After yesterday’s battle with the wuzzes, I was nervous to embark on the hunt for past perfect gaffes today. If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, past perfect means using the past tense form of “to have” + a past participle. For example: “Prior to realizing my manuscript was filled with passive voice even though I know better than to use it, I was confident I had rooted out any instances of improper use of past perfect tense.” In that example, had rooted is past perfect, and, while grammatically fine, the only good time to use past perfect in fiction is…never. Ok, maybe when writing in past tense about something that happened even further in the past than whatever you’re writing about. But I prefer to rework the sentence to eliminate it entirely if possible.
Again, we writers want our readers to be part of the action. As we covered yesterday, for that to happen, first there has to be action. Second, that action needs to take place as close to the reader in time and space as possible. (This is incidentally why I like writing in first person, but that’s a topic for another blog.) Our job of getting the reader as close to the action as possible is why past perfect tense is not a good idea. If the action happens before our reader even gets to the story, well, she can’t really be part of it, can she?
I am happy to say my search turned up very few occasions of improper past perfect usage. I did however realize I use the word “shadow” with ridiculous frequency and cut 2500 words and one entire scene. Just a little off the top.