You are going to want simple past most of the time. Simple past gives you the widest array of active verbs, and it's the active verbs that you absolutely need to make your narrative vivid. I should say, actually, that this explanation only applies to people writing in English, written by people for whom English is the primary language and for whom their lives are rooted in a world outlook and culture that is derived from any place where Britain once controlled and/or influenced, AND that the writer is writing for an audience within the same general culture, language, and outlook.
Other languages and cultures may have a different way to go about telling a story. Many other languages do not have the array of tenses that English has, and some languages tell their stories in tenses that we lack!
So, considering all of that, the majority of stories written in English for an english speaking audience will be a combination of simple past and past progressive. It's all about what you want your reader to pay the most attention to in a dynamic setting.
Let's look at how the same action sentence can be changed by each tense. The scene for this sentence would be a gladiatorial arena where a gladiator is performing.
--He brandished his claymore and excited the jeering crowd.
--He was exciting the jeering crowd by brandishing his claymore.
--Though the crowd had jeered at him, they were excited because he had brandished his claymore for them.
past perfect progressive:
--He had been brandishing his claymore before the exited crowd, which had been jeering at him.
--When he was in the arena and the crowd jeered at him, he would brandish his claymore and that would excite them.
As you go down the different ways to write this sentence in past tense, do you notice how the sentences keep getting longer? That is because you are inserting verbs into your action that don't go anywhere, and it has the effect on your readers of pulling them out of the position of being a participant in your scene and into the position of an observer to the scene or worse, an observer to the narrator who is himself observing the scene.
The goal in the modern style is to immerse your reader. This means to be able to get your reader to feel as if they are right inside or right above the character's perspective. Simple past does this job without the help of "was", or "to be" or "Had", all that these three verbs accomplish is weak, passive, clinical storytelling. You should avoid them whenever possible. There are exceptions for certain types of scenes, such as flashbacks and summary, or if you use a narrative device like a storyteller frame, but for the most part, every use of those three verbs in your writing will grind the action incrementally to a standstill and add unnecessarily to your word count.
Average story crafters bounce back and forth between past progressive and simple past, confusing the two all the time.
Alternatively, there are writers that write in present tense. Suzanne Collins wrote the Hunger Games in present tense. At the risk of inserting personal opinion here, It's a perfect thing for script writing, but in a novel, it seems a bit strange. While a script can get away with present action because it is directing an actor to that action, a story pulls the past forward into the present. It's safest to make sure that your story is a storytelling rather than a play-by-play.
He was hiding in the dumpster. He had been hiding here for more than
two hours already, and he knew that it would be at least two hours
before we could leave. Finally, they were gone and he climbed out of
the trash. He unsuccessfully tried to hail a cab -- even cab drivers
have standards here -- and walked to his hotel.
He was hiding in the dumpster--past progressive, by the use of the verb "was" followed by the action verb in the present tense.
He had been hiding. . .This is past perfect progressive, you can tell that by the use of "had been"
. . .He knew that it would be. . .--this is tricky, but this is actually simple past. YOu are just revealing the character's inner sense of time. Your character is estimating two more hours before "they" are gone. the estimation is being done past tense because the important verb here is the word "knew"
. . .They were gone. . . Past progressive
...and he climbed. . . simple past
. . .tried to hail a cab. . .simple past
. . .walked to his hotel... simple past.
Nope, no future tenses here. Now, Let's look at this paragraph with clarity of tense:
Two hours after his dive into the dumpster, he knew that they still sought him so he stayed another two just to be safe. After those four hours bedding down in the muck, he crawled out of the trash, finally convinced of his safety. He tried to hail a cab unsucessfully-- even cab drivers have standards here -- and walked to his hotel.
He was hiding in the dumpster. He was hiding there for two hours, and after those two hours he was certain that he should stay for two more. Finally, they were gone and he was able to climb out of the trash. He was walking home because though he was trying to hail a cab, even cab drivers have standards.
He had hid in the dumpster for more than two hours, and he had known after those first two hours that it would take a total of at least four before he could leave. Finally, they had called off the search and he had climbed out of the trash so that he could try to hail a cab. Since cab drivers generally had standards of cleanliness, he was unsuccessful, and so he'd given up and he'd walked to his hotel instead.
past perfect progressive:
He had been hiding in the dumpster for more than two hours already out of a four hour wait. He had been aware that it would take at least that long before he could leave. Sure enough, after he had been waiting all of that time in the filth and slime, they had been disinclined to stick around and he had been inclined to climb out of the trash. He'd been walking home because he'd been unsuccessful in hailing a cab due to the cab drivers' standards for clean passengers in their vehicles.