What Happens in the Story Never Gets Old.

Do you want to sound natural in English? Here’s a tip. When you tell a story about something that happened to you in the past, tell it in past tense. Sounds obvious, right?   For example, “I was riding my bike, when a car drove into it, and knocked me down.  I fell off the bike.”

Now think about when you tell someone the story or plot of a book or film.  It’s a fictional story about someone else. Did the hero “go to the library after he discovered the truth?”  Or does he go to the library after he discovers the truth? Which option sounds more natural in English?

When we tell the story of a work of art, we usually speak in present tense. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Why are stories of film and books told in present tense?

When I see a movie or read a book, no matter how old the story is, for me, that story is taking place right now, while I’m experiencing it. When I finish the book and lend it to someone else, they will read it, and then the story unfolds for them, as they read.

I often work with actors who would like to practice speaking about their latest project, perhaps a film competing in an international film festival. As we prepare for interviews with English language media, we practice discussing the film.  Sharing the film’s plot in the present tense is one of the ways to sound more natural in English. And it’s also a nice way for stories and works of art to live forever, never getting old.

Real life story: On Saturday night, an actor came over to my house to prepare for an important film audition in English.

In anticipation of the story’s continuation, I draft the rest myself: He gets the part, and the film goes on to receive international acclaim, as does he. Notice that this fictional (for now) part of the story is told in present tense.

That’s my artistic spin on the story’s continuation. Here’s hoping that life imitates art….

What happens in your story?