Monthly Archives: August 2015

Novelists: How to Break the Bad “Had” Habit

Do you want to breathe life into your novel? If so, use active verbs. It’s the active verbs that show something is happening. These are the strongest verbs. All other verbs come under the category of the “to be” verbs.

Static vs. Active

Be A NovelistThe to be verbs are weak because they’re static rather than active. You can see the contrast in the two examples here:

Carly was sitting in the chair.

Carly sat in the chair.

The exchange of the static verb was for the action verb sat, makes all the difference. If you want to incorporate a bit more action and sharpen the visual you might write:

Carly slumped in her chair.


 Carly shoved back the chair with a slam.

These are verbs that show something happening as they draw the reader into the scene.

Worst Culprit

Of all the to be verbs the worst culprit is had. That’s why I used the phrase in the title: the Bad “Had” Habit. So why do I say this is the worst one? It’s because it’s not only static, it’s a static state in the past. So it literally has two strikes against it.

          She had ridden her bike for two hours.

After the meeting had been dismissed, Mary hurried out the door.

What’s introduced here is a jerk in the story. It yanks the reader out of the present action and thrusts him back into past history. You may be thinking that the jerk is brief and momentary, and that’s true. But the use of had can become a bad habit. By introducing enough hads in one paragraph, everything grinds to a halt. You’ve bogged the reader down in past history.

While the reader may not be able to articulate what happened, it caused an uncomfortable disruption in an otherwise enjoyable reading experience.

No one can change what has already happened, so you don’t want to waste too much story time in moving backward. What the reader wants is forward motion; present action.

What’s the Remedy?

Be A NovelistThe trick to eliminating as many hads as possible is to bring the past forward into the present. At least you’ll be describing what happens in past tense instead of past perfect tense. Let’s go back to that sentence about Mary and the meeting. Try this on for size:

The moment Mary heard the gavel hit, and heard the words “meeting adjourned,” she hurried out the door.

Compare the amount of action in the second example, to the lack of same in the earlier example.

Use of Had in Flashbacks

As with any novel-writing techniques, you’ll run into exceptions. I’m certainly not trying to advocate the total elimination of the verb had. After all, there’ll be flashbacks in your story from time to time. But even then, once you establish the transfer into the past (the flashback), one or two hads are sufficient to let the reader know there’s been a time shift. Keep in mind that the continual use of had throughout the flashback is unnecessary and, as I mentioned previously, will only serve to bog down the story flow. (I won’t go into detail here about flashbacks. That’s another lesson.)

Break the HabitBe A Novelist

As you progress in polishing your novel-writing abilities, pay close attention to verb usage throughout. Once you become aware – once you are on the lookout for the culprit had – you’ll discover whether or not you have a bad had habit. And if so, you can take steps to break the habit.


Be A Novelist

Be A Novelist

Be A Novelist

Be A NovelistThe Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection now has three 3 available titles:

Flower in the Hills, Tiger Beetle at Kendallwood, and Rockin’ Into Romance

These clean teen reads, while authored in the past, offer timeless story lines that teens love. 

Be A Novelist




Where are the Brakes on This Thing? How to End Your Novel Part II

In Part I of Where are the Brakes on This Thingwe discussed a few of the challenges of creating a satisfying conclusion to your novel. In Part II we’ll take up where we left off.

Climax Scene

As you draw near to the end of your novel, there will be a powerful climax scene. You need to be thinking about this, planning for it, and watching how the threads of the plot can bring you to this point.

Be A NovelistBy now you are intimately acquainted with your characters; you know them well. You know how your hero is going to act to bring this climax about. Your main character’s actions will come into play. Let that MC have center stage. This is not the time to have a scene that is told about after the fact.

Throughout the novel your MC has undergone a distinct change and your climax scene will demonstrate that change. In fact, those loose threads mentioned earlier should, for the most part, be tied up prior to the final climax scene.

Nothing New

This is not the time to introduce anything new or different. The ending is no place for exposition. Can there be a change of setting? Yes. But it’s best if it’s a setting that has already become familiar to the reader.

The same with characters. Unless it’s a walk-on cardboard character, it’s best to keep to your principal actors.

In bad fiction, plot and characters are manipulated to achieve a desired end; in good fiction, everything that happens at the close seems inevitable. What makes the difference between the two? Practice and hard work.

Make Things Happen

Once the climax has run its course, and you’re into the conclusion, ensure that it’s an actual scene and not simply interior Be A Novelistmonologue. Make things happen. In the same way that a good scene makes a good opening; a good scene can lend itself to a good ending. Even if your entire novel is more about inner attitudes, work to come up with something the MC can do as opposed to just thinking about it. Show don’t tell.

As you near the close, everything narrows. All narrative clutter must go. Subordinate characters are off stage. Now only the major characters are left.

No need to try a clever twist such as introducing a new left turn in the plot. By this point, your novel has already established aBe A Novelist context which involves the rules, the personalities, the stakes – you have everything you need to maintain momentum. Don’t waste it. In other words, keep the ending as simple and direct as possible.

Happy Ending – Or Not?

Will the ending always be happy? That question is highly subjective. What is happy for one person may not be so happy for another. Where the problems arise is when the author thinks it will be clever (cute?) to create a sad ending just to be different. Big Mistake!

Be A NovelistOnce you, as the author, step outside of the natural flow of the story just to be different, you could ruin the entire effect. That effect you have worked so hard to create throughout the entire novel. This is no time to get cute. Continue to stay within the theme and boundaries you have already created (albeit unaware).

When you follow these tips, techniques, and strategies you can write a so-called sad ending and the reader will be happy.

Do what’s right for the novel, and you’ll have a story that ends in the right place, at the right time, in the right way!

Be A Novelist
Be A Novelist

Be A Novelist

Be A Novelist

Be A NovelistThe Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection now has three 3 available titles:

Flower in the Hills, Tiger Beetle at Kendallwood, and Rockin’ Into Romance

These clean teen reads, while authored in the past, offer timeless story lines that teens love. 

Be A Novelist