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TENSES in flash-back

edited April 2017 in Writing
The opening scene of my book is a week into the actual story.
After this scene my MC thinks back over the week, and I'm wondering which tense to use until the story catches up with itself.

He ran out of the cave, picked up the deer carcass and started up the mountain track towards home, thinking back to the start of this astonishing week.

THAT is a precis of the last sentence of the beginning, then THIS is a precis of the next bit.

Only a week ago he had been deep in sleep , dreaming (etc etc) A week later he'd woken up properly and had joined the hunt. They had been nearing home when he spotted the cave ....

I don't know the proper names for tenses - it's a long time since my schooldays - but do I have to use 'had' until I catch up? It seems rather clunky.


  • I think you can drop it after the first couple. It should be clear then where you are in the story. (past or simple past is the 'He ran' tense, past perfect or pluperfect is the 'he had run' tense.)
  • I would just use one sentence of the 'he had been'... variety and then go back to present tense.
  • Sounds fine, and makes sense as is, Lizy.

    By commencing the sentence with 'Only a week ago' throws it into past tense, so for clarity, you are (from my point of view) better off retaining the 'had' until you're back to present - as you rightfully acknowledge.
  • edited April 2017
    I'm inclined to agree with Pet, but will tty to find a way of circumventing too many 'hads'.
  • I drop the hads once it's clear to the reader we've gone back in time. Unless it's a very short scene they soon get annoying.
  • I had that exact problem in my latest book.
    'Had... had... had... flipping had'. I did my best to ease myself out of it, but I think I should go back and take another look!
  • Interesting thread. Flashbacks using 'Had' can be handled by switching back to simple past once you've established the flashback.
    I've just had a quick look at my last published story because I knew it had a couple of flashbacks and I couldn't remember how I'd handled them.
    The result:
    I opened the first flashback with 'I had met Sean in London...' but the rest of the flashback is in simple past, e.g. 'While Sean was at work, I explored my new home...'
    In the second (very short) flashback I haven't used 'had' at all. I simply wrote: 'My mind cast back...' and continued in past simple.
  • Below is a sentence once given to a class of unlucky EFL students to punctuate.

    if the sentence that had had had had had had it would have been correct

    The solution:

    If the sentence that had 'had' had had 'had had' it would have been correct.

    Simple, eh?

  • I had to read that out loud to interpret it correctly. If I had had more time I might have come up with a cleverer response!

    I've re-written the relevant pages.
  • I think it could also be punctuated the other way round.

    If the sentence that had "had had" had "had" it would have been correct
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