.”
Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray.
With love from Dr. Niamh,
Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamhchildrensbooks.com