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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Avoiding the Ing

A common problem shared by many amateur writers is their emotional attachment to the dreaded Ing.  What is this insidious affliction?  See if you can spot it in the following passage:

Walking down the road, Carol heard something.  Looking over her shoulder, she shuddered.  Following her was a ten foot tall hairy creature.  Licking its lips, it reached out with a massive hand.  Seeing its dirty hangnail-covered fingers, Carol screamed.

Skilled writers avoid drawing too much attention to any single word or phrase unless there's a strategic purpose for doing it.  Gerund phrases -- especially when scampering one after another like lost puppies across a page -- draw attention from the story and focus it instead on the mechanics of each sentence. 

Experienced writers start a sentence with a gerund once or twice every few pages at worst, once every ten or fifteen pages at best.  An observant writer can make it through entire chapters without resorting to these attention-stealing sentence starters.  Creative writing teachers can help younger and older authors alike learn to overcome this habit through guided revision of paragraphs like the gerund-infected example above.

Almost as bad as "ing" openers are sentences starting with "as" or "when."

As I opened the door, something moved.  When I stepped in, I heard a floorboard creak.  As I turned toward the sound, an Ing stepped out of the shadows.  Swallowing hard, I backed away.

Another way to cure your students is to have them use their word processor's "find and replace" function to seek out and highlight any sentence starting with "ing," "as," or "when."  If they're serious about their writing, this can be an eye-opening, writing-changing experience.