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Yesterday my cousin, who is in 10th grade, asked me if could help her to write a book review. I don’t know why but the first sentence of the story in her textbook seems off to me from a grammatical point of view. Since I’m not a “native English speaker” I wanted to ask if this is correct or not.

The story begins with:

Zoe ran. Harder than she had ever run in her life. She ran through deserted streets, past derelict buildings. Somewhere, not far behind, she could hear the gang coming after her. [...]

Why does it say “Zoe ran”? Doesn’t it imply that she started to run? I’m sure the author was trying to say that she was doing it in a specific moment in the past (ongoing action in the past) so it should be “Zoe was running.” right? Or is it a matter of point of view? Thank you for your help!

  • You are suggesting something like: “The thugs were jumping out out at Zoe. She wasn’t knowing what to do. Zoe was running. “. Instead of: “The thugs jumped out at Zoe. She didn’t know what to do. Zoe ran.”? – Jim Jan 23 '20 at 15:51
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    "Zoe ran" is perfectly fine. You could say "Zoe was running", but "was running through deserted streets, past derelict buildings" isn't a specific moment, but an extended moment (otherwise it would be "through a deserted street"). And past tense is fine in this case. – Peter Shor Jan 23 '20 at 16:04
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    In a story like that it's sort of a poetic decision -- writer's choice. – Hot Licks Jan 23 '20 at 16:05
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Both are technically fine in most situations. However, especially in a book, where the style of the prose is as, or more, important that being perfectly correct, "zoe ran" may be preferable. It is shorter and, I can't explain why but suspect more readers would agree, is more emotionally evoking. Also, "was running" is more correctly used when you are specifying an exact time, or that something else occurred while she was running. It is unnecessary otherwise.

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    "Perfectly correct" is a suspect concept. – tchrist Jan 23 '20 at 21:43
  • Thank you for your helpful comment that has furthered the quality of discourse on this matter. – Patrick Jan 24 '20 at 21:18
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Each one has a slightly different meaning. “Zoe ran” implies we start the story with Zoe being still (or at most walking, but not running), but as soon as she heard the gang, that triggered her to run.

“Zoe was running” implies that the narrator started the story with the running scene. Telling you that the first thing we know is that she is running from something, and then explaining the reason why. This type of narration is called "In medias res".

  • Actually, "ran" doesn't necessarily imply that Zoe (recently) started running. In the context of a story it emphasizes the action of running, vs merely making it a part of the scene. – Hot Licks Nov 19 '20 at 1:47

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