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A syntactics issue

In the passage, which is the best verb/tense-choice?

  • had been

    Votes: 1 50.0%
  • was

    Votes: 1 50.0%

  • Total voters
    2
Hey guys! this may not be the right corner of this forum to open this thread (mods, feel free to move it to the appropriate spot, or let me know)

Here is the thing. My editor and I got stuck for a bit on a small passage in my book, trying to choose the appropriate verb-tense.

Here is the passage, then I'll highlight the issue, and finally explain where we stand:

"Fhuarchen Chathair was the gem of central Velorath. Founded half a century after the end of the Final War, it had since become a world-center of culture, art, and philanthropy. It was also the birthplace of the Faith of Chathair, back when the majestic city of dragons, golden buildings, and indestructible walls had been a wasteland of rocks, lava, and death."

The particular issue is:

"It was also the birthplace of the Faith of Chathair, back when the majestic city of dragons, golden buildings, and indestructible walls had been a wasteland of rocks, lava, and death."

So, we both agree that the appropriate tense should be "had been", but "had been", in this instance, sounds wrong and even unclear to me (in that "had been" identifies a specific moment, as opposed to a situation that stretches in time. i.e. "I had been to that store three times before that day.")

I was arguing that in this case, syntactics and grammar notwithstanding, we could replace "had been" with "was," making the sentence become:

"It was also the birthplace of the Faith of Chathair, back when the majestic city of dragons, golden buildings, and indestructible walls was a wasteland of rocks, lava, and death."

Extensive google search and personal knowledge point towards the "had been" argument, but I was wondering if I am the only one to find the "sound" of it odd (I though it may simply be due to me not being a native English speaker and maybe having it somewhere in my brain that "was" is supposed the right sound - even though it would actually sound odd to a native speaker).

What's your take?

Thank you all!
 

pmmg

Istar
Cutting out the noise the phrase is ‘back when the city was a wasteland’. I favor was as it has the right flow.

i think the qualifier of ‘back when’ is already doing the job of ‘had been’. If the phrase was the city was a wasteland vs the city had been a wasteland, was would imply its current state, had been its past.
 
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Technical: I think, "had been" and at least to me it doesn't sound funny. But I also get sick of was was was was was all over the place. I recall GRRM using 6-7 "was" in a relatively short paragraph and it was jarring even if correct. "was" is a necessary evil, but I prefer to limit their presence.

So, here's the thing...I'll go beyond the question asked: If I find a piece I don't like the sound of I don't worry about grammar, I rewrite it until I like its sound, heh heh. I also bend grammar to suit my needs, at least so far as my editor allows.

Fhuarchen Chathair was the gem of central Velorath. Founded half a century after the end of the Final War, it had since become a world-center of culture, art, and philanthropy. Historians and the faithful recognized the region as the founding location of the Faith of Chathair, in a time before the majestic city of dragons, golden buildings, and indestructible walls, back when a wasteland of rocks, lava, and sunbleached bones dominated the landscape.

So, as your mini-editor I also have to ask about the city of dragons... Is Fhuarchen Chathair (which I tend to read as cat hair BTW) also known as the city of dragons, or is the city of dragons similar to the Forbidden City inside Bejing, or something else? It reads a little funny to me, in a similar way to "wasteland of rocks, lava, and death" where rocks and lava are visible things, while death is, well, not necessarily something you see, hence my switcharoo to "sunbleached bones".
 

pmmg

Istar
So, here's the thing...I'll go beyond the question asked: If I find a piece I don't like the sound of I don't worry about grammar, I rewrite it until I like its sound, heh heh. I also bend grammar to suit my needs, at least so far as my editor allows.

I agree with this. Sometimes no word works to make the sentence sound right, and you can spend hours trying and it always sounds wrong. Best to just rewrite them a different way and stop spending energy on it.

In the end, is had been vs was here a show stopper? Nope. Reader will not give it the consideration you do.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I'm also a "sounds right, is right" grammarian. Thank goodness my wife is an actual trained linguist and a much better grammarian than I am. :D I tend to lean toward "had" as being more precise, and I even use a fair number of "had hads." Drives my alpha reader nuts. He thinks they're clunky, but also agrees that they're correct. They just get contracted a lot, as in, "Elspeth'd had a hell of a day."
 
Cutting out the noise the phrase is ‘back when the city was a wasteland’. I favor was as it has the right flow.

i think the qualifier of ‘back when’ is already doing the job of ‘had been’. If the phrase was the city was a wasteland vs the city had been a wasteland, was would imply its current state, had been its past.

That was actually also one of the points I brought up.

Thank you for the input!
 
Technical: I think, "had been" and at least to me it doesn't sound funny. But I also get sick of was was was was was all over the place. I recall GRRM using 6-7 "was" in a relatively short paragraph and it was jarring even if correct. "was" is a necessary evil, but I prefer to limit their presence.

So, here's the thing...I'll go beyond the question asked: If I find a piece I don't like the sound of I don't worry about grammar, I rewrite it until I like its sound, heh heh. I also bend grammar to suit my needs, at least so far as my editor allows.

Fhuarchen Chathair was the gem of central Velorath. Founded half a century after the end of the Final War, it had since become a world-center of culture, art, and philanthropy. Historians and the faithful recognized the region as the founding location of the Faith of Chathair, in a time before the majestic city of dragons, golden buildings, and indestructible walls, back when a wasteland of rocks, lava, and sunbleached bones dominated the landscape.

So, as your mini-editor I also have to ask about the city of dragons... Is Fhuarchen Chathair (which I tend to read as cat hair BTW) also known as the city of dragons, or is the city of dragons similar to the Forbidden City inside Bejing, or something else? It reads a little funny to me, in a similar way to "wasteland of rocks, lava, and death" where rocks and lava are visible things, while death is, well, not necessarily something you see, hence my switcharoo to "sunbleached bones".

Good point about the "death" beat. I actually did change it yesterday; i wanted to use it as a visual-through-abstract device, but it did not work.

Fhuarchen Chathair (you made me lol actually with the cat hair thing - it's cat-ha-ir - that is why no matter what names I choose I alwasy fear someone will find a funny spin to them) is known as the city of dragons, as it literally is. In my world, dragons live almost exclusively around that area of the continent.

I, too, consider rewriting until the grammar sounds good or satisfies me, but my editor is pretty anal when it comes to certain details. So, for example, even in your mini-rewrite, he would probably change your "dominated" into "had dominated."

Someone else in the thread did mention something that made me think my editor and I may be wasting a tad too much time on things like these.
I wonder if I should just give in and accept the minor change and move onto things actually relevant.

Thank you for the input!
 
I agree with this. Sometimes no word works to make the sentence sound right, and you can spend hours trying and it always sounds wrong. Best to just rewrite them a different way and stop spending energy on it.

In the end, is had been vs was here a show stopper? Nope. Reader will not give it the consideration you do.
This is a very good point. I actually would like to just be able to move on. In my mind though I always thought "moving on" meant for my editor to just let me keep it as I like it, in a disagreement, but maybe I should be the one to let things go lol
 
I'm also a "sounds right, is right" grammarian. Thank goodness my wife is an actual trained linguist and a much better grammarian than I am. :D I tend to lean toward "had" as being more precise, and I even use a fair number of "had hads." Drives my alpha reader nuts. He thinks they're clunky, but also agrees that they're correct. They just get contracted a lot, as in, "Elspeth'd had a hell of a day."

I try to use the right tense as long as "it sounds right," just like you lol
 
I am firmly in the camp that once you establish the past tense, you don't need every little "had" or "was". I'm happy to say my editor agrees, and when she does slip one back in, I tend to agree or just slip it back out, heh heh. Some things are opinions, not facts when it comes to editing. So, unless your editor is on strict instructions from a publisher showing you the money, well, just who has the final say?

That said, I'll move on to city of dragons. As written, I'd tend to go caps with City of Dragons and include a third characteristic of the city, since you have a rhythm of 3's with "culture, art, and philanthropy" and "wasteland of rocks, lava, and death" because City of Dragons feels more a title than a characteristic, which leaves you with "golden buildings and indestructible walls". You could use dragons, of course, but make it sound less like a title.

But, that's just me.

And oh yeah, I always fear how people will pronounce my names, but at the same time hardening myself to that reality.

Good point about the "death" beat. I actually did change it yesterday; i wanted to use it as a visual-through-abstract device, but it did not work.

Fhuarchen Chathair (you made me lol actually with the cat hair thing - it's cat-ha-ir - that is why no matter what names I choose I alwasy fear someone will find a funny spin to them) is known as the city of dragons, as it literally is. In my world, dragons live almost exclusively around that area of the continent.

I, too, consider rewriting until the grammar sounds good or satisfies me, but my editor is pretty anal when it comes to certain details. So, for example, even in your mini-rewrite, he would probably change your "dominated" into "had dominated."

Someone else in the thread did mention something that made me think my editor and I may be wasting a tad too much time on things like these.
I wonder if I should just give in and accept the minor change and move onto things actually relevant.

Thank you for the input!
 
who has the final say?
that's a good point, but I also want to try and be as open as possible to get out of my own head.
Also, the editor is a friend who decided to work pro-bono, which I think, is part of the reason why I'm not as firm as I would otherwise be.

I'll try and work your suggestion in (I like it) although the city of dragons is a nod back to when I first introduced it a few chapters earlier so it's not a nickname or even a qualifier. it's more of a statement - kinda like saying Rivendell was the city of Elves.
 
I just had to share this one after talking about words and pronunciation. I won't name the book, but one POV character is named Gonat. I absolutely, horrifyingly, annoyingly, adverbially (the worst of all), can NOT read that name as anything other than Gonad while chortling like Beevis and Butthead... and I can't stand Beevis and Butthead.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I just had to share this one after talking about words and pronunciation. I won't name the book, but one POV character is named Gonat. I absolutely, horrifyingly, annoyingly, adverbially (the worst of all), can NOT read that name as anything other than Gonad while chortling like Beevis and Butthead... and I can't stand Beevis and Butthead.
Now I'm chortling. Thanks. :p
 
I just had to share this one after talking about words and pronunciation. I won't name the book, but one POV character is named Gonat. I absolutely, horrifyingly, annoyingly, adverbially (the worst of all), can NOT read that name as anything other than Gonad while chortling like Beevis and Butthead... and I can't stand Beevis and Butthead.
hahah The moment I read "Gonat" and saw you wrote the post, I knew how it would end lol
 
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