I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

aid174983-v4-728px-Stop-Saying-the-Word-_Like_-Step-4-Version-2On more than one occasion I have declared my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word ‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dump, because it specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because it’s a problem word for me. Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for 🙂

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. Plenty of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. As I stated above with ‘had’, only if a word or phrase is overused to the point that it is noticeable to the reader, does it become a bad thing.

Noticing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to improving your writing. If you realize you are in the process of abusing a word while you are writing, make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a half an hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics, is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you edit, double-check to see if the word is really necessary, or if it can be changed. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain words 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

21 thoughts on “I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

  1. Had is perfectly acceptable, in fact necessary, when writing essays and other nonfiction. In nonfiction, precise tense can be crucial and help the reader follow the author’s chain of thought. Fiction prefers a faster pace, and past tense drives narrative better than any other tense. Occasionally you need to reach into a perfect tense to explain back story, but as a rule, “had” should be “had been removed from my draft.”

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  2. Great food for thought. I am a novice writer, although I was a government financial professional and wrote extensively for my local government. When I wrote my first manuscript, a friend noticed I use “that” frequently. I used your technique of search with Microsoft Word and I’m embarrassed to tell anyone how frequently I find it used in my writing. I don’t know what if anything the overuse of “that” means. I find when I eliminate its use, the sentences seem more direct and require less adverbs or adjectives. Any advice is appreciated.

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  3. I hate the word ‘had’! If I have to describe past action (and I try not to do it often) I put one or two ‘had’s’ to show it’s past action then ditch it for the rest of the paragraph – and if I can contract the ‘had’ to a ‘he’d’, I do so.

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