Today, I wanted to ask what you all thought about writing in the imperfect tense.
What's the imperfect tense? Well, it can take on two basic forms. One is an incomplete action or coincident actions:
I was gallivanting in the ballroom when Mr. Bailey rang the bell.
The other one, and the one I'm more curious about today is its use to describe continuous actions:
I used to dangle my carrots, but then Lady Glam suggested I dangle turnips instead.
This comes up because I was at my writer's group meeting a few weeks ago when someone suggested that another writer replace a scene written in this imperfect, habitual tense with a scene that simply had the character doing the action once. Instead of "I used to dangle my carrots," the suggestion was to write "I dangled my carrots." Accuracy aside (this wasn't non-fiction), the critic's idea was that writing it as a singular event activated the action, focused it into one sharp scene whereas the original left the time in a more imperfect realm.
I started thinking about Proust. Not only did he embrace the imperfect tense, but much of the first volume of his long novel was written as these descriptions of habits, series of events that were repeated again and again. His translated first line, for example is "For a long time I would go to bed early."
Proust used the imperfect tense to explore memory, its transformations, its misrememberings, its associations. In that sense, the imperfect tense was critical. But for me, what made this tense alluring was its realness. Don't we all have those memories of activities we've done over and over again? Still, I think the reviewer in my writer's group had a point. Writing a scene as a singular event can really bring it to life.
So, what do you all think? Is there a place for the imperfect tense, even if you aren't dealing with the idea of memory? Have you used the imperfect tense and found it more powerful than, say, past tense, in certain circumstances?