Writing Fundamentals: Had

Published August 14, 2016 by nruhwald

As in: she noticed how much she uses this word in writing, and had to barf.

“Had,” like those pesky adverbs I’ve mentioned, weaken your writing.

So somebody “had to” barf. Great. Did they or didn’t they actually do it? You don’t know. Probably, since they “had to.” But you don’t get to see it, you only see the necessity of doing it.

She didn’t “have to” barf. She barfed.

See? So much better.

Had been

Possibly even worse, someone “had been” barfing. This is bad, too. You don’t want your reader to see that your character “had been” doing something. You want your reader to see your character doing it.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix, provided it doesn’t cause grammatical or logical issues. If you look through your prose and notice a road “where Tony had been running” simply change it to the road “where Tony ran.”

However, this may cause a bit of confusion if Tony is not currently running on that road, which leads me to the one time you can use the word “had.”

The Exception

In fact, you have to use it sometimes. In general, the word “had” is bad because it detaches the reader from what is currently going on. However, sometimes what you are talking about is in the past.

For instance, if your narrator is describing something that happened past of the past-present you’re writing about, you need to use the word had at least once so your readers know what is going on.

If you’re launching into a section where your narrator is completely mentally present in the past, you can use “had” once to demonstrate that you’re skipping back in time and then continue on as usual.

 

 

 

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