Thursday, May 31, 2012

June 2012 - Had is a Handicap

    "The most useful skill a wrier can acquire is the ability to edit one's work ruthlessly. --Paul Raymond Martin, GETTING PUBLISHED

While browsing Wikipedia, I came across:

1) Had is an alternative for Hadit, the Thelemic version of an Egyptian god.

2) HAD is the abbreviation for Hole Accumulation Diode, a technique for reducing electronic noise.

3) Had is the abbreviation for technology blog hackaday (usually written as HaD

Who knew? However, these oddities aside, for a writer and storyteller "had" is a verb, the simple past tense and past participle of the word "have."

Although had seems like such a little word, an inconsequential word, one to be skimmed over, failure to understand its impact on the reader leads many writers astray. And as useful as had can be when working with past tense, the danger is, of course, overuse either as unintentional "crops of" (repeated in a short space of paragraphs) or "peppering a page or pages."

The second red-flag danger is the "apostrophe D" dilemma. Does an "apostrophe D" mean: had or would? (I'd, He'd, She'd, They'd, etc.). Most people will read it as "had" so, if there will be any doubt--and for clarity's sake--write out "would" and the reader never has to be jarred out of the story to go back and translate.

Of course, had is especially useful when dropping into a bonafide flashback. However, once in the flashback, the idea is to stop peppering the segment with hads and make the flashback run as if it were a scene happening in the now. Then, when it's time, transition out of the flashback with a couple of hads and return to the present story world.

Lastly, there are passivity issues with using had because had is often accompanied by "been."  Such constructions as "had been gone" or "had been seen" should be double checked to see if one good, vivid, image provoking verb might work better or if the sentence needs to be recast.

Of course, a writer cannot eliminate every instance of had or had been but cutting down the frequency helps the reader continue reading (and they won't notice a writer at work). So, place "had" and "apostrophe D" on your revision cheat sheet so you do one pass for them. You do have a revision checklist, right?

Stop by July 1 for a look at "And and But."

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