👑 Consistency is King (in Prose)

Good prose has consistent tense and POV.

Today’s Writing Tip:

Keep your tense and point-of-view (POV) consistent throughout your scene.

Explanation:

  • Tense-hopping is jumping between past, present, and future tenses. This usually happens within a sentence, but sometimes writers change tenses between paragraphs.

  • Head-hopping is the jumping between POV characters. This happens as a sudden shift between character thoughts.

Both tense-hopping and head-hopping are common amateur prose mistakes.

Avoid tense-hopping and head-hopping by being deliberate with your transitions. If you need to change your tense or POV, make sure to clearly signal this to the reader.

Examples:

Here’s a tense hop between past and present tense:

  • Past-present hop: “She ran to catch the bus, but it leaves before she can reach it.”

  • Consistent past tense: “She ran to catch the bus, but it left before she could reach it.”

  • Consistent present tense: She runs to catch the bus, but it leaves before she can reach it.”

And here’s a head hop:

  • Head hop: “John walked towards Sarah, who sat by the window, thinking about the fight. He hoped she wasn’t still mad. ”

  • Consistent POV: “John walked towards Sarah, who sat by the window, scowling. He hoped she wasn’t still mad.”

The reason that “thinking about the fight” is a head hop is because John, the POV character, has no way of knowing what Sarah is thinking about. Here, “looking pensive” also works. Or something more sensory, like “looking at the clouds”.

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