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I am writing a short story (approx. 650 words) in the past tense, and one paragraph of this story (100-125 words) is written as a flashback.

I originally planned to write the entire flashback paragraph in the past perfect, but the overabundance of "had" made it seem awkward, so I researched the situation.

As far as I can tell, the accepted convention is to use the past perfect for the first and last few verbs and the simple past for everything else. However, this would leave me with only a few "in-between" verbs written in the simple past tense.

Because of this, I am considering writing only the first and last verbs in the past perfect. Would this be correct?

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    Better asked on Writing – Kris Oct 30 '14 at 16:35
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    I'd think that using present tense for the flashback would emphasize the "flashbackness" of it. It isn't a memory, where the mind is still in the present. The mind thinks this is happening now and the text ought to reflect it. – Oldcat Oct 30 '14 at 18:42
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You need a sound reason for using the past perfect. If you switch arbitrarily from past perfect to past simple and then back again, you may end up with something like this, a possible flashback:

I had driven to the motel. I went to my room. I changed into smarter clothes. I had gone across to the bar.

The first three sentences work, in my opinion, (see below) but the last does not.

"The Past Perfect Tense has the meaning of [...] 'a time further back in the past seen from the viewpoint of time already in the past' (Leech (2004.46), Meaning and the English Verb). At the past time of going to my room and changing into smarter clothes, I had driven (further back in the past) to the motel. However, the going across to the bar follows the changing into smarter clothes; the past perfect is therefore completely unsuitable. That it is the last sentence in this flashback is irrelevant.

  • I disagree that the first three are ok. That's because the function of the past perfect isn't clear here; the simple past would be better. Please support your answer with sources. That makes your answer stronger, and more likely to be viewed as correct. Otherwise it's only opinion. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '14 at 18:22
  • @ medica. "The Past Perfect Tense has the meaning of [...] 'a time further back in the past seen from the viewpoint of time already in the past' (Leech (2004.46), 'Meaning and the English Verb'). At the past time of going to my room and changing into smarter clothes, I had driven (further back in the past) to the motel If you still disagree, please support your disagreement with sources. That makes your comment stronger, and more likely to be viewed as correct. Otherwise it's only opinion. – tunny Oct 30 '14 at 18:43
  • Please do not take offense at my coment; I'm trying to help you here. If you have support for your answer, please edit it into answer; that way you'll get upvotes (you're not likely to get upvotes for a simple opinion like this one). If you doubt me, take a few minutes to take the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '14 at 18:46
  • Or, if you wish, look at top-voted answers and see if they are just unsupported opinion. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '14 at 18:48
  • Sorry if I snapped. I have amended my answer. I have to say, though, that I am more interested in attempting to give a helpful answer than in working out how to garner votes – tunny Oct 30 '14 at 18:55

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