I followed her down the dark street, gradually closing distance between us. She glanced over her shoulder and her high heels tapped on the sidewalk faster. She’s getting nervous. I could tell from the way she leaned forward that she was hurrying to reach her car faster. It doesn’t matter. I was going to catch up to her in a few seconds and then she will be mine, all mine.
Hard to believe, but this jumble of verb tenses is similar to something I came across in a novel recently. I almost put it down in disgust, but I wanted to know what happened. Still, the poor writing took all the enjoyment out of reading this crime novel. The plot was good, but the delivery was not.
Most of the story was told in third person, past tense. The trouble started when the author switched to the killer’s POV and told us his thoughts in the first person. That, in itself is not so bad, but within these sections, when we see the story from the killer’s POV, the author slipped back and forth between the past and present tense in a way that did not work. It could have been done if we were made to believe that the killer is thinking in the present, and telling us about a past event, but that was not the case here. The author simply slipped back and forth between tenses haphazardly.
It told me that the author had not mastered the art of writing yet, and that he had not run his manuscript by a critiquing group, and certainly not a copy-editor, any of whom would have enlightened him. Even his greatest fan, Aunt Mary, would have noticed the errors in the changing of the tense.
When you write, why not have someone else read your first drafts and offer some suggestions? A critiquing group or even a writing buddy can be good for this. You don’t have to accept what these readers say, but it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion and ponder it. Of course I’m going to say, “If you’re serious about publishing, get yourself a good copy-editor,” because that is what I do, but really, having a clean manuscript before you publish is so important.
The book I’m reading now, which has so many problems with verb tense, is full of other small errors. Some are typos, and others are grammatical errors, but the verb tense problem was the icing on the cake. Although the author has some serious writing issues to resolve, this work was salvageable, if only he had not published too soon. As it is now, this novel will never be remembered as a great book. It could have been a good one, if he had taken the time to have someone read it over and point out the errors, and if he had hired a copy-editor to catch those many small mistakes along the way.
Self-publishing should not mean that the writer does it all himself, without the help of a critiquing group or a copy-editor. Yes, you can upload your ms and be your own publisher, but as a publisher you also need to deal with things like getting a professional to do your book cover and one to check your manuscript for errors before you bare your soul before the world of readers.