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.