The Present Past: A Grammatical Hybrid

Posted: 10/02/2010 in Uncategorized

Today I’d like to present you with an interesting writing style that has no doubt been done before but one I’ve never seen: The Present-Past tense hybrid.

I’m sure most everyone is aware of the different tenses that we write and speak, present and past being the most common; “he runs to car” or “he ran to the car”. The one I’ve used most in my writing is of course, past-tense. While technically relating to events that have already happened, it conveys a surprising amount of immediacy within the novel.

But of course, I like to experiment with new, bizarre ways of writing so I came up with this idea of writing a novel and switching between tenses. Not will-nilly of course, but when the action intensifies, the tense changes to present while the normal narrative stayed past-tense. (see how I just did that?:)

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about: (it’s an early prototype so the style/grammar will be buggy) Tell me what you think. Is it too jarring? Does present tense still carry the same immediacy? Let me know in the comments.


Sometime, in the not too distant past, there lived in the heart of California, four children by the name of Eagleana.

Now by all outside appearances, they would seem to be perfectly normal and happy children. But in fact, this was quite the contrary. Of course they all had their fears, like most children do. Jay, the oldest, was afraid of failure; particularly failing to protect his siblings. Joy, the next oldest, was afraid of change, or anything new. Jason, the next-to youngest, was always afraid of being rejected or turned down. And Jamie, the youngest, was afraid of heights, but not much else.

But all of these fears were overshadowed by a much greater fear. A fear that tormented them day and night. A fear of shadows in the darkness; a fear of any sudden movements behind them in the daylight; and a fear of strangers that came within two feet a distance of them.

Now this may sound a bit silly for a group of children, the oldest of whom is sixteen and the youngest twelve. But, if your father was a renowned police detective, a profession that doesn’t exactly bring a large repertoire of friends and whose enemies usually try to exact their revenge by threatening their antagonist’s family, you wouldn’t find these fears quite unfounded.

Now this story starts during the heat of a California summer. It was dusk and their mother was at her night job and the sitter (or, more accurately, the bodyguard.) hadn’t arrived just yet. So they all were passing the time in the enclosed swimming pool room. Jay was reading The Art of War, Joy was busy painting butterflies on her easel, Jason was working with some gadget he had invented, and Jamie was swimming laps.

It was then that they heard a noise.

Joy jerked her head up. “Say, did you hear that?” Joy asked standing up. She was often the one who frightened easiest.

“Sounded like the front door knob.” Jason responded his head still bent.

“It must be the sitter then.” Jay said, laying his book down.

“Then why is the knob still rattling?” Joy asked moving closer to the glass door that separated the pool from the rest of the house.

“Maybe she forgot her key.” Jay reasoned. But he also got up and moved closer to the door and looked down the hall toward the front entry.

“Then she would’ve rang the doorbell, or called.” Joy countered.

“Maybe she’s having trouble with her key? If the key isn’t inserted at the correct angle or the lock mechanism is off, it can cause a minor jam.” Jason replied, he too moving toward the door.

“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked emerging from the water. They all gave a start.

“Someone’s rattling the door knob.” Joy replied.

“Then shouldn’t someone go see who it is?” Jamie asked. They all looked at each other.

“The lights are off, Joy, you have the darkest clothes, you go check.” Jay said. Joy, after looking at everyone, slowly crept down the hall toward the door. Approaching the door, she pressed herself against the nearby wall and carefully pulled the cyan colored curtain back and peeked outside.

With a muffled shriek, she dashes back to the pool.

“What? What’s wrong?” Jay grabs Joy to keep her from falling forward into the pool. Gasping for breath, Joy tries to speak.

“There’s……there’s……men…….outside,” Joy gasps. As if on cue, the front door bursts open.

“Hide!” Jay commands. They all dive down the different hallways. Joy dashes into her room and leaps into the closet. Jay runs upstairs to the open loft overlooking the entryway. Jason disappears into his room filled with a plethora of finished and unfinished contraptions and inventions. Jamie sprints for cover in the master bedroom.

They all waited in their hiding places, not daring to breath. They listened intently for any signs that the men were near their concealment. With every bump or noise that they made, they were sure the men would discover them.

At last they heard noises coming from the entry as the men began their search. Now I will only mention the names of the men, since they only appear once in the story.

“All right.” Bach, the toughest one says. “Chips disabled the security, but only for fifteen minutes, so let’s grab the kids and get out.” They all split up and start rummaging through the house. Bob dashes into Joy’s bedroom. He searches through the room, finally coming upon the closet. Opening the door he looks inside to see jeans and shirts hanging up in neat pairs. He notices a pair of shoes sitting underneath one pair of jeans as he closes the door. Shrugging, he leaves the room.

Bill and Bash creep into the master bedroom flashing their light around the room. One of their lights hit upon shiny wet hair in a corner. They both turn their lights onto Jamie huddled in the corner, sitting in a puddle of water. Her eyes widen as they approach

“Hey, what do we have here?” says Bill.

“Why don’t you come with us, were good friends of your father.” says Bash holding out his hand. Jamie stares at them, her eyes wide. Then her eyes narrow and she charges forward socking Bash in the stomach. He keels over, howling in pain.

“Hey!” Bill grabs Jamie. She twists around and kicks him in the shin. Howling, he lets go and falls against the wall as Jamie dashes out into the hall.

On the other side of the house, Beckle opens the door into Jason’s room. He steps inside onto a lever in front of the door. He hears a click and a whir, then a sproing and a bucket of blocks dump onto his head. Stumbling backward, a board swings down and smacks him in the face sending him sprawling back into the hall.

“What happened?” Bach asks approaching him. “Was anyone in there?”

“Uhhhh…..No.” Beckle quickly replies as the door swings closed. Bach turns, walking into the living room just as Jamie dashes in, pursued by Bash and Bill.

“Hey!” Bach grabs Jamie arm just Bill grabs her other arm. “All right, let’s just go. One’s enough.” They start dragging Jamie toward the door. Jay looks over the balcony above, quickly surveying the scene. Then, picking up a decorative figure from a table he hurls it at a floor lamp in the family room below. It falls to the ground causing the men to turn toward the sound. Then Jay leaps over the railing and swoops down upon the group. He lands on Bach, taking Bill and Bash down with him to the carpet. Jay rolls off them and scrambles to his feet. The door bangs open as several more men rush in.

“Get the girl!” Bach shouts. Bash grabs Jamie and starts dragging her toward the door. Jay leaps forward and tackles Jamie, freeing her from Bash. Bash turns to grab her again but a rope snaps in his face. With a cry of pain, he clutches his face. Jay looks to see Jason standing some distance away with a length of rope around another contraption. Two men start for Jason. He tries to fight them off, but they grab him and start dragging him to the door. Joy stands helplessly off to the side.

“Jay!” she cries. From the pile of men on the floor Jay looks up.

“What?” he asks struggling to keep the men off Jamie.

“They’re getting Jason!”

“So do something!” Jay shouts. Joy looks bewildered. She timidly starts toward the fray when sirens begin to blare outside. Everyone freezes.

“Perfect,” Bach says. “Now we got hostages.” Seizing the moment, Jay and Jason pull back and shove the men forward. As they stumble forward, Jay pulls Jamie down to the floor further tripping the men out the door. Jason leaps forward and slams the door, bolting it.



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