Every reader harbors writing pet peeves, and one of mine is the word, HAD.
Not that it isn’t a perfectly good word; it has its uses. It is overuse that drives me nuts…and I’m already pretty far down that road.
So here I was, all tucked in and happily reading a new novel on my Kindle when chagrin formicated* into my bed. (No, I don’t have a dog, and the hubby already slept soundly by my side.) I was infested by a horde of dreaded and dastardly HAD monsters! Totally distracted from my almost-favorite thing to do, which is reading myself to sleep, I doggedly counted the buggers.
Needless to say, I am not about to name the book here, and I have heavily edited the example so as not to have some author flaming me all over social media. This is what sent me into snitdom:
<She had grown very old in the four years since he had walked away. They had married young, and for the most part, were happy. He had worked hard, while she had kept house and had babies. They had had an ordinary life until the day he had walked out.
Luckily my husband sleeps like the dead, for my scream was loud. In the good old days I’d’ve launched the book across the room, but Kindles are far too expensive to bounce off walls, so I girded my loins (I’ve always wanted to say that) and read on, albeit now highlighting HADs as I went.
I lasted for fifty more HAD’S until this sentence steered me into a ditch: He HAD grown very old in the four years since he HAD walked away from BLAH BLAH BLAH. Not only HAD he grown old, the almost identical sentence was used before to describe the wife.
The next morning—after reading another, much better, book long enough to stabilize my blood pressure and go sleepy-eyed—I Googled information on using HAD in writing, and learned I was not off my rocker. At least about the overuse of HAD. Scholars on the Internet (so they must be right, right?) agree that overuse of the word is an indication of TELLING, rather than SHOWING, something we’ve all been warned about. Also, said they, too many HADs make for blah/bland writing, and any sentence that begins with He had should be exterminated faster than a bed bug at the George V.
Here’s my take. Once the writer establishes a paragraph, or even a chapter, as taking place in the past, one well-placed HAD is enough. Then, by using the proper verb tense, the reader knows they are being told about something from another time frame.
Am I being too harsh? Maybe, but I hereby vow to stop reading anything after the third HAD in a flashback. Take that, HAD!
*The other thing that ticks me off is having to look up a word:-)