Had I Only Known

To begin with there were the pesky insects that flitted shamelessly through the pages of my first book, the ‘and then’s.’  It took me many bleary eyed hours to rid the manuscript of that infestation.  With the second book I was aware that they lurked in the shadows and I squelched the nasty bugs before they should multiply as abundantly a second time as they had the first.  It was a feeling of great elation to edit the second book and find only an occasional combination of the two words.  I was free to leave them if I wished. Even in small numbers they made me nervous and I still eliminated them. As I began the third book I was confident  I was safe from weary hours of culling the unwanted  words from my work and  I began enthusiastically.

How naive of me to think so. While I stepped confidently around the ‘and then’s,’ I failed to take note of other pests that sought a cozy corner in my work. Two thirds of the way through the third manuscript my kind and gracious reader/editor handed back a chapter with an observation, “perhaps too many ‘had’s’?”  The red underlining over the several pages was glaring and horrifying. There were too many. Quickly I corrected the problem and continued onward, alert for any stray ‘had’ that wanted to sneak back onto my pages.

I hadn’t gotten much beyond that chapter when it was time to pause. The last third of the book was nearing and I wanted to refresh my memory to the ideas and themes I may have planted and neglected to carry successfully to their desired ends. I settled comfortably to re-read the book as it was from the beginning.

Much of the story is told from the memories of  two  of the characters. Their past experiences must be shared with the reader. These events are essential to understanding the characters. Though I was pleased how the memories intertwined with the story as it unfolded, I was dismayed at the growing and now blatant over use of that new vermin, ‘had.’

Unlike ‘and then’ ‘had’ is indiscriminate in which words it chooses as a partner. Any verb will do, ‘had’ does not care, it makes no difference to ‘had.’ I groaned and retrieved a red pen of my own. So much for simply reading the work for content. Editing out the new infestation came first.

Now came the problem, the events ‘had happened’ in the past. How do you convey that without overusing the convenient little word? If it were a movie it would be a simple matter. The screen would go fuzzy, perhaps change to black and white and the memory would be enacted in a cloud. If it were science fiction, perhaps “Dr. Who,” the character could enter a  telephone booth and travel back in time.  But this was neither and it was necessary to find a better to way to showcase the past events.  I got busy and found many ways around too much ‘had.’  It was another lesson I had to learn. The editing got done and I had to go back and read for content.

Wait,      no,     I didn’t mean it,       I wasn’t watching, I take it back…….had……….had……….had……..had……… ..had ……..


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