Get the Hads Out

If you hate grammar as much as most writers, the past perfect tense isn’t something you mention at parties. But knowing when and how to use it can mean the difference between good and great writing.
Writing Tip for Today: As suggested by the title of this post, past perfect is the tense that denotes before the before. As in, something happened (simple past tense) and something HAD happened (past perfect). Here are some thoughts on past perfect: (and you thought no one was thinking about this stuff!)

  • Get the had out of your lead. I got this from Nathan Bransford, who was parsing a writer’s lead paragraph one day and demonstrated how much stronger the writing could be without all those pesky hads. In my little opinion, “had” is sort of like those was ings constructions. They weaken the sentence’s impact. Plus, if you are resorting to back story (indicated by the hads) this early in the story, maybe think twice.
  • Learn to had correctly. When you DO get to back story (and we all do at times), lessen the hads by using one to open the back story/flashback, then write in simple past tense, and add another had at the last sentence before switching back to real time. So you’d write: “He had thought about this so often. Greta wanted the whole inheritance, not just her half. She barged in that day in the probate lawyer’s office. And Greta hadn’t been willing to leave without drawing first blood.”
  • No had hads. Ever read a sentence like this? “She had had to make a difficult decision.” I don’t know about you but I always stumble a bit on the double hads. At least make the first had a contraction to lessen the feeling of redundancy.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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