Answer by Mike Mendis:
They cannot, in fact, be used interchangeably. The simple past is used to record what happens in the novel’s “present time,” that is, the time at which the current events in the novel are taking place. The past perfect is used for events that happened before the novel’s “present time.” In other words, the past perfect is used for events that occurred before the events that are narrated in the simple past. You might think of the past perfect as a double past tense: a past tense that is past in relation to the simple past.
Example (taken at random from a novel):
Tenderly, unconsciously, she stroked the locket that hung around her neck, which her grandmother had given her on her fifth birthday.
- stroked; hung: simple past; events occurring in the present time of the narrative.
- had given: past perfect; an…
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