Friday, May 24, 2013

Editing ‘As’ and ‘ing’ Phrases--a post by Gemma

As the hungry literary agent sat at her desk and thought about what to blog about this week, she remembered something she’d been noticing in submissions and client manuscripts recently.

Dashing out of the room and towards her bookcase, she pulled a book down from the dusty shelf. As she did, a big black spider fell on her face. Screaming and dropping the book, she jumped from the ladder and raced out of the door. The spider didn’t follow and as the door slammed, he climbed back into his book home, his little heart pounding at the horror of the agent’s bad hair.

Shaking a little, the agent sat back at her desk and pulled herself together. She was on a deadline for this blog post and had to get it written. Typing fast, she dumped all her thoughts onto the page, her fingers flying over the keyboard.

As the clock ticked over the midnight, she typed the end, hoping the post would be helpful to those who read it. Then she finally had dinner.

I’m hoping you can see from the above passage in italics the overuse of ‘as’ and ‘ing’ phrases. One of my favourite writing books, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King, talks about overuse like this making the prose sound amateur. They discuss the topic in the section of the book about sophistication – adding a bit more polish and professionalism to your writing. You should notice that the additions of ‘as’ and ‘ing’ phrases above affect the flow of the writing and weaken the sentences. (I won’t lie, it’s not the best piece of writing anyway, but give me a break on that!)

There is nothing grammatically incorrect about using ‘as’ and ‘ing’, but they do take away some of the action. ‘She dashed over to her bookshelf’ is stronger and more in the moment than ‘Dashing over to her bookshelf.’

Of course, you will need to and should use ‘as’ and ‘ing’ phrases in your writing – but as with ‘rules’ about clichés, similes, exclamation points etc., use them with care. If taking out a ‘ing’ phrase means you add ten words and ruin the sentence, then don’t remove it! Just be aware of them in your prose, and if you see more than one or two per page, look for ways to strengthen some of those lines.

There are many ‘rules’ that tell you how and what to write. When I was at school, my teacher was obsessed with us not using ‘And’ and ‘But’ at the start of sentences. But these are used in lots of my favourite books and can really add to the voice and tone if used well. So to clarify, I don’t like the definitiveness of the word ‘rule’ in writing and I don’t like people who are too prescriptive about them. But it is still good to be aware of the rules before you attempt to break them!

If this was helpful, check out my previous editorial tips blog post here.

Also, I was interviewed this week by Middle Grade Ninja about my favourite books and wishlist – click here for that.


  1. Great post. One of my most overused verbs used to be 'was' that often led into the 'ing' words. Was is a lazy verb.

  2. Informative and entertaining post. Love it!

  3. Zounds and Gadzooks, love this post. I'm sort of the "ing" police at critique group.

    Elizabeth Bunce, the first recipient of the Morris award for A Curse Dark as Gold, broke me of the nasty habit. Makes an immediate improvement in anyone's WIP.

  4. ‘She dashed over to her bookshelf’ is stronger and more in the moment than ‘Dashing over to her bookshelf.’

    I'm confused.

    Isn't ‘She dashed over to her bookshelf' telling, and ‘Dashing over to her bookshelf.’ showing.

    How would you 'show' without the ing.

    1. I don't see this as a show don't tell example, and 'she dashed' is a strong action line. SDT is more things like 'he was cold' being replaced with 'he shivered'. Or 'he felt sick' replaced with 'his stomach churned'. Or 'he hated children' being replaced with some dialogue and a scene showing his hatred of children.

      Often people add, 'In her panic, she dashed...'but the action shows that she is doing it in a panic so it's not really needed. 'She dashed' is also much stronger than 'she walked quickly'.

      Hope this helps!

    2. Both are showing. The difference is one is a verb and the other an adjective. Nouns and verbs are strong, adjectives and adverbs are weaker. 'dashed' is a verb. 'Dashing over to her bookshelf' is a participle phrase acting as an adjective, that modifies the pronoun 'she'.

      There's also a suggestion of the problem that the Turkey City Lexicon (google it) calls 'not simultaneous'. The writer is trying to make the character do too many things at once, in a misguided attempt to speed up the action. The participle implies continuing action. How can the character be dashing out of a room and pull a book down from a bookcase in another room at the same time?

      I had this problem a lot when I started writing fiction. It's very tempting, because the novice writer thinks it makes their prose more active and immediate. It doesn't, it actually makes the prose weaker and more awkward, but that has to be learned.

  5. If I don't pay attention, I'll overuse as, so much that I won't notice until I read it over (and, boy, is it a lot). I try to make mental notes for the next time I sit down and write. I do the same thing with like. However, I've gotten better. :D

    Until I forget to pay attention and the cycle starts all over.

  6. Gemma, very helpful indeed.

    In the midst of ‘another’ rewrite of a resurrected 82,000 word novel I wrote seven years ago, I did a ‘find’ yesterday on every ‘ing’ in the book. OMG
    I considered taking up knitting but opted to continue one last time in respect for my effort.

  7. It's all about the verbs isn't it? Thanks Gemma, great demo.

  8. I take out 90% of 'as' and 'ing' phrases during the first edit, then put about 25% of them back again in subsequent edits. It's a question of balance, as with everything.

    Good post.

  9. Loved this. So interesting. My critique group was just talking about this very thing today. Thanks!

  10. Keep these posts coming. I'm always up for more editorial advice. And I like that the spider was also scared:)

  11. Love this post. It's a very helpful reminder on how we can easily strengthen our writing.

  12. Much appreciated stylistic advice! Us emerging authors (myself included) don't always know which stylistic faux pas to look out for, so our revisions aren't as strong as they could be. I'll be sure to look out for excessive use of "as" and "-ing" in my work.

    Thank you for the post, Gemma.

  13. Good to hear your thoughts on this topic.