NZ Forest Native Birds
 Pluperfect Tense
Pluperfect tense refers to when the writer of a story told in past tense needs to reach further back into the past, perhaps before the story began—in other words, a flashback. Beginner writers usually take great pains to stay doggedly in the pluperfect until their flashback ends. This can produce some decidedly odd writing:
   Jane sighed with pleasure, remembering the evening before—a birthday she would never forget.
   Mum had cooked all her favourite foods. The table had almost groaned under the weight of all the dishes and presents, particularly the parcel from Dad. The family hadn’t even managed to start eating when the phone had rung. It had been Dad calling from America to wish Jane a happy birthday and ask whether she had received his present. In Jane’s opinion, the news that he had finished the job and was coming home had been the best birthday present he could possibly have given her. The whole family had been so excited they had forgotten the time and had kept him on the phone until the dinner had gone cold and Mum had had to reheat it.
    Now, abruptly realising she was daydreaming when she should be writing letters of thanks to Aunts Judith and Geraldine...

Although the above is deliberately exaggerated (never mind that it’s boring as well!) it’s the sort of thing often written by a beginner. Following is a possible rewrite, although I haven’t fixed the “boring” factor, which would mean such heavy pruning I would be unable to demonstrate the point.

    Jane sighed with pleasure, remembering the evening before—a birthday she would never forget.
    Mum had cooked all her favourite foods. The table almost groaned under the weight of all the dishes and presents, particularly the parcel from Dad. The family didn’t even manage to start eating when the phone rang. It was Dad calling from America to wish Jane a happy birthday and ask whether she received his present. In Jane’s opinion, the news that he had finished the job and was coming home was the best present he could possibly give her. The whole family was so excited they forgot the time and kept him on the phone until the dinner went cold and Mum had to reheat it.
      Now, abruptly realising she was daydreaming when she should be writing letters of thanks to Aunts Judith and Geraldine...

As you can see, the trick is to start the flashback scene with the pluperfect and slide (almost imperceptibly) back into past tense. The reader shouldn’t even notice the time slip. If you find yourself reaching for “had had” (as I did in the first version of this flashback) you certainly need to revise.

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