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It's a "Tense" Situation

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It's a "Tense" Situation

Post  Rachel on Thu Dec 15, 2011 1:53 am

As much as it pains my "to be" loving self, I know that it's not popular to use "was x-ing" for the imperfect or "had x" for the pluperfect. But...what if I have a situation where using the simple past would be deceptive? For instance:

**
Leah and I sat on our bunks. "I can't believe how boring those speeches were," I said with a yawn. She rolled her eyes and clapped her hands to her head, "I know!"
Annette, apparently to wash out her five gallons of hairspray, had shut herself in the bathroom. In consequence, she unwittingly gave us peace to discuss whatever we liked.
**

Okay, let's not pretend that's stellar, but you get my point. Since the story is in the simple past *anyway*, saying that Annette shut herself in the bathroom would imply that she shut herself in the bathroom at the same time that Leah and the narrator were speaking. As context would suggest, though, the case is actually that Annette shut herself in the bathroom at a time prior to when Leah and the narrator began speaking--thus making a past perfect appropriate and, IMO, much clearer as to what actually occurred. What do you think, Write On-ers?
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Re: It's a "Tense" Situation

Post  Amanda on Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:26 am

Well, the was/were avoidance 'rule' applies to past and present tense, where you can forgo them for stronger past or present verbs. Lots of was/were's means the writing isn't colorful and active enough, and is the only reason they're to be avoided like the plague. Wink But verbs don't have self-contained perfect tense forms, so past perfect will always have 'had.' It's grammatically incorrect to omit the 'had', so…put them in! Put lots of them in! Razz

It's also good to note, though, that lots of past perfect means that maybe the story/scene doesn't start in the right place, if you keep having to tell us what's happened before. FREE ADVICE. Shocked Rolling Eyes
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Re: It's a "Tense" Situation

Post  Maggie on Thu Dec 15, 2011 9:39 am

I would say, since this is just the one situation, that it's fine. Don't sweat it. You have to say what happened (or what is happening) in the clearest way possible (while still maintaining some voice, obviously. Razz) And if "had shut" is what does the trick, than use it. =)

And of course, what Amanda said is all good and well thought out and I'm only pretending to understand the first half. Razz But her free advice is grand!

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Re: It's a "Tense" Situation

Post  Rachel on Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:23 am

Whew! Thanks, guys--that's what I thought, but I saw Miss Snark scold someone for using a past perfect (favoring a simple past, even though the past perfect looked appropriate), and I started to get worried. Shocked Of course...I get worried about a lot of things. Maybe my online handle should be ParanoidWriter...

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Re: It's a "Tense" Situation

Post  Maggie on Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:12 pm

Ahh, yeah. I think it's just something that comes with time, being able to tell the difference. It all depends on the situation; like, past perfect won't be wrong every time. I think if you can calm the Paranoid Writer in you, you'll be able to look at it and decide for yourself whether or not it's used correctly. Because methinks you don't NOT understand it.

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