Become a Better Editor of Your Own Work

Lesson 5

Lesson 5 – our last lesson. Stifle your sniffles. All good things must come to an end. Besides, I have seven more workshops scheduled for 2012 and twenty-seven workshops scheduled for 2013. Check out the list at I’m sure we’ll work together again! On with this lesson…

Strategy #5: Put your work aside for a while and then come back to it.

Be honest. By the time you have finished your first draft, you’re sick of your story, and you think it’s the worst piece of fiction ever written.

OR, you have fallen completely under the spell of your best-selling, award-winning manuscript, and are completely blind to any mistakes you may have made.

If you’re like most writers, you’re more likely to see yourself in the first example than in the second.

If you come back to your story after a few days or weeks away, you’ll be more objective in your evaluation of the work. You will also see more mistakes because you won’t be reading what you think is there or you meant to be there. You’ll read what is there!

I want you to retrieve that chapter of your story you haven’t looked at since Monday.

Problem #5: verb tense issues – how and when to use simple past and simple past progressive tenses, and past perfect and past perfect progressive tenses

Many writers confuse their readers when they use the same verb tense for all action regardless of when the action took place. I’ll bet those writers didn’t have an English teacher that made them conjugate verbs in the six tenses, three persons, and two numbers.

They definitely didn’t have me for an English teacher.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to require you to conjugate verbs today. We’ll concentrate on four tenses -- simple past and simple past progressive, and past perfect and past perfect progressive.

Unlike present tense which can only have one present time, past tense can talk about many times in the past, everything from five minutes ago to three thousand years ago, and how they relate to one another in time. In other words, one action happened before another action – both are in the past, though.

Maybe that’s why present tense has all those uses – six of them. It’s trying to compensate for having only one time to talk about. (Nod and smile. That’s about as witty as MM gets. It’s best to humor her.)

We’ll begin with simple past tense.

Simple Past: formed with the past principal part of the verb.

--used to refer to a past event, whether the time is given or not given.

I washed the dishes last night. (time given – last night)

I ate supper. (time not given)

--used in narrative. It is the standard tense for both fiction and non-fiction.

That’s all for simple past. Can I get a Woohoo?

Super. On to the next tense.

Simple Past Progressive: The past progressive verbs are bold-faced in the examples below. Simple past verbs are underlined.

--used to describe one action that was still in progress when another action happened.

He was talking on his cell when the tornado ripped through the airport terminal.

Her head was pounding by the time she got home and took her medicine.

--used to describe many continuing actions that are taking place at the same time.

Miss Larson was dishing out the dressing, and her helpers were carving the turkey, filling the cups with ice, and slicing the cake.

In the example above, use the helping verb for the first verb in a list, but not in the others that follow. In other words, don’t write the sentence this way—
Miss Larson was dishing out the dressing, and her helpers were carving the turkey, were filling the cups with ice, and were slicing the cake.

Don’t use the past progressive to describe an action that took place at a specified time in the past. Use the simple past instead.

DON’T: I was marrying 26 years ago.
DO: I married 26 years ago.

That’s all for past progressive. Can I get another woohoo?

Past Perfect tense: formed with HAD and the past participle of a verb.
–use to show that something in the past happened before some other action or event in the past, as in a flashback,
–use to show that something in the past happened before some specified time in the past, or
–use the past perfect to indicate that event 1 was completed before event 2 happened.
I got my essay back with an F because I had left out the source page.
I had to leave out the page before I got an F. The first action is in past perfect. The later one is in simple past.
-use past perfect to show that action 1 was in effect when action 2 happened.
I had loved him until I met his other three wives.
Love happened first. Then the three wives show up, and love is crushed.
-when there is only 1 action or event in the sentence, this tense shows that the action or event happened or was in effect at some time before the time being talked about.
I had never seen such destruction caused by a tornado.
She had heard all of his excuses before.

Past Perfect Progressive tense: formed with HAD, BEEN, and the present participle of the verb.
–show that action 1 that began in the past was still going on when action 2 happened.
He had been studying for hours when his brain exploded.
His studying happened before his brain exploded.
–show that one action happened over a period of time.
They had been living together before they married.
They lived together first. Then they married.
That ends Past Perfect Progressive tense.

Any questions on these four verb tenses?

Now you try it.

Choose either Homework A or Homework B. Homework A uses on-line exercises to practice the four tenses we covered today. I recommend this homework if you need more practice with the tenses. Homework B uses your own selection that you put aside on Monday.

Homework A, Part 1: Go to This homework is on Past and Past Progressive tenses. Complete test 1, exercises 1 and 3 and one exercise from test 2, your choice. Don’t do any exercises in test 3. Let me know your results in a comment.

Part 2: Go to This assignment is on Past Perfect and Past Perfect Progressive tenses. Complete one exercise from each test -- 1, 2, 3. Post your results in a comment here. If you feel you need more practice, you may continue with the other exercises on this page.


Homework B: Read the selection you haven’t looked at since Monday. As you read, I want you to highlight all the verbs in one color and all of the had’s in another color. This way you’ll know right away if you used past perfect tense.

Look for all the sentences that express two actions. Decide if one of those actions should be in the past perfect tense.

Post ten sentences where two actions are stated correctly. You do not have to give the original sentence if it’s incorrect. Correct it and then post it as one of your ten sentences.

Any questions on the homework?