Removing Undesirables: Had

I want to start each of these articles by saying:

ALL WORDS ARE IMPORTANT AND NO WORD SHOULD never BE USED. I know that is bad English but what I mean is, although this whole article is about removing a word, I am not here to field comments about how this word is valuable and should be used.

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All words should be used WHEN NECESSARY and IN MODERATION, thats the point of these articles.

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Let’s get on with an explanation of why deleting these words must be done:

Filter words appear when the reader’s experience is filtered through a character’s point of view.

Vivien Reis

It’s kind of like telling and not showing. Here is an example from Vivien’s Website:

“Lucy felt the cold air against her skin and decided it was too late to leave. She could see the glittering of snow as it fell, wondering why her group hadn’t left when they had the opportunity. The snow would freeze them. Lucy knew there was no hope.” (By Vivien Reis)

This very good paragraph of writing has a lot of “telling” the reader what Lucy is going through instead of “showing” what she is going through. And that’s it! That’s the problem.

Ousted word of the week: Had

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I’m starting with HAD because this word plagues me. A LOT of indie and self pub authors I read are also plagued by the OVER USE of this word. I’ll use myself as an example:

My current editing project has 188 “hads” in it. Yeah. And trust me, those are not the kind that make the sentence better. They are the ones that weaken the sentence.

“The thermal trigger had been activated.”

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If you think the sentence above sounds good, this article is not for you. The use of “had” here is just clumsy and I’m embarrassed to share. Okay, this is from a first draft buuuuuuut… I know better. How will I rewrite this:

“The faint sound of Frank’s camera shutter closing and opening signaled the activation of the thermal trigger.”

Redemption! Mostly. lol. I combined two sentences to get rid of ONE “had”. I know, that’s a lot of work but it’s worth it to give the reader a smooth and visual story. Here are some more of my had problems and how I plan to repair them:

Natalie had seen and heard many things in the bathroom that weren’t real.
Natalie saw and heard many things in the bathroom that weren’t real.

by Tiffany Christina Lewis

As she searched on the new computerized database she had set up in the shop, a woman approached the man and clinched his arm.
As Natalie searched on the new computerized database set up in the shop, a woman approached him and clinched his arm.

By Tiffany Christina Lewis

It was a nervous habit she had, considering that her hair was placed in a perfect low bun, there was no reason for her to bother it.
It was a nervous habit, considering that her hair was placed in a perfect low bun, there was no reason for her to bother it.

By Tiffany Christina Lewis

And so many more!

Action steps to removing had!

  1. First, find out if you have a “had” problem. Using the “Replace” function in Microsoft word you can “Find” the word had in your manuscript and it will show you the count. The word Had should not appear more or even equal to the amount of times your main characters name does.
  2. Next, start “flipping” through those hads using the “Next” button.
  3. Figure out which ones are necessary and which ones you can eliminate. There will be some you need to keep, BUT do not take it easy on yourself. Most of them are completely superfluous and clumsy. They are first draft filler and do not deserve to be in your second draft.
  4. Re-write those sentences!

So, challenge issued! I wanna see your re-written sentences AND I wanna know how that new sentence makes you FEEL!

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