Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Two-Cent Tuesday: F-ing Ing Verbs!

My "editor" on A Hero's Journey did not make many suggestions, but the one thing she insisted on was to change -ing verbs to -ed verbs.  She's one of those who believe those are "stronger."  I've never really understood this belief.  I asked someone more in the know about grammar than I am but even her explanation didn't really convince me this needed to be done.

Anyway, this Grumpy Bulldog finally just grumbled, "Fine...goddamnit." and spent a whole day to hunt down -ing verbs and change many of them to -ed verbs.  Or in many cases from -ing to "to [whatever]".  In other cases I had to get more creative than that.

Here's a little primer on the kind of stuff I did:

Original sentence:

As she mounted the steps to her dream job, Emma’s main concern was not tripping over her own feet.  

The revised:

As she mounted the steps to her dream job, Dr. Emma Earl’s main concern was not to trip over her own feet.   


Emma needed a moment to remember that she was Dr. Earl now, the title sounding so strange from someone else’s mouth.    


Emma needed a moment to remember that she was Dr. Earl now; the title sounded so strange from someone else’s mouth.   


As she felt her face turning red-hot, she summoned the courage to add, “Am I too early?”  


As her face turned red-hot, she summoned the courage to add, “Am I too early?”

And that's only like half the first page!  For 300-plus pages in double space you can imagine how many instances of this there were.  I missed a few because I did it on the quick. 

The question for the sequels was whether or not to do the same thing.  Ultimately I decided I should be consistent.  So for weeks I've gone through the seven sequels to cut out as many -ing verbs as I can. 

It is a very cumbersome process.  First I print out the story.  Then I read through it and mark it up in red pen.  Then (the worst part) I have to make all those red pen changes on the file.  Seriously that step is so dull I need someone to stand behind me with a cattle-prod to keep me on task.  I'm not done after that, though!  Next I convert it to Kindle format on Smashwords (and charge an obscenely high price so no one else will buy it--or if they do I make an obscenely high profit!) and then I read the story AGAIN to see if I've missed any errors or (in many cases) made new errors.  I highlight those on the Kindle and then make those changes to the file.  It's slightly less tedious to make those changes because there are fewer of them.

I have to do that 7 times over, for about 3,000 pages (double-spaced) of text!  So you can see why I've really started to hate -ing verbs.  And more so the "editor" who said I need to eliminate those -ing verbs.  I have to go to all this trouble because some two-bit hack probably still in college read some stupid blog entry somewhere and decided it was LAW.  Argh.  I've gotten all the way through 2-5 and am up to the Kindle phase of Book 6 and am in the process of the red pen edits to Book 7.  Book 8 is not started at all yet and it's 570 pages so it'll take a while.

For the most part I don't think these changes make the stories better.  More often than not instead of "stronger" it seems to me the sentences are bulkier.  But there are a few good instances because I, like many people, often unconsciously misuse -ing verbs.

I might say for instance:  She entered the room, walking to the kitchen. [Only something less inane.]

That's not how you should do it because the enter room part and walking to the kitchen are two separate actions.  What I should really say is more like, "She entered the room and then walked to the kitchen."  That, to me anyway, is more grammatically correct.

Another good thing is sometimes it helps to eliminate a word I don't need.  Like if I wrote, "She left her purse sitting on the counter."  I would change it to "She left her purse on the counter."  As you can see, the "sitting" verb isn't necessary because if it's on the counter we know it's sitting on it, right?

Another bugaboo of mine is the expression "She couldn't help thinking" or "couldn't help feeling" where really I could just say "she thought" or "she felt" or whatever.  Simplify, man!

A good example of unneeded -ing verbs came when I read TekWar by Bill Shatner.  He constantly uses expressions like "came running" or "came charging" or "came dripping" where it could easily be "ran" "charged" and "dripped" respectively.

Still, on the balance it's a huge pain in the ass.  Most of the time I think it's an unnecessary pain in the ass too.  I mean, just look at other books and you'll see -ing verbs everywhere!  I think shortly after I did one of my books I read "John Dies At the End" and it used -ing verbs all the time!  And that's sold a bunch of copies and has a movie adaptation to be released this year so clearly the -ing verbs didn't matter to people.

However, when you do edit a story, you might want to reconsider some of your -ing verbs.  They might not be as necessary as you might think.

(If I did this right there aren't any unnecessary -ing verbs in this blog entry!)

Tomorrow is the first-ever Recap entry!


  1. If I can use "ed" instead of "ing", I will, but I still have a lot of those "ing" words where I just like'em.

    I know how you feel with the editing. It's so tedious. I had one editor that wanted me to fix my sentences so that that they didn't start with a pronoun, but instead...a word staring with "ing". Yeah, I think we often get annoyed with our editors.

  2. I don't do grammar as well as I should, but I'd wager a lot if those -ing verbs are part of a passive voice. 'He was running' is less great than 'he ran.' Not that I'm sure I agree with that all the time, but I'm sure that's part of the rationale.

    I'm not to big a fan of people feeling things all the time though. Not sure why that gets me. Billy felt the engine rumble gets on my nerves. The engine rumbled - I assume Billy felt it.

    Most of that is preference though, and nothing really bugs me unless it gets overused. I read a book some time ago where the author described everything like 'the ____ was like a ____ and ____."

    It gave every descriptive phrase a mad libs quality. I would have thrown the book against the wall if it weren't of the electronic variety. Every paragraph had at least one sentence using that identical structure. Just nouns were interchanged.

  3. Well, your changes have strengthened your senteces. You got ride of the more passive voice, so it worked. Your hard work was worth it!

  4. I'm not sure that making the change made the sentence any more enjoyable to read (so I'm with you on that). But I'll look at my own writing and see if I have -ing words that I may rely on too much.



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