#MadAboutDetails is a collection of quickie writing tips inspired by my review read of Ilona Andrews’s White Hot. No one is truly mad, except the book’s hero—Mad Rogan—so read on for your daily dose of writing insight!

What are your verb tenses telling your readers?

From White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Copyright © 2017 Ilona Andrews

Near the middle of the long hallway, by an open door, three men stood together discussing something, all dark-haired, middle-aged, and wearing black robes with their hoods down. One of them was Matthias Forsberg. Of average height but with the broad, sturdy frame of an aging football player, Forsberg stood out. His shoulders were wide and heavy, his stance direct. He planted his feet as if he expected to be run over. His face, with dark eyes, wide eyebrows that angled down without any hint of an arch, and a hint of softness around the chin, didn’t match his body.

Look at the bold text above. Since this story is written in third person past tense, the author has a few options for wording here. Notably:

  1. He planted his feet (past tense)
  2. He had planted his feet (past perfect, or pluperfect, tense)

#1 implies…

The man generally stands this way, perhaps subconsciously protecting against any possible attack (physical, emotional, mental, magical, etc).

—> The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS, ed 16) defines the past tense verb (indicative mood) as denoting “an act, state, or condition that occurred or existed at some explicit or implicit point in the past.” Basically, a past tense verb encompasses the general past and lets the surrounding context set the scene.

#2 suggests…

For this specific scene, the man has intentionally braced himself and is actively prepared for a physical attack.

—> CMoS defines past perfect tense as “an act, state, or condition that was completed before another specified or implicit past time or past action.” So, something that began in the past and ended in the past. This tense narrows the window during which the action could have happened, allowing you to draw more specific conclusions in context.

The fun factor

The first wording contributes to character building—this guy is always on guard. The second sets up the scene itself: this character expects an imminent attack.

One little word (or lack thereof) makes all the difference to an eagle-eyed reader!

BONUS! There are two other posts with tips from this same book! Click the #MadAboutDetails tag below to check them out!

Show & tell challenge

Do you have any examples of your work where a seemingly simple verb tense decision significantly changes the way a passage reads, its intent?

Leave a comment* below and join the discussion!

*Limit 150 words. If you’ve played this game before (on a different post), choose something unique to share.


See my review at: Goodreads | Amazon| GraveTells

All Tensed Up #MadAboutDetailsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by HarperCollins on May 30, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Paranormal, General, Fantasy
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Add it to your To Read shelf: Goodreads
Buy or reserve your copy online at*: Amazon (Kindle)

The Hidden Legacy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews continues as Nevada and Rogan navigate a world where magic is the norm…and their relationship burns hot
 
Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.
 
Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …
 
An Avon Romance

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