Monday, August 21, 2017

Beware of the Overuse of This Type of Word

Beware. Beware. Beware! Of the overuse of the I-N-G verb.

The technical term for this type of verb is present participle. For the sake of this blog post, I’m leaving out gerunds (ING verbs that act as a noun) and limiting this discussion to the present participle.

In many manuscripts, present participle use gets out of hand. While one can still say the language is active, adding the ING is akin to wrapping your trumpet in a towel—it muffles and muddies your once beautiful verb. To be clear, they are useful, but as with most things in life, moderation is key.

Consider the often-used dialogue tag modifier.

“That’s the ugliest sofa I’ve ever seen,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

This is a fine sentence. There’s nothing grammatically wrong with it. However, is there a better way to convey the same idea? As writers, we must be in a constant quest to refine our craft. Consider the following:

She wrinkled her nose. “That’s the ugliest sofa I’ve ever seen.”

Fewer words and we’ve conveyed the same idea but without the ING parasitically attached to our beautiful verb.

How about this pair:

She spent every Saturday cleaning her apartment and running errands.
Vs.
Every Saturday, she cleaned her apartment and ran errands.


Again, same idea, fewer words. So input “ing” into the search function in Microsoft Word, and see where you can strengthen your manuscript by removing the present participle. You might be surprised by how much you’ve overused them. 

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Melinda Marshall Friesen writes fiction for young people and the young at heart. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada with her family. 

2 comments:

  1. Great advice! INGs drive me nuts. What do you think of the sentence put this way?: “That’s the ugliest sofa I’ve ever seen,” she said, as she wrinkled her nose.

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