Simple present to elevate tone

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  • Simple present to elevate tone

    I'm working on dialogue that I want to sound more literary, given the context (kings / queens / fantasy), and in such cases I favor the simple present. For instance, from well known sources:

    -Why do you weep / instead of why are you crying? (it's actually "why weep you?")
    -They know not what they do / instead of they don't know what they're doing.
    -They know not of which they speak, etc.

    But a proofreader (this is for a comic book) is replacing many of my simple present verbs with the present continuous, and now I'm all confused, and I can't remember if this done a lot or not.

    For instance, would a soldier say to his commander: "The enemy approaches, your highness" or not?

    Feeling very dumb and illiterate all of a sudden, so advice welcome.

  • #2
    Re: Simple present to elevate tone

    Well I was just re-reading the first act of HAMLET and obviously, the simple tense is everywhere it wouldn't be in ordinary speak today.

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    • #3
      Re: Simple present to elevate tone

      Get on the phone with your proofreader, if he's working for you. If he's working for your editor, get on the phone with your editor.

      Explain to him that this was a conscious choice, and that he shouldn't be correcting it.

      This is NOT something the proofreader should be doing without talking about it with you or your editor first. Whether or not your choices are technically correct, you are using artistic license to create an effect, and a proofreader is punching way out of his weight class if he's "fixing" that.

      I actually strongly recommend that people have proofreaders mark stuff, but not actually correct it.

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      • #4
        Re: Simple present to elevate tone

        Hi Ronald,

        I actually have final say in this. I get to approve or not the proofreader's notes. But it just made me all confused and I started questioning myself, and when I tried to google my issue, I came up with a bunch of stuff that didn't address the point.... The Hamlet bit made me realize I was right (am i?) but still, these things can get mixed up.

        For instance, I work as a translator from French into English. The French use the historical present MUCH more than we Yanks do. Sometimes, in some sort of academic piece that talks about stuff in the past AND stuff in the present, the articles makes NO distinction and it makes me want to throw my laptop out the window. You'd think adding a little word like NOWADAYS would help, but no, the French like to keep it complicated.

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        • #5
          Re: Simple present to elevate tone

          Anybody with an English degree should be thoroughly familiar with the simple present.

          Did they outsource the proofreading to Russia?
          If you really like it you can have the rights
          It could make a million for you overnight

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          • #6
            Re: Simple present to elevate tone

            Originally posted by odocoileus View Post
            Anybody with an English degree should be thoroughly familiar with the simple present.

            Did they outsource the proofreading to Russia?
            Ugh...proofreaders actually come up with some good suggestions (another pair of eyes is always helpful), but in this case, he/she did clearly not see that the style of this book was elevated, and in some cases part of the humor--to my "Woe is me" he/she said: "perhaps a little too dramatic?"

            Anyway, it made me doubt myself, especially since I couldn't find the right way to google the issue and ended up with nothing. Usually I can come up with pretty much anything I'm looking for. But obviously you google "simple present" and you end up with a grammar lesson, none of which have to do with Shakespeare or King James, unless I just didn't look close enough, which is entirely possible.

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            • #7
              Re: Simple present to elevate tone

              Originally posted by Ronaldinho View Post
              Get on the phone with your proofreader, if he's working for you. If he's working for your editor, get on the phone with your editor.

              Explain to him that this was a conscious choice, and that he shouldn't be correcting it.

              This is NOT something the proofreader should be doing without talking about it with you or your editor first. Whether or not your choices are technically correct, you are using artistic license to create an effect, and a proofreader is punching way out of his weight class if he's "fixing" that.

              I actually strongly recommend that people have proofreaders mark stuff, but not actually correct it.
              I agree totally with Ronaldinho. It's not about right or wrong it's about the writer's intention.
              "Reserving rights to comment and make changes."
              Hollywood producer

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Simple present to elevate tone

                Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
                I agree totally with Ronaldinho. It's not about right or wrong it's about the writer's intention.
                Yeah, I told the publisher there was a difference of opinion on that front between the proofreader and myself. Pretty sure they'll side with me.

                Still though, sometimes it throws you for a loop, talking in "older" speak, and you question yourself. I'm a softy for elevated language, but it doesn't mean I'm always sure I'm using it right. But again: first few pages of HAMLET. 'nough said.

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                • #9
                  Re: Simple present to elevate tone

                  Maybe find a proofreader who considers context before correcting.
                  "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." — Joseph Campbell

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                  • #10
                    Re: Simple present to elevate tone

                    History broadcasters in the UK have fallen in love with the historical present for narration - I think they think it gives everything an immediacy. It's getting up there as an irritant with interviewees starting off every answer with 'So...' even when it's not a conclusion, or 'That's a great question...' when it's a perfectly average question.

                    The register your characters speak is completely the writer's decision, and nothing to do with the proof reader. It affects the tone of your story, the audience you're going off, the individual character's voices.

                    The BBC's Poldark series has been a bit flakey over this. The hero, an 18th century Cornish gentleman, described something as a 'schoolboy error' at one point....

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                    • #11
                      Re: Simple present to elevate tone

                      Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
                      But obviously you google "simple present" and you end up with a grammar lesson, none of which have to do with Shakespeare or King James, unless I just didn't look close enough, which is entirely possible.
                      Sometimes when I have this sort of problem, I Google the very phrase I'm using (or some more search-friendly version of it) and then limit the results to Books (More | Books) - to see if/how others have used the phrase I'm considering.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Simple present to elevate tone

                        Originally posted by Manchester View Post
                        Sometimes when I have this sort of problem, I Google the very phrase I'm using (or some more search-friendly version of it) and then limit the results to Books (More | Books) - to see if/how others have used the phrase I'm considering.
                        Good tip! I google entire expressions all the time for my translation work, but I never think to do the Books thing.

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