Verbed-ing My Verbings

So in my last post, I included a bunch of links to various websites with tools and writing tips I find helpful.  One of them in particular has become a pretty big part of my revisions for the last few days.  The end of the post discusses removing confusing -ing constructions, something I ended up realizing is a problem all throughout my draft.  The issue is that past progressive tense is mostly supposed to be used for things that happen simultaneously, and often I’ve used it for things that shouldn’t be simultaneous.  Also, -ing words are a problem when it comes to active vs. passive voice.  Then there’s a few subtler issues that weaken the writing, all involving -ing words.

Once I started looking for -ing words, I found issues with them all over the place.  I’ve been revising them out ever since.  There’s a few specific ways I’ve been going about fixing this.  I thought I’d discuss a few of the issues here, and give examples of how I’m correcting them.

Here’s an example where it’s technically correct, but I think it’s a weak sentence:

“Tock snorted, pulling her shirt on, then grabbing her backpack off the ground and slinging it over her shoulder.”

Tock can snort while pulling her shirt on at the same time, so it’s not an incorrect use.  However, I don’t feel like the sentence is strong enough.  Overuse of the progressive/continuous form makes for weaker writing.  So I revised it out:

“Tock snorted as she pulled her shirt on.  She grabbed her backpack off the ground and slung it over her shoulder.”

The revised version feels, to me, like it’s more direct.  It’s in simple past tense form, which is generally stronger and more active.

Here’s a slightly different issue:

“Tock blinked, not having realized for a moment that someone was speaking to her.”

When I read this, I see “not having realized” as a weak form.  The real issue here is placing the sentence in positive rather than negative form.  According to Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” a writer should “Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language” (p. 19).  That’s the exact problem I have here.  I shouldn’t be saying what Tock is not doing.  I should be saying what she is doing.  It’s like the difference between saying “Tock wasn’t telling the truth” instead of saying “Tock was lying.”  The second is more direct and succinct.  It’s stronger.

So I revise the sentence to this:

“Tock blinked, unaware that someone had been speaking to her.”

Saying she is “unaware” instead of “not having realized” is more direct and thus a stronger sentence.

The -ing in that example wasn’t really the cause of the problem, so here’s a better example:

““Is I gotta does ‘er over again?” she asked, dreading the idea of wasting time rewriting the paper.”

The dialogue portion, of course, is a grammatical nightmare.  But that’s just how Tock speaks.  The issue I have with this sentence is three -ing words, dreading, wasting, and rewriting, all lined up in a weak little row.  I feel like I can make it stronger.

So I try this:

““Is I gotta does ‘er over again?” she asked.  She dreaded the idea of wasting time rewriting the paper.”

Tiny change.  Barely any difference.  Two -ings are still there.  But the main focus is now “She dreaded…”  I feel like that has some more punch to it.

Here’s another one I think can be stronger:

“She held the blowtorch up for a moment, picturing what it would be like to cut the hot blue flame through his arm.”

Wow, talk about Tock having a temper, right?  But setting aside her psychotic tendencies, I’ve got another weak -ing in there.  But it’s an easy fix:

“She held the blowtorch up for a moment and pictured what it would be like to cut the hot blue flame through his arm.”

Somehow it has more punch that way.

Then there’s the really bad cases where the actions just CAN’T be happening at the same time.  Here’s an example:

“Tock swung her hand at the weapon, closing her fingers around it.”

Obviously, Tock can’t be closing her fingers around the weapon while she’s still in the middle of reaching for it.  This should be one action after the other.  So it needs to be changed:

“The weapon swung at her, and Tock reached out and blocked it, then closed her fingers around it.”

I’m still not entirely sure if I’m happy with that revision, but it puts the sequence of events in proper order.  She reaches out, then closes her fingers around it.

Anyway, that’s just a small glimpse into the changes I’ve been making.  Revisions are still underway, and will be months longer before they’re done.  I’m currently on page 189 out of 431.  That’s after about a month of revisions since I finished the first draft.

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4 thoughts on “Verbed-ing My Verbings”

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