I started a piece on tense last night, as in past, present, future tense, and quickly discovered that I really just don’t know enough about the issue to write on it. Usually we speak of a bit of writing as being in the past tense, or occasionally in the present tense, but when I try to analyze some writing I often find myself confused. Consider the following tidbit, in which I’ve indicated the verb tenses in parentheses.
“The first bombing run was (past) barely over when the second one began (past). Tom raced (past) his jeep through the streets, hoping he would (future) be able to reach his fighter plane and take off before it was (past) destroyed.”
Although this is a past tense piece, there is at least one use of the future tense. Isn’t there?
Then consider this line: “There was sleet that sent the people of Locknaar scurrying from the streets as the sun failed.” This is past tense, and if we write it in present tense we get: “There is sleet that sends the people of Lochnaar scurrying from the streets as the sun fails.” Note that “scurrying from the streets” is precisely the same in both forms. Normally, in writing in past tense you’d say, “scurried from the streets.” “Scurrying” seems to be happening now, in both sentences. Owwie, my brain hurts.
I’ve checked out grammar books but most of them seem to give only the briefest and simplest examples of tense usage, ones that always seem clear to me but do not cover the whole range of differences. Most of them seem to focus on nonfiction as well. Anyone have a suggestion for a book or article that really gets in there and explains the details? Or perhaps you are yourself a tense guru and can make the scales fall from my eyes.