Recovering Grammar Nazi, Part 1

I have a confession to make. I’m pretty sure I’m a recovering grammar Nazi.

What this means for my experience on Medium? It means that sometimes I cannot enjoy interesting stories because their format or syntax fails some internal test. I’ll give a single example, for now. As an aspiring curmudgeon, I may be back to shoo you away from my grammar porch as necessary.

Changes in Tense

Changes in tense, when intentional, can be transporting. They can pop out of a story like a red corvette on a rainy day. They’re that slight whiff of perfume left in a room from the girl you had forgotten about, that hat roguishly askew, that bed hair that somehow looks better than anything you’ve ever managed to sculpt in front of a mirror. In short, they just work.

When accidental, they can be jarring. To continue with the excessive similes — they can be like a train wreck while travelling to a magical city.

Sure, your destination might have been Oz, but all your stuff’s spilled out on the tracks and if you still really want to get to the emerald city, you’re going to have to hoof it. In spoken word, compelling tense changes are easily forgivable.

On the page (or the screen) they shout carelessness and inattention to detail.

Sure, watching a kid riding their bike down the street can be cute, but most BMX fans wouldn’t pay to see it.

We want to see expertise, or at least competence.

We love our children, when we have them, but even the most motherly mother would probably have to admit, at her most honest, that her daughter won’t be releasing an album based solely on the strength of her “Let it Go,” version.

And it’s such an easy error to look out for. It’s not even homonym difficult or at the dangling participle level. Look through your text. Do I go from -s to -ed? Is there a good reason for the change? If there isn’t, make it one or the other.

Personally, I find present tense a bit of a challenge in fiction, but I will admit that’s entirely preference, and I can appreciate fiction written in present tense if I get over this prejudice. But flip-flopping back and forth in an undisciplined way will put me off from even the greatest metaphors, or allusions, or the cutest fluffy-bunny stories.

Is it just me?

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