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LJD
11-18-2012, 08:12 PM
My novel is in past tense (third person). I begin a sentence like this:

After they'd ordered....

Is it necessary to use past perfect? Because of the "after", the order in which things are happening is already clear. So,

After they ordered...?

I was trying to look it up online, and several sites said that the past perfect is optional in this case. Is this correct?

But then on the OWL writing lab:

"Time-orienting words and phrases like before, after, by the time, and others—when used to relate two or more actions in time—can be good indicators of the need for a perfect-tense verb in a sentence."

So...is it optional in a case where the sequence of events is already clear?

thanks.

fadeaccompli
11-18-2012, 08:47 PM
I think it's going to depend a bit on your narrative voice. I'm going to break this down very simply, not because I think you're confused about the simple stuff, but to sort of talk it out for myself to see if I can explain clearly what I mean.

For example, let's look at a basic sentence indicating a sequence of events in time. I'll start out with making it two sentences and present tense so it's as clear as possible what's happening when. As such:

They order their food. Then zombies run into the restaurant.

Part A (ordering) clearly happens before part B (zombies!); after all, if they were happening at the same time, English would want:

While they're ordering their food, zombies run into the restaurant.

So, present tense dealt with. But you're in past tense, as is common for a lot of writing, so you need to move everything back a step. In two sentences, or if things are happening at the same time, it's still easy:

They ordered their food. Then zombies ran into the restaurant.
While they were ordering their food, zombies ran into the restaurant.

But ordering the food clearly isn't interesting enough to stand on its own as a sentence in what you're writing; you want to make it a dependent temporal clause at the beginning. It's a completed action that occurred before the next event, so the pluperfect is the most correct:

After they had ordered their food, zombies ran into the restaurant.
When they had ordered their food, they got up and fought the zombies.
Since they had ordered their food, they decided it was time to deal with the zombies.

But! This is the point where it gets subjective. As with a lot of languages, English doesn't like the pluperfect very much. It's very useful for clarifying the sequence of events in the past, but it's clunkier and longer than the simple perfect, so we don't like sitting in it for very long. As such, in colloquial English, you'll often find people dropping the pluperfect if the sequence of events is clear enough to not require it for clarity. The most common version of this is when you're telling a long story in the pluperfect, and just mark it at the beginning, and then keep going. Something like:

"She was telling us about what had happened before we got there. She had ordered her food, and then zombies burst in the door and started eating all the patrons. She took them all down with the shotgun, but of course then the shift manager wanted to make her stay late, you know how that asshole is, so she threw her apron at him and ran off to the bar, where we met her. Anyway, after she told us all that, we decided we should buy her a drink..."

But presumably you're not doing that in this sentence: you just have a single clause taking place before the main clause. And...it's still often colloquial to drop the pluperfect.

"After they ordered food, they discussed the best method for killing zombies."

That sounds natural. Less correct, but still natural. So I think that (after all this long-winded digression) what you're going to need to do is decide who's speaking in this work. Are you writing an article for a newspaper? Use the strictly correct pluperfect. Are you writing a story from the perspective of a professor of English? Use the strictly correct pluperfect. Are you writing a story from the perspective of a bored teenager? Skip the pluperfect.

It just depends on what your voice is, here. Use the pluperfect for the more formal feel, and the perfect for a more colloquial sense.

Bufty
11-18-2012, 09:20 PM
Another approach, because I don't understand complicated stuff.:snoopy:

After they'd ordered - seems to me to be the narrator telling me what happened.

Why not just let me know what happened in the order the events happened and forget the 'After' approach, which is really the narrator poking his long nose in when he should be keeping a low profile.

Kevin Nelson
11-18-2012, 10:24 PM
I've noticed on SYW that quite a few people seem to have trouble with the past perfect. I pretty much agree with fadeaccompli, but I think there's more to be said.

In particular, I think it makes a big difference how close the connection is between the event in the secondary clause and the event in the main clause. The closer the connection, the more it makes sense to use plain past tense. The more remote the connection, the more it makes sense to use past perfect. Closeness of connection partly depends on the separation in time, but it is also partly a matter of logical connection.

For example:

After they ordered their food, the waitress asked if they wanted wine.

In the above sentence, there's a very close connection between the secondary clause and the main clause. We may assume that the waitress asked about wine immediately after the food was ordered, and there's also a close causal connection between the two--the waitress will naturally think of wine after the food was ordered. So it makes sense to use past tense rather than past perfect.

On the other hand:

After they had ordered their food, zombies ran into the restaurant.

Clearly, the zombies don't have much to do with the food having been ordered. In fact, there's no reason to assume the zombies came in immediately after the food was ordered; maybe there was a gap of several minutes when nothing noteworthy was happening. So now the past perfect makes sense.

fadeaccompli
11-18-2012, 10:38 PM
Another approach, because I don't understand complicated stuff.:snoopy:

After they'd ordered - seems to me to be the narrator telling me what happened.

Why not just let me know what happened in the order the events happened and forget the 'After' approach, which is really the narrator poking his long nose in when he should be keeping a low profile.

I am really bewildered as to how one could tell a non-choppy story without any temporal clauses at all. Telling every single item that happened in direct order without any temporal clauses at all would sound very odd to me.

But then, there are some people who like a very stripped-down style of sentence, so I suppose you're making a comment on a matter of taste? And there's really no arguing with taste.

Bufty
11-18-2012, 11:10 PM
I'm not commenting upon anything other than that sort of phrase, if not kept under control, can , no doubt unintentionally, break the flow because the reader is constantly reminded of the narrator's presence.

I assumed it was third person limited, therefore from the POV of one of the characters concerned, who would not be envisaging himself and his companions as a 'they'.

It's a relatively minor point but I just thought I would mention it. I'm not disagreeing with anything anybody else has said.

Roxxsmom
11-18-2012, 11:55 PM
I'm not commenting upon anything other than that sort of phrase, if not kept under control, can , no doubt unintentionally, break the flow because the reader is constantly reminded of the narrator's presence.

I assumed it was third person limited, therefore from the POV of one of the characters concerned, who would not be envisaging himself and his companions as a 'they'.

It's a relatively minor point but I just thought I would mention it. I'm not disagreeing with anything anybody else has said.

This is an intriguing question, as I tend to write in third person limited and to go for a more tight feel when I can. But "they" is really the third person equivalent of "we," which would be how the group of people would think of themselves and how they'd refer to themselves in first person.

Could you maybe give an example of how to rewrite "After they ordered dinner, the waitress asked about wine," without using the pronoun?

I'm thinking "After ordering, the waitress asked about wine," but the problem with this construct, is it makes it seem like the waitress ordered and not the "they."

Another is: "After dinner was ordered, the waitress asked about wine," but that's passive voice, so ... argh!

King Neptune
11-19-2012, 12:08 AM
I don't completely disagree with anyone here, but I think that there are two different matters that are being shoved together. If one is simply stating the sequence of events that happened in the past, then one can use the past or the perfect tense: After they ordered dinner, then the waitress took their wine order before bringing their salads.
But if one is one is mentioning an event that happened before a specific event in the past, then one should use the past perfect: We had gotten drinks at the bar before we were seated for dinner.

absitinvidia
11-19-2012, 01:26 AM
My two cents: Without more information, this isn't a question that anyone can answer. We have no sense of where in the MS this happens, what other events take place, etc., etc.

Sometimes you need the past perfect because otherwise you've got a mishmash of events and it's hard to tell what happened when. Other times you don't need it because the sequence of events is clear.

But there's no one simple answer, and without specifics, this isn't a question that can be answered, IMHO.

Bufty
11-19-2012, 04:39 PM
Either you wish to tell me what happened or you wish to show me what happened - the choice is yours and either approach is right if it's how you wish to convey whatever you wish to convey. The example you asked for -

The waitress took the orders, then collected the menus. She glanced at Robert. "And would you care to order some wine, sir?"


This is an intriguing question, as I tend to write in third person limited and to go for a more tight feel when I can. But "they" is really the third person equivalent of "we," which would be how the group of people would think of themselves and how they'd refer to themselves in first person.

Could you maybe give an example of how to rewrite "After they ordered dinner, the waitress asked about wine," without using the pronoun?

I'm thinking "After ordering, the waitress asked about wine," but the problem with this construct, is it makes it seem like the waitress ordered and not the "they."

Another is: "After dinner was ordered, the waitress asked about wine," but that's passive voice, so ... argh!

LJD
11-19-2012, 05:33 PM
That sounds natural. Less correct, but still natural. So I think that (after all this long-winded digression) what you're going to need to do is decide who's speaking in this work. Are you writing an article for a newspaper? Use the strictly correct pluperfect. Are you writing a story from the perspective of a professor of English? Use the strictly correct pluperfect. Are you writing a story from the perspective of a bored teenager? Skip the pluperfect.

It just depends on what your voice is, here. Use the pluperfect for the more formal feel, and the perfect for a more colloquial sense.

OK, that it might be a formal/informal issue makes sense.


In particular, I think it makes a big difference how close the connection is between the event in the secondary clause and the event in the main clause. The closer the connection, the more it makes sense to use plain past tense. The more remote the connection, the more it makes sense to use past perfect. Closeness of connection partly depends on the separation in time, but it is also partly a matter of logical connection.

This is interesting. I went through my manuscript and looked for other cases in which I used this construction, and I didn't have past perfect in any that I could find. Except this example. And perhaps this is why it seemed more natural for me to use it here...



I did not include the rest of the sentence, or the context, not just because I was too lazy to open up the document, but because I was interested in the answer in a general sense, for cases in which the order is perfectly clear without past perfect.

While I appreciate the concern as to whether I should have this phrase in my manuscript at all, I am summarizing to get from one point in time to another, and I don't intend to change it. And even if I did change it in this particular case, I am still interested in the answer to the original question, as I don't want to avoid using certain constructions in the future merely because I have uncertainties over a minor grammar issue.

/thanks for all your responses.

Jamesaritchie
11-19-2012, 05:51 PM
I'm not commenting upon anything other than that sort of phrase, if not kept under control, can , no doubt unintentionally, break the flow because the reader is constantly reminded of the narrator's presence.

I assumed it was third person limited, therefore from the POV of one of the characters concerned, who would not be envisaging himself and his companions as a 'they'.

It's a relatively minor point but I just thought I would mention it. I'm not disagreeing with anything anybody else has said.

I must be missing something here. I never, ever want the reader to forget the narrator. And how the POV character in third person limited would or wouldn't envision himself means nothing. The POV is the character's, but the narrator is not the character in third person limited, and can use "they" anytime he wishes. "They" works just as well, better, in fact, in third person limited as in any other POV.

Bufty
11-19-2012, 08:14 PM
What are you saying here? Have you read this thread? You are missing something.

Nobody is saying the narrator can't use pronouns. Nobody has said the narrator can't use 'they' or 'he' or 'she' or whatever.

You are constantly harping on about how showing is important and preferable to telling yet now - unless I, too, am missing something - you say you never, ever want the reader to forget the narrator?

If your narrator wants to keep making his presence known, so be it

But the narrator in third person limited - and whom I agree is not the POV character - should surely be keeping as low a profile as possible to ensure the reader experiences a sustained illusion that the story is being experienced through the senses of the POV character.




I must be missing something here. I never, ever want the reader to forget the narrator. And how the POV character in third person limited would or wouldn't envision himself means nothing. The POV is the character's, but the narrator is not the character in third person limited, and can use "they" anytime he wishes. "They" works just as well, better, in fact, in third person limited as in any other POV.

Fallen
11-19-2012, 09:59 PM
I must be missing something here. I never, ever want the reader to forget the narrator. And how the POV character in third person limited would or wouldn't envision himself means nothing. The POV is the character's, but the narrator is not the character in third person limited, and can use "they" anytime he wishes. "They" works just as well, better, in fact, in third person limited as in any other POV.

It's nothing to do with pronouns. :) It's do with arrangement.

There's a difference between me writing:

They landed heavily, all just a mish-mash of arms, elbows and bums, making it difficult to get up.
v
After they'd landed heavily, all just a mish-mash of arms, elbows and bums, it was difficult to get up.
v
After they landed heavily, all just a mish-mash of arm, elbows and bums, it was difficult to get up.

The last two are in effect reporting an event, the first, going through it as it happened in past tense.

The same could be said with After they'd ordered.
v
They ordered, then took their place at the table.

So with Bufty, yes, there's an argument imho that 'and then' could make even 'after' superfluous in such a set-up. It would just depend on sentence length and variety, which is also a good thing to consider.

And I'm with abs on this -- unless you have more to go on you can't say whether it's justified in dropping the perfect, or even writing it in such a way. You're allowed to use passives when it calls for it, but actually learning how to make that call comes with context.

But as to the op's question, you can drop the past perfect, yes. Eg, once a para has been set up for past perfect, you don't have to carry it through the rest of the para, just revert to simple, or as fae has said: when going colloquial. Yes you can drop the past perfect in a dependent setup, especially in dialogue. Learning when and where, though, will all come down to context and skill.

And with the quote from OWL, I wouldn't be surprised if it meant 'adverbs are "often, but not always" found with verbs in past perfect", Eg. She had always loved singing. but the key being 'often', not always: She had loved singing works just as well. I'd say dependents, though, could have a higher percentage use with adverbs than independents clauses like that just used.

BethS
11-21-2012, 06:58 PM
It's really very simple.

Unless the narrative has stepped into the past to relate some event that took place before the present scene, it would be "After they ordered..."

So if you're describing (or summarizing) something that's happening in the story right now:

After they ordered food, they commenced discussion of how best to kill the prime minister. By the time dessert arrived, it was all settled except for how much to pay the assassin.

Or:

After they ordered dinner, Ray said, "Look. We've got to take her down."

Whereas if you're writing about an event that took place prior to the scene, it could go something like this:

He remembered it vividly. After they'd ordered food, the servers had all disappeared and the gunmen appeared, five of them, armed with Uzis and major attitude.

heyheymse
11-25-2012, 11:07 AM
Beth is correct as far as I understand it. When I'm writing in past tense, I use past perfect for things like flashbacks, or if I'm contrasting something in the past with something that's happening now. So to piggyback on a prior example:

The waitress took the orders, then collected the menus. She glanced at Robert. "And would you care to order some wine, sir?" She had asked the same of him before, but he had been so deep in conversation that she'd given up, deciding it was easier for everyone to just come back later.

I look at it as past perfect being the past tense for someone already writing in the past tense. It sounds convoluted when I put it like that, but once you get used to it, it's pretty straightforward.

Cactus Land
12-17-2012, 02:30 PM
I just finished a similar manuscript, all in the past, and I was up to neck in past perfect, but it is the price you .... we ordered and then she asked us if we wanted wine... ... that doesn't work, sorry, just plain sloppy....i think it only works when it is truly simultaneous... just as I was ordering the phone rang... or I picked up the phone to call him when he arrived... ..

Bufty
12-17-2012, 07:11 PM
To my eye this is getting worse and worse and clarity is taking a back seat.