Automated checking of present and past tense?

Sir Vivor

Well-Known Member
Feb 11, 2018
Very close to the heart of Europe..
Despite being very aware that my characters speak in the present tense, while the book's narrative is in the past tense, I often catch myself making a tense error.
Does anyone know of any automated checking for this?

I'm not sure what you are asking here.
However if you are using past tense narrative then all your narrative and dialogue tags should be in past tense.

Past tense narrative.

"I think we have time to discuss that other matter," he said, when they'd completed their work.
"I agree," she said, as she turned toward him.

Present tense narrative.

"I think we have time to discuss that other matter," he says as they complete their work.
"I agree," she says, as she turns toward him.

I can't think of any reason to...
"I think we have time to discuss that other matter," he says, when they'd completed their work.
"I agree," she says, as she turned toward him. it this way. It would be incorrect.
I understood Sir Vivor to mean that he slips by mistake into present tense in the narrative and/or into past tense for the dialogue. Presumably he realises it's wrong when he re-reads it but I can well imagine how annoying it is to keep having to make the corrections afterwards.

I don't use a grammar checker so I don't know if they can be primed to notice tense change, but I rather suspect there would be a lot of false positives, as they wouldn't recognise the difference between narrative and dialogue. I can't think of any way to counter the mistakes while writing except to practise a good deal, and get used to the past tense narrative. The important thing is ensuring the errors are picked up on a re-read/edit. As long as that is happening, then perhaps don't worry about it unduly for the moment.
Well, and that makes perfect sense.
However, the way I've found to handle that is the numerous edits that I do, throughout the process.
I do let my grammar and speller checker suggest changes, never allow it to just egregiously change things.
The best check for all types of errors is a second or third set of eyes and continual edits.
I know of no one who has written a piece and not had to edit it afterwards.

If someone is hoping to skirt having to do all that grunt work(and do it over several times), I wish them luck with that.
Thanks for the feedback. I totally agree that it remains the author's responsibility to read and re-read his text enough to spot errors. No problem with that, but, (there has to be a but..), as a software engineer, my instincts tell me this could be automated. Dialogue normally lives within double quotes, narrative normally lives outside them. Again, strictly as a software engineer, this should be perfectly doable.. but it would have to be developed on top of a framework which already does grammatical analysis. Not a little weekend project...
Let's just wait 10 years or so, then we can ask our AI assistants to beta-read our texts and look out for tense errors ;-)

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