Wednesday, 28 January 2009

#78 – Make use of the active present continuous

Or strapping the reader into the rollercoaster seat.

A word of warning here. Not everyone will agree with this, and some editors will possibly regard it as the worst piece of advice in history. But I think the active form of the present continuous tense really lends itself to travel writing.

I’ll demonstrate rather than try to explain. Here are two examples of the same intro. Which do you think reads better?

Example one
The huddle was so tight that a scrum could have broken out at any minute. A 17-stone shaven-headed man attempted to barge his way past a couple of ten year olds in order to get a closer view. Other kids tested the shoulder of their weary parents in a bid to get a height advantage.

Example two
The huddle is so tight that you half expect a scrum to break out at any minute. A 17-stone shaven-headed man is attempting to barge his way past a couple of ten year olds in order to get a closer view. Other kids are testing the sagging shoulders of their weary parents in a bid to get a height advantage.

Report vs running commentary
I prefer the latter. Others won’t, but I think it has the advantage of taking the reader to the situation and making them feel they are a part of it. Example one is a report of an incident, example two is a running commentary on an incident in progress. It’s the difference between watching breaking news of a major event and a sober studio analysis afterwards; the live match versus the highlights package.

Adding zip
Keeping writing in the active makes it more arresting - it’s more dynamic to read. And using the present continuous straps the reader into the rollercoaster seat rather than allowing them to look on at a distance. This technique isn’t always appropriate, but I feel as though it adds zip to a travel story and offers a better sense of place.


Daniela said...

That is a really interesting piece of advice - I will have to try it out next time.
Though as you say it does depend on the context of the writing, but it definately does the transport the reader to the situation.

I only discovered your blog a few weeks ago, but I've been getting up to speed with all your past entries and for someone like me, who you could say is still in the early stages of "breaking" into the indistry, they are proving to be really really useful.


David said...

Glad you like it Daniela. As I say, not everyone will agree with me on this point - it's just a technique I find useful.

jen laceda said...

I prefer the latter one. It's much (for lack of a better word).

Do editors prefer writing in the past tense?

Sometimes, I come across travel articles in which the writer's experiences and observations are written in the past tense, but descriptions of the place/locale are in the present continuous tense. Is this something appropriate?

What about using past perfect / present perfect?

I do apologize for the million quetions...


David said...

Hi Jen. I'm afraid there's no 'right' answer to any of your questions.

Some editors hate the use of the present tense. Some love it. It all depends on the editor.

I'll sometimes change between tenses in a piece - often present continuous to describe the action, past to fill in the backstory.

There are no right or wrongs though. My advice would be to use whichever tense you think reads best.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the latter as well, what I have difficulty with is then shifting to the past tense for a conclusion or 'what I learnt'. A conclusion say, where my expectations of a place changed after visiting it…
Do you have any tips for this?
Travel writer