Inconsistency in tense is one of the commonest writing errors I see. Writing in the present tense is quite difficult to maintain, so authors who start off in the present tense often find themselves drifting back to past tense. Switching like this is distracting and indicates a lack of attention to detail. Decide from the outset whether you’re writing in the past tense or present – and stick to it!
In this passage from my book Captain Starlight: The Strange but True Story of a Bushranger, Impostor and Murderer, I’ve deliberately messed up the tenses:
They continued on, up and on towards the Warrego. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they reached William Shearer’s Warrego Inn. Senior Constable McCabe and Constable McManus dismount and pass their reins to the trackers, instructing them to take the horses to the waterhole half a mile away. The trackers obeyed. McCabe and McManus mount the wooden steps onto the verandah and make their way into the bar. It is a typical bush public house: simple and rough; a mere ten feet by eight. They passed a door to the bedroom and settled themselves at the counter, McCabe opposite the door and McManus to its right.
Can you spot the inconsistencies in tense?
About this blog
Through my experience as an editor, a reader and a book reviewer, I’ve noticed that some writing faults keep just popping up again and again. As an author, I’m especially aware of those writing crimes that I’m frequently tempted to commit myself. This series of brief tips addresses the common writing problems that I’ve encountered. Following them will help make your writing clear, accurate and stylish.