When you are writing a memoir, you and the reader must necessarily be in the story time present.
Writers will sometimes confuse the present when they are writing a story and the present of the story. For example, one writer wrote about walking with his mother and seeing a 1931 Cadillac which he described as “an old Cadillac.” When pressed for the date he and his mother were walking downtown, he confessed it must have been 1931 or at the latest 1932. So in fact, in the story time, the car was either new or fairly new.
The present of the story is sometimes called the “historical present”and is written in the past tense. When we read “She said,” we are not thinking the past. The character is moving about in our imagination and we see her as “present.” Most memoirs and novels are written in the past or the historical present.
In this YouTube video on how to be a better storyteller, I share with you how you can learn to make effective use of a variety of technical skills to shape successful lifestories.
Note from the Editor: This third installment of Before Sending a Manuscript to an Editor series offers basic editing tips around time sequencing and flashbacks. For Part 1: Self-Editing Techniques Click here. For Part 2: Use of Time Click here.
A writer can effect these tips to bring a manuscript to a higher level of finish before sending the piece off to a professional editor. In this section, I write about use of time: specifically, cause and effect time sequencing and flashbacks.
Cause and Effect
In the previous post on the use of time, I wrote about the cause-and-effect sequence as a sub-aspect of proper chronology.
Before I get to the cause-and-effect sequence which is an absolutely necessary styling element to understand, I need to review an essential element of memoir writing (as of fiction): the suspension of disbelief.
A writer can effect these tips to bring a manuscript to a higher level of finish before sending the piece off to a professional editor. In this section, I write about time sequencing: specifically, cause and effect sequencing and the flashback. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
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Your relationship to memoir story time
Writers often jumble the use of time in the memoir. The time in which the story unfolds is considered to be the present of the story—often called the “historical present.”
When I write, “She ran into the woods,” the run occurs in the present of the narration—that is the memoir story time. While I have used the past tense (ran), the reader sees the woman running in the mind’s present. We call that the “historical present.”
The reader is always mentally in the present of the story. Following is a line from a text I edited recently. The present of the text is in the spring of the year while the move mentioned in the story was sometime in the past of the story present. That is, it occurred some time previous to what we consider the story present [the historical present].
This is the line the editing client had written, “…a couple of months after I moved into my new apartment…” [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]