Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Sep 26, 2013

Had Beens

Okay, I've come up with a bit of concrete writing advice.  Please, please, for the love of sanity PLEASE don't use "had been" for past tense.  If you can use "was" or "were" DO SO.  I've encountered this a lot lately and it's so ugly and clunky and even a bit pretentious.  It makes you look like a blowhard, and it makes your writing harder to read.

It's not a HUGE deal, but try to save the "had been" for passive voice only, which you should generally avoid unless there's just no other good way to say something. Please don't use it for past tense.  Here's an example from the story I'm currently reading, by Brad Asia:

"There had been few major dramas, few crises, and no major catastrophes."

See, there's absolutely no reason to use "had been" there instead of "were".  I can't guess what brings this about, but I seem to encounter it mostly when people are writing in the past tense already (like you do) and the characters begin to reminisce about the past.  So they start using "had been" instead of the "was" and "were" they were already using.

This isn't necessary.  You don't need to have some kind of super-past tense and mangle the language in the process.  Just use regular past tense.  My memory is bugging me, saying that there's a special name for this type of verb conjugation--ah, here it is, past perfect tense.  I don't think it's necessary to use past perfect for events that occurred prior to the (nominal) "present" in a novel, even though you use past tense to refer to that present.  It may be grammatically correct, but I think it's a poor habit to get into when there are other, equally correct ways to say it that aren't so horribly clunky.

Now, there ARE cases where you legitimately WANT to use past perfect, as in that link, but don't overdo it.  You can legitimately confuse people into thinking that a past situation is no longer ongoing (and that there ought to be some kind of other explanatory event in there somewhere) by overusing past perfect.

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