One of these days, I'm going to talk about an interview I did with a very lovely lady who helped me with research on Russian culture for my newest work-in-progress, which is currently on pause while I finish editing Bad Judgment. The post is gonna be amazing. It'll probably win awards, it's gonna be so good. Someone will tell me that they named their baby after me because of it. Or their puppy, which isn't as good, but is still better than nothing.
But that's a post that deserves more time and energy than I currently have, which is very little, as my brain is leaking out of my ears at the moment. So you get this post, which--in comparison--is pretty shitty. Actually, it might be shitty based on any standard.
Now that I've successfully lowered your expectations to the point where even a sugar cookie would make you happy (and that is looooow, let's be honest), allow me to explain why changing a book from past tense to present tense is making me relearn the English language.
To be up front, I'm not one of those writers who can diagram a sentence. (There, I said it! Finally!). I use the 'breathing rule' when I'm not sure if I need a comma (I really doubt I'm alone with this one), and I might be addicted to semi-colons (our love will not be denied).
I learned English the way most native speakers do--through having adults butcher it with baby talk in my general direction when I was a miniature human, and then mostly through television as I got taller. I learned actual sentence structure and all that jazz through reading, though, because nobody learns proper grammar through speech. Mostly because unless you're British or a copyeditor, you're probably not using proper grammar when you speak. You're speaking like a normal person, which is to say through shortcuts, slang, comma splices, run-ons, and fragment sentences (I'm not judging you. I do it too.). Nearly everybody does this, which is why those plucky, stubborn people who refuse to end sentences with prepositions and who use "whom" correctly sound like constipated robots to the rest of us. (If you happen to see one of these rare, bizarre creatures in the wild, be thankful. Like unicorns, they are good luck. Eh, I'm just kidding. Unicorns are crap, I don't care what Scotland says.)
The point is that I know how to build sentences because I've read so many of them that I've sort of internalized what to do, even if I can't explain why.
For example, I had a friend once ask me when to use affect vs. effect. Now, I can use these words accurately. Flawlessly. Every damn time. I took a quiz once on it, and got 100% without blinking. Granted, it was an internet quiz from a suspicious website that told me I could win a cruise if I got all the questions right, but the point is, I rocked the hell out of that fake quiz, and to this day, I'm pretty happy about it. It affected me strongly, one might say (and yes, that is the proper usage of the word). But could I explain it to her? In a succinct, truthful way? Not even if a million angry hornets were waiting for me to mess it up so they'd have a reason to swarm. And no, I don't know why the hornets would be waiting for me to misuse grammar before they attack. As a general rule, I find hornet logic thorny.
Why does any of this matter? Because I'm in the process of shifting my book into past tense, and it's making me realize that I don't know the rules of tense as well as I probably should if I'm gonna get paid for this gig. Seriously. I'm a professional at this these days, and I can easily note places where tense gets broken, but other than saying "that's wrong because it's wrong" I don't really have a rationale for why "go" is present tense and "went" is past tense. (It's not goed. You'd think, but no.) My explanation pretty much starts and stops with: because English is weird.
Believe it or not, I did really well on the English portion of the GRE. "Goed" wasn't on there even once.
Here's an example of a change I did right:
He’s clearly tired and in pain, his clothes are covered in dried blood, and he’s in a foul temper.
He was clearly tired and in pain, his clothes were covered in dried blood, and he was in a foul temper.
Except that when you get tired and you're prone to run-on sentences (oh, I really am--you must've noticed by now), some of the more complicated sentences can make you stop and think.
Like: It’s only once Brogan’s listening to the water pelting in the other room that he realizes that suggesting Embry take a shower was stupid.
On the surface, this seems straightforward, doesn't it? So I made this:
It was only once Brogan heard the water pelting in the other room that he realized that suggesting Embry take a shower was stupid.
But here's where I ran into trouble. Which is correct?
...that suggesting Embry take a shower was stupid.
OR: ...that suggesting Embry take a shower had been stupid.
It's confusing because Brogan's thinking about something that happened before the current moment. He had suggested the shower in the past. And now that the sentence is in the past tense, does his reference to an earlier point in time need to be even more past? Is 'had been' a reference to the extra pasty-past? Or is it one of those imperfect things that denotes...whatever imperfection denotes? Leaving alone that the entire sentence is sort of badly phrased to begin with, how do I know when Embry should be naked in the shower at all (which is all the time, if you ask Brogan, because that's how boys get down in my books)? Why won't someone do this for me? For free?! What is life, internet? DO YOU SEE MY PROBLEM?
I need a sandwich.
So I think I'm just gonna take that whole 'shower' sentence out. For reasons that are entirely unrelated to grammar. Honest.
In conclusion: I told you this post was shitty, but you kept on reading. Really, you only have yourself to blame, pal.