Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be My Guest - Terry Odell

 Thanks again to Terry for stopping by with another helpful post.


Watch Those INGs

Feedback from a critique partner pointing out every time I'd used an "ing" word made me stop and think about this verb construction.

At the very first writer's conference I attended, an agent said she would reject a query with more than 1 sentence beginning with the "ing" construction. Her explanation—it's too easy to make mistakes with that sentence structure.

But is it wrong? No. You have to be careful, and you have to pay attention. There are different reasons to avoid, or minimize use of those pesky "ing" words.

First, the dangling modifier. In my first critique group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. I'd written, "Rubbing her neck, the blinking red light on the answering machine caught Sarah's eye." Ooops. (But I would like a machine with that function!)

Make sure the noun or pronoun comes immediately after the descriptive phrase. Thus, the above example could be "Rubbing her neck, Sarah noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine."

Next, the non-simultaneous action. "Running across the clearing, John rushed into the tent." Or, "Opening the door, Mary tripped down the stairs."

John can't be getting into the tent while he's running across the clearing. And Mary needs to open the door before she goes downstairs.

And lastly, there's the "weak verb" construction. If your "ing" verb follows "was", take another look. "John was running across the clearing" isn't a strong as "John ran across the clearing."  Of course, you'll want to use stronger verbs, such as raced, sped, or barreled, but the idea is the same.

So, when you're looking over your manuscript, you might want to flag words ending in "ing" and take another look to be sure you haven't made any of these basic errors.

Another hint: if you're using Word, you can do a "find" using wild cards to flag words ending in "ing." In Word 2003, which is what I use, it's Edit/Find/More. Then check the "use wildcards" box, and then special, where you'll find the command for end of word.

What you'll find is that you should type "ing"  into the search box. Then you can either look at them one at a time, or check the "highlight all items found in:" box.  I don't know the commands for other versions of Word, or other word processing programs, though. Maybe some other folks can chime in with suggestions for how to do this in other programs.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who tries very hard to use the "ing" verbs in the right way.

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18 comments :

  1. Hi Terry,
    Lots of great reminders. It's easy to get so caught up in the story and what we imagine is going on that it's hard to see we've written it wrong. I'll have to see if my computer will highlight those pesky ing's.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kathy, if you're using Word, the process I explained SHOULD work. You can click the box to highlight all instances and then click on either a font color or a highlight color when Word shows you the results.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Reading this post, the light bulb in Chris's head turned on.

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  4. Ah, Chris -- a light bulb that reads. Not as good as my answering machine that gave neck massages, though. Close, but you haven't usurped my spot as #1 yet!

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

    ReplyDelete
  5. The ING verbs - called progressive verbs - often depict ongoing action. But as you say, Terry, they are generally weaker than simple past tense. Yet they do have a purpose when a writer wants the reader to envision continuous action.

    The dangling modifier is another problem, as you note. I've read some hilarious sentences during my years of editing, where the introductory clause almost tumbles off the sentence because it has nothing to hang on to.

    Great post, Terry. This is a reminder we all need from time to time, even if we are seasoned writers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Linda - Thanks - I never can remember labels! I know gerunds end in ing, and there are "progressive participles" as well.

    But, whether we know what to call a construction or not, it's important to use them correctly. Nothing irks me more than having someone say "You're writing in the passive voice because you're using the word 'was.'"

    While I know my crit partner was trying to be helpful, not all "INGs" are created equal!

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  7. Great post, Terry! And one that all aspiring writers should read. I'll be sending several of my writer clients here. Thanks for the tips.

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  8. Jodie - I'm glad you feel my "tip of the iceberg" coverage of the topic will be helpful to your clients. Thanks for stopping by.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  9. I hadn't thought about that, but it's an excellent point. Thankyou.

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  10. Oh no, I think I might be guilty of this... another version of the INGs is the "as". Time to recheck my manuscripts. Thanks for a great post.

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  11. Martin, glad I made you think.

    Dawn - For some reason, "as" doesn't seem to be quite so troublesome--probably because it seems to remind me that actions have to be simultaneous, whereas they kind of sneak in there when it's an "ing" construction.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  12. This was a great reminder, Terry. And your examples helped clarify when the ing word works and when it doesn't.

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  13. Simultaneous actions, especially when presented over and over, are a pet peeve of mine as an editor. I consider them a crisis of confidence on the part of the author: fearing their story isn't packing a powerful enough punch, they ramp things up through simultaneous actions.

    It doesn't work. (The solution for that is revamping structure, not overwhelming the reader with events.) It's the author's job to decide the most important action and order appropriately, to lead the reader toward the proper conclusion.

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  14. Maryann - my pleasure

    Kathryn - so true. Overdoing anything isn't good. It starts to become conspicuous and feel forced.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

    ReplyDelete
  15. Terry, thanks for helpiing me to keep fresh in my mind these two little gremlins, the ings and the was's, however you spell them.

    I'm blessed to have Linda Lane as a friend/editor/publisher to work on my third novel with me. She has guided me down the right path and although I've learned a lot, I have much more to learn and remember.

    Again thank you for one of those reminders.

    Sylvia K. Hamilton

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  16. Sylvia - editors are great, but I know they appreciate it when we learn how to deal with a lot of these little things before we send our stuff out. Glad to be of service.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

    ReplyDelete
  17. Great post, Terry!Thank you for the post! Don`t stop write!

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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