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  1. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    He walked vs. He had walked

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Anthony Martin, Jul 24, 2013.

    I have run into this issue recently in a short story: I like move back into actions that the protagonist took earlier in the day ... or in a trip ... or in the year. Sometimes I struggle when deciding to use the construction "he had walked" or "he'd walked" versus "he walked." For example:

    Anthony stepped aboard the bus. Earlier that day, he had taken the same bus into the city for school.

    Now, what I struggle with is everything that comes after school in the example above. When I use past tense, after having shifted the narrative into a time earlier in the day, do I have to always use the construction "he had" until I bring the narrative back into the present tense? For example:

    Anthony stepped aboard the bus and lit up. Earlier that day, he had taken the same bus into the city for school and sat next to an old woman. "Hello young man," she'd said.

    or

    Anthony stepped aboard the bus. Earlier that day, he had taken the same bus into the city for school and sat next to an old woman. "Hello young man," she said.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    repeat the 'had' as few times as possible, once you've established the past-past scene... i don't see adding it to 'she' in that example as being at all necessary...
     
  3. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    [MENTION=373]mammamaia[/MENTION]! you make me so happy!
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, Mammamaia has hit the nail on the head here.

    Once you've finished writing the piece containing this flashback, give it to somebody else to read and see if they are at all confused. If so, you can maybe add a few more 'hads' for clarification.

    If not, it's fine!
     
  5. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    Firstly, you were not even in present tense in this example. Or it would have been "he steps" rather than "he stepped". Maybe this was just an accident of your example rather than what is in your actual story?

    On the use of "she said" it is correct to use that for past tense conversations. You would never use she'd said, or she had said really for conversations. This is something you would be more likely to use in narrative. For example if you hadn't done the dialogue but put that the woman had just said hello, then you may have written that after he sat next to her she'd said hello to him.

    The simple fact is he said, or she said is past tense and is fine for your conversations in this case.
     
  6. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    I may be wrong but, isn't this about active voice vs passive voice? With the 'had' making it passive? Like:

    He walked - active
    He'd walked - passive

    Right?
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, only partly. The word 'had' is also used to indicate that something happened in the past. It's not always a no-no. The word exists for a reason, and not just to create dull stories! If a writer is trying to distinguish something happening in the present with something that happened earlier, the use of 'had'—at least to start a flashback passage—is perfectly justified.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This doesn't have anything to do with active versus passive voice. Active and passive voice are illustrated by these examples:

    Active: Fred kicked the ball.
    Passive: The ball was kicked by Fred.

    Passive voice is commonly used in scientific papers; the authors of these papers usually want to remove themselves from their research. Instead of writing, "I formulated a hypothesis and needed to test it, so I designed an experiment for that purpose. I performed the experiment and the result confirmed that my hypothesis was correct," they write, "A hypothesis was formulated and an experiment designed to test it. The experiment was performed and the result confirmed the hypothesis."

    This sort of writing is rather turgid and hard to read, but I guess it's considered unseemly for researchers to be always patting themselves on the back for being right.

    Most teachers of creative writing advocate the use of active voice wherever possible. In fiction, too much passive voice looks mealy-mouthed, evasive, and weak.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I state the following only because, though this is a writing forum in English for an English speaking audience, we do have a very international membership.

    What Minstrel said is very much the truth as regards the English language. English deplores sentences without a grammatical subject so much that it forces "dummy subjects" for sentences that have no logical subject. For example: It is raining. In that sentence It is the grammatical subject, though it refers to nothing. It is not the actor. There is no actor.

    For those of you who might be writing on other native tongues, the same may not hold true. Spanish adores the passive voice. Whole pages can go by without a single grammatical subject. Russian is not so enamored as Spanish with the passive, but its very lose word order makes the passive as common to hear as the active.

    That is all. :)
     
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  10. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    @hunstman40

    My example was meant to communicate how I move to moments in the past ("earlier that day he had walked") within the tense of the narrative used in my short story.

    [MENTION=53222]jannert[/MENTION] [MENTION=19031]minstrel[/MENTION] [MENTION=3885]Wreybies[/MENTION]

    From what I've gathered, it is necessary (when returning within a past-tense narrative to moments in the past) to establish that move with a "+ had" construction and then continue with a past tense construction. If I have it right, this makes sense and aligns with what I try to do (I agree that too many "+ had" constructions make the narrative seem clumsy).
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "He had walked" is the past perfect tense, primarily used to relate a past event in time relative to another past event. "He walked" is simple past tense, and should be your default choice for relating past events.

    Use each tense, simple or compound, for the purposes it best fits. If you feel the need to add more variety, choose better verbs.

    Of course, that means you have to learn what each verb tense does, even if you don't always remember their names.
     
  12. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    That was my motivation for starting this thread (that is, learning more about what each verb tense does).
     
  13. W.A HAWK
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    W.A HAWK Member

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    Anthony stepped aboard the bus. Earlier that day, he had taken the same bus into the city for school and sat next to an old woman. "Hello young man," she said.

    The above is correct. Only, I'm not sure starting a sentence with a quote is a good idea. I would probably write it like this.

    Anthony stepped aboard the bus. Earlier that day, he had taken the same bus into the city for school and sat next to an old woman. the old woman said, "Hello young man".

    But correct me if I am wrong.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, you're wrong in how you wrote it in both instances... should be like this:


    and

    note the corrected format, capitalization and punctuation...
     
  15. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    Thank you everyone -- this has helped me with a short story that I recently sent out for submission.
     

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