Last week I wrote about how “was” was a trigger word for a state of being. This time I’d like to write about another trigger word: “had”
“Had” represents something that happened in the past or a quality/state of being.
He had gone to the store. He’s already been to the store in the past outside of the present moment.
She had a way with words that made it hard to tell if she was lying or not. A quality that is viewed from an outside perspective, probably gained from prior experience.
Sometimes there is no way to get around “had.” In the first example of going to the store, it might just be important that he did stop at the store, but nothing that would move the story along happened there so it’s a quick phrase and move on. Now let’s take an example from page 8 of Dragons of Wellsdeep.
Balthier had scolded him often for getting ahead of himself.
Obviously, Moonhunter is hearing a lecture in his head because he’s heard it many times before. But do you also see how the “had” makes the story be told rather than shown? This is an important fact, that Moonhunter has been scolded before for not staying present in the moment.
I wondered if there was a way to show that lecture in this very scene. Since it just started, it might mean expanding the scene a bit earlier than where I have it currently beginning. That wouldn’t be a bad option since I never explain exactly what they are doing in this scene and since I know that their “job” is something I still have in my head but I haven’t shown the reader.
My other choice is to show it in the scene before when Moonhunter first hatches from the dragon egg. It could be his first lecture. Either way works.
When you encounter a “had,” the first thing you should ask yourself is if there is a better way of showing this in the scene and if it’s even necessary. Is it important for the reader to know he had been at the store? Could he just walk through the door with bags in his hands?
Let’s take an example:
Col had never worn boots. In fact, until today, he had never wore footwear at all. Now the balls of his feet had thick blisters that stung when he touched them. He had things cooking for dinner, but he didn’t think he could stand at the stove long enough to stir the pots.
Let’s pretend this is the first time the character makes an appearance in the story and it’s his point of view we’re in. Let’s make this present in the scene rather than full of flashbacks.
Col grabbed a stool and carried as he hobbled back to the stove. His feet throbbed from the blisters growing on the balls of his feet. He ought to boil those foul boots along with his dinner. He sat down to stir the pots, then raised his foot to his lap to inspect the fluid-filled bumps which stung as he touched them. If wearing footwear resulted in this pain, today would be his first and last time for those boots.
We now know that he’s never worn boots before and probably will never again if he has his way — that takes care of the “had’s” in the first two sentences. We see him touching the blisters — “had” in the third sentence. We see him actually cooking dinner — “had” in the fourth sentence. Easy enough, right?
Let’s look at another example, one that follows more along with the quality or state of being.
Lady Bridget had on a red dress which reached all the way to the floor. Her hair had been done into coiled braided and adorned with little red teacup roses. She looked around the room once. Her eyes landed on Sir Arthur and her face lit with glee as she started over to him. Hadn’t she had enough of him already?
I’ve seen the first two sentences of that example written out by many authors as an attempt to show what the character is wearing. How often do you think about what you are wearing when you’re not looking in a mirror or someone is commenting you on your appearance? Yeah, not much. So why do authors insist on doing this? More on this topic later too.
I’ve clearly made this an outside perspective here because I want to use it as an example of such. Let’s make this better:
Lady Bridget entered the ballroom in a red dress which swept over the marble floor. It swished around as she stopped to look around the room. Little red teacup roses adorned the coiled braids of her brown hair. Her gaze landed on Sir Arthur and her face lit with glee as she started over to him. How would he crush her heart tonight? Why did the whole of the kingdom have to bear to watch it happen again?
Damn, I almost feel sorry for the narrator as he watches this stupid git throwing herself into pain’s way again. I’ll tell you, I had a hard time keeping it out of becoming a first person narrative, but that tells me how immediate it was in my mind as I was writing.
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