Friday, February 12, 2010

I HAVE HAD ENOUGH WITH HAD

While making a concerted effort to keep as many HADs out of my book as possible, sometimes it is unavoidable. Yet, as the scrutinizing reader/writer that I am, those HADS always jump out like blemishes on the page.

However, if I am writing my book in first person past-tense and I am referring to something IN THE PAST, what about those HADs? Is there a home for them there?

I want to know how everyone treats this wretched word. I am giving an ambiguous and probably boring excerpt to illustrate.

The first is littered with HADS.

My eyes fell on my duffle bag, almost hidden beneath the extra pillows I HAD thrown off my bed when I HAD arrived. I HAD used the bag as a carry-on during my flight but HAD spent the overnight hours on the plane sleeping rather than reading. I unzipped the bag and saw the shoes, tossed among my paperbacks with a piece of paper crammed under the toes and dried mud still clinging to the soles.

See? She is looking at her duffle bag NOW. She unzips her duffle bag NOW. The rest is in the past.

And maybe I can eliminate some of the hads and not put them in capitals :) There is always, "I'd."

What if I wrote it like this?

My eyes fell on my duffle bag, almost hidden beneath the extra pillow I threw off my bed when I arrived. I used the bag as a carry-on during the flight but spent the overnight hours on the plane sleeping rather than reading. Now, I unzipped the bag and saw the shoes, tossed among the paperbacks...and the rest of it.

I think then, "now" should be added to re-orient the reader to the present-ness of the situation.

Now tell me your opinion about that awful three-letter word.

14 comments:

  1. The second version is much better. I don't think you need NOW. In fact, it's distracting. The unzipping of the bag is action enough to tell me what's happening. At least that's what I HAD thought when I HAD first read it.

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  2. That's how I would of changed it. I recently read a book full of HADS and it drove me crazy. My problem word is THAT. Had is an issue to though.

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  3. Ah, had is one of my problems, too. And the word just. They always pop up in my ms, but fortunately my cp's usually spot them for me.

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  4. Ack, I have trouble with that stinker too. I've heard that the first had orients the reader and then you don't need other hads because the reader knows we're in the past. Sometimes that works for me, sometimes not.
    :-)

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  5. What's really cool is that you notice this kind of thing! I mean, I probably need to be hit over the head with the fact that I'm doing the HAD thing in a scene.

    Well done.

    And I think the revised way does sound more clean.

    Shelley

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  6. I definitely like your second one better.

    My three letter word was "was" but now I'm aware of my overuse of the word "was" so I try not to use it as much as possible.

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  7. Jessica-You're the second one that has mentioned that now. Must be something to it.

    Shelley-It took me awhile to realize how often I used that word. I'm sure there are more just like it waiting to be discovered in my ms.

    Patti-I've been trying to avoid to-be verbs as well, but there ARE definitely some instances those verbs ARE necessary.

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  8. I think you could say: "I had thrown off the bed when I arrived." The others work for me and don't stand out too much.

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  9. You know what I love? Contractions!! The HADs and HAVEs and AMs and AREs just disappear! :)

    Also - not all of them are needed. Try this:

    My eyes fell on my duffle bag, almost hidden beneath the extra pillows I'd thrown off my bed when I arrived. I'd used the bag as a carry-on during my flight but spent the overnight hours on the plane sleeping rather than reading.

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  10. Lois and Heidi-You seem to have the same idea as Paul and Jessica. I agree, contractions are magic.

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  11. Elizabeth-I love that...'quick sand word.'

    Heidi-SO unoriginal. You are very smart though so don't worry. I don't read the other comments half the time either. And if four people say the same thing in the comments section then I think there must be something to what they are saying.

    Shelli-Isn't that funny. 'Just' is such a nothing word, too. I use it a lot, and it serves absolutely no real purpose.

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  12. While your second one "reads better," it is grammatically incorrect. That it kind of how it should read if you were writing in first-present. "Had" is part of past perfect structure. If you are writing in past and want to talk about something even more in the past, you have to use "had" in past perfect tense.

    So, if you're writing in first-past: My eyes fell on my duffle bag, almost hidden beneath the extra pillows I'd thrown off my bed when I arrived. I'd used the bag as a carry-on during my flight but had spent the overnight hours on the plane sleeping rather than reading. I unzipped the bag and saw the shoes, tossed among my paperbacks with a piece of paper crammed under the toes and dried mud still clinging to the soles.

    If it's in first-present: My eyes fall on my duffle bag, almost hidden beneath the extra pillow I threw off my bed when I arrived. I used the bag as a carry-on during the flight but spent the overnight hours on the plane sleeping rather than reading. I unzip the bag and see the shoes, tossed among the paperbacks...and the rest of it.

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  13. I am trying not to worry too much about them since I am still in first draft mode, but every time I type that dreaded word, I cringe.

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  14. Had I written it, I would have had to write it as you had in the second example.
    Okay, enough of that. As a newspaper editor, I was constantly deleting had and that from articles - as a book editor now, I find both words horribly over-used. Both are superfluous.
    The second is definitely best.

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