This page is an archive of a community-wide discussion. This page is no longer live. Further comments or questions on this topic should be made in a new Senate Hall page rather than here so that this page is preserved as a historic record. Toprawa and Ralltiir 19:14, December 13, 2010 (UTC)
Over the last few weeks, I've noticed an area where our articles often prefer one style of wriring, often another. Specifically, I'm talking about "Behind the scenes" sections and their treatment of plot details from the source material. Should these be in the present tense or the past tense?
First off, some common ground: if a sentence talks about details like when a work was written, published, revised, etc., it's best to use the past tense. Thus, "George Lucas wrote the original screenplay for Star Wars in 1972," and "Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire was first published in 1993." I think most of us are on board with this.
However, where the point of reference shifts to the fictional world of the work itself, academic practice would (generally) mandate the use of the literary present tense. Thus, "In the screenplay, Lucas portrays Skywalker as a naive farmboy," and "Mara Jade meets Skywalker after defeating a vornskr." The logic behind this is that fictional works are still around, and, therefore, if anyone goes and picks up a copy of Heir to the Empire, they will find that the plot is still the same as it was when the book was first published. In other words, literary present tense privileges the fiction as a "living" thing in that it's still around for us to see, read, etc.
This overview is simplistic, but here's a good primer on the concept.
We all tend to follow literary present tense in plot summary sections of out-of-universe articles, anyway, so I think most of us support the idea at least in that context. Where things get hairy is in "Behind the scenes" sections of regular articles, though.
Many editors at Wookieepedia tend to prefer the past tense for "Behind the scenes" information. The examples above might be related as "In the screenplay, George Lucas portrayed Skywalker as a naive farmboy," and "Mara Jade met Skywalker after defeating a vornskr." This seems to be in keeping with our Manual of style's coverage of such things: "All in-universe articles should be in the past tense." Similarly, the Layout Guide makes no mention of verb tense in its guidelines for "Behind the scenes" sections.
At any rate, this seems to be the more common style here. It's certainly easier to make everything past tense in "Behind the scenes" than to consider whether a particular sentence privileges the temporal-real-world actions of the author or the fictional goings-on of the work. This also seems to be the common practice in everyday speech (and hence fandom); you'd probably say, "Did you see Clone Wars last night? Ahsoka was totally badass when she drop-kicked that droid commando!"
Finally, here's a worked example of how these two philosophies play out in a BTS, borrowing from an article I recently expanded, Amorphiian:
The Amorphiian Dromboid first appeared in 1978 as part of a short comedy segment in the television program The Star Wars Holiday Special. American comedian Harvey Korman portrayed the character, who taught the young Wookiee Lumpy how to assemble a mini-transmitter. All the while, Dromboid's constant malfunctions frustrated the young Wookiee. The fourth draft script of the special spelled the species' name Amorphiian. This spelling was later confirmed as canonical when The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia included an entry on the species in 2008.
The Amorphiian named Dromboid appears in a short comedy segment in The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired on television in 1978. The character, portrayed by American comedian Harvey Korman, teaches the young Wookiee Lumpy how to assemble a mini-transmitter. All the while, Dromboid's constant malfunctions frustrate the young Wookiee. The fourth draft script of the special writes the species' name Amorphiian, a spelling that is echoed as canonical in The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia, published in 2008.
So, my question is this: How should we treat information in "Behind the scenes" sections? Should we try to adhere to academic practice, which puts us in the same camp as scholarly writing and most encyclopedias? Or should we go with what seems to be common practice among fans and report information from fictional works in the past tense? Or is this a case of live and let live, as long as a particular BTS is consistent with one style or the other? ~ SavageBob 17:11, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
I personally prefer writing in-universe parts of bts in present tense. It reads better to me and sounds more professional. Isn't that what we're going for? But I definitely disagree with leaving up to the editor. It needs to be consistent. MasterFred(Whatever) 19:30, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
I would like to point out that often times the BTS requires a tense shift. For example, if you're talking about the specific role a character plays in a story, I find it best to use the present tense to describe this: John acts as the protagonist in the story, rather than John acted as the protagonist in the story. Because the "story," the literary work itself, is still ongoing in a present sense. The story itself doesn't stop existing. If I may, here are two examples of articles I've written to demonstrate how BTS tense can shift between past and present depending on what is being discussed: Wendell Wright-Sims and Wenny Boggs. I find the idea of mandating the use of a single tense throughout the BTS to be extremely impractical. Toprawa and Ralltiir 19:57, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
The problem comes when certain editors prefer certain styles. I prefer using present whenever possible, but others prefer using past exclusively, even for plot information in the BTS. In other words, I'm looking for community consensus on how this should be treated. Is it a preference we can leave up to each editor (and that us copy editors should leave alone when we copy edit)? Or should all plot information be in present tense? And etc... ~ SavageBob 20:01, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
And just as an example of how the Wright-Sims BTS could be made fully present tense: "Wendell Wright-Sims appears briefly in the May1996Shadows of the Empire novel, written by Steve Perry, as one of the many business underlings who pays his dues to Prince Xizor of Black Sun. In the June 1996 Shadows of the Empire Sourcebook, Peter Schweighofer greatly expands the character's biographical background based on his appearance as a spice peddler in the novel. The sourcebook reveals that Wright-Sims is Coruscant's foremost spice dealer, catering to the most elite elements of high Coruscant society. Artist Tim Bobko illustration of the character shows him to be [insert whatever]. Wright-Sims also appears as the protagonist in the short narrative An Old Flame in Need... within the Shadows of the Empire Sourcebook, which presents an in-universe look at one of Wright-Sims's high-class Coruscant social engagements and the superficial charm he uses to pursue the affections of Mayli Weng, his former lover." ~ SavageBob 20:05, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
Let me also point out that I'm not trying to pick on Tope's BTS example. I'm just trying to show that a lot of the language we prefer around here necessitates past tense (like "So-and-so first appeared") but could be rewritten in present if we decided to go that route. ~ SavageBob 20:15, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
No worries, I understand your intentions. But I don't think that's the superior version, otherwise I would write all of my BTS sections that way. What this thread calls a "problem" I call a matter of preference. I think it's important to have the flexibility of being able to alternate between tenses when describing things from different perspectives. For example, sometimes you want to describe the evolution of some subject through OOU continuity history, which the Wright-Sims BTS is doing in a sense, and that's best achieved through past tense, not present. Whereas it's also important, IMO, to alternately being able to describe a story's plot matter in present tense. As you said yourself in this thread, "We all tend to follow literary present tense in plot summary sections of out-of-universe articles, anyway, so I think most of us support the idea at least in that context." Indeed, I do. But that doesn't mean the entire BTS should rigidly be written in that same present tense. Tense uniformity isn't as important in the BTS as is common sense and prose that reads well. To reiterate my previous point, mandating a single tense throughout the BTS is far too restrictive, IMO. This is an example where preference is ok in Wookieepedia article writing. Toprawa and Ralltiir 20:31, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
To further respond to one of your specific points, you write, "Is it a preference we can leave up to each editor (and that us copy editors should leave alone when we copy edit)? Or should all plot information be in present tense?" I have no problem with leaving this up to preference, which means that copy-editors should not necessarily impose one tense over another if the original writer prefers the opposite way. For the most part, this is something I personally try not to mess with too much when I'm reviewing an article anyway, so it wouldn't be a change in practice at all. If someone is trying to impose a certain BTS tense when reviewing, that's something they should consider backing off from. This all comes down to unique writing style, IMO, which is not a bad thing. Toprawa and Ralltiir 20:47, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
I feel I may have not been clear in my opinion. I don't want uniform tense throught an entire BTS. To me, IU info (such as plot summaries) reads way better in present, but that is not true for OOU stuff (like so-and-so first appeared in blah). That should be past. I do, however, believe in consistency throughout the site. I'm big on consistancy. It's a pet-peev of mine. :) To me, everyone should try to use whatever tense reads better for the situation. IOW, there's really no way to make this a policy. I'd say it's more case-by-case. IMO MasterFred(Whatever) 21:22, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
I agree with Tope; it's up to the writer. Sometimes present tense is better, sometimes past is better. 1358(Talk) 21:26, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
If I were Emperor of Wookieepedia, I'd advocate present throughout, but I'm not, so I'm OK with that. But what if the focus is narrowed to just plot information, like "In the novel, Mara Jade [ate/eats] a dicklefruit and [got/gets] sick"? Should we advocate one style or the other when we're specifically dealing with plot information, or should this, too, be up to individual editors? ~ SavageBob 22:44, November 6, 2010 (UTC)
My question is: what is a dicklefruit, and hopefully not what I think it is? :P -- Riffsyphon1024 10:14, November 8, 2010 (UTC)
I agree with Tope in that a tense shift is often needed when describing a subject's OOU evolution. Using Bob's example, "Wendell Wright-Sims appears briefly in the May1996Shadows of the Empire novel" is fine, but "In the June 1996 Shadows of the Empire Sourcebook, Peter Schweighofer greatly expands the character's biographical background based on his appearance as a spice peddler in the novel" sounds weird, as it makes it seem like Schweighofer is still expanding the character's background to this day. I feel like "expanded" would easily and accurately convey the fact that the sourcebook was published just once. When I write BTS's, I definitely like to describe a subject's evolution, using past tense --- for example, "After being briefly mentioned in The Final Prophecy, the eighteenth and penultimate novel in The New Jedi Order book series, Page played a major role in the series' conclusion, The Unifying Force. Both novels were published in 2003, and they were the first sources to christen the character 'Judder,' giving him a first name twelve years after his creation." That's past tense and seems perfectly fine, I think. Surely I shouldn't say "Both novels are published in 2003." To again echo Tope, this does seem to come down to individual writing styles, neither of which seem to be really wrong. Menkooroo 15:36, November 7, 2010 (UTC)
Aaaaand I just saw Bob's most recent message. When it comes to strictly plot information, even if present tense is more right, I'm still not convinced that past tense is wrong. I'd say that it's still a case of individual writing styles, both of which work fine. Menkooroo 15:36, November 7, 2010 (UTC)
Yeah, I realize my preferred style makes your eyes hurt and vice-versa. :) But I'm still not convinced that strict plot information should be in the same "do what you prefer" category, as, like Tope says, the story still exists. It's not like we read something and it poofs away forever more. I'm coming from this as a student who writes a lot about film, so it's possible that my academic training/brainwashing is playing a role here, but there ya go.... ~ SavageBob 16:22, November 7, 2010 (UTC)
Agreed. Tense for typical bts stuff obviously goes in whatever tense is grammatically correct per the time the situation occurred/is occurring/will occur. However, in instances like plot summaries, I agree that it reads est in present tense. MasterFred(Whatever) 05:17, November 8, 2010 (UTC)