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.