I'm writing a short story for a C2 Creative Writing course, and I couldn't help but come across this question regarding reported speech.
My main question is this: consider someone says, "I ate the whole package." Is it possible (and does it sound natural) to use the reported speech 'He said he ate the whole package' for this direct speech? I know that the rules of backshifting recommend changing the past simple to the past perfect when the reporting verb is in the past tense ("said"), but for some reason the past simple sounds natural to me in this situation.
For a little more context, please consider that there are three different characters - A, B, and C. At one point in the story, B asks A, "What happened to the cookies?", to which A replies: "I ate the whole package." Later that day, C asks B what A told them, to which B replies, "[A/He] said he ate the whole package."
Is this acceptable (even if only in spoken language!) or should B's sentence be, "[A/He] said he'd eaten the whole package"? My brain is suggesting that if B and C's dialogue takes place not long after A's (as is the case), then the past simple can be kept. But if it were to take place after a considerable amount of time, like a week, a month, or a year, then the past perfect would have to be used. I'm afraid this might be a wrong assumption, though.
I don't have a lot of contact with native english speakers so I'd be very grateful if anyone could provide some insight on this!