For Those Times When You Might Want to Do Without Had

By: C. M. Clifton

Have you ever read a short story you've written and discovered an overuse of the word 'had?' I certainly have. It's one of the dilemmas I once faced with my own writing. Besides learning and practicing the rules of grammar, and the rules of fiction writing, I also found myself grappling with 'had.' It's not the occasional 'had' that troubled me, but the 'had' that appeared in every, or every other, sentence.

So, in an attempt to keep improving my writing, obeying some of the rules of fiction writing while breaking others, I tried to find an alternative to 'had.' The solution I found happened to be the same solution for ridding as many adverbs as possible from my stories. The solution for ridding 'had' from a few of your sentences is to replace 'had' with a strong, more specific verb.

Consider these sentences:

Richard had two minutes to beat his deadline.

Tom had five marbles.

Rewritten without 'had,' the same sentences might read as the following:

Two minutes remained of Richard's deadline.

Tom owned five marbles.

Now, consider this short passage:

She had the fate of the world in her hands. Mankind had brought the earth to the brink of destruction. No one but her had the power to save millions of lives.

After attempting to get rid of 'had,' and to hopefully strengthen the sentences, the passage might read like this:

She held the fate of the world in her hands. The earth teetered on the brink of destruction, thanks to mankind, and no one but her possessed the power to save millions of lives.

Or, perhaps, the passage would read like this:

She held the fate of the world in her hands. Thanks to mankind, the earth now teetered on the brink of destruction. No one but her possessed the power to save millions of lives.

Try playing around with the words to see how you might rewrite the sentences without using the word 'had.' And remember to have fun while you do.

The suggestion I've made on how to eliminate 'had' is by no means written in stone. Just as it appears okay to occasionally use passive voice, the occasional use of 'had' appears okay, as well. "'Had' is not always bad," as the saying goes. Please remember to take my suggestion with a grain of salt, and to have fun with it should you decide to give it a try with your own writing.

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