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Writing style question

I'm typing away madly, but while doing so, I'm trying to improve my style at the same time. To do this, I've been looking at the way some of my favourite authors write and I've noticed that they tend to avoid the "-ing" form, using the more present forms of verbs instead.

Let me illustrate:

Instead of "pulling himself closer", I read "he pulled himself closer". Instead of "Opening the door with one hand", I read "he opened the door with one hand".

I understand that the second version makes the action much more immediate. My question is: is it permissible to occasionally use the "-ing" form, mixed in with the others, or is that totally jarring and bad style?

*hoping for clarification*



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
It's more verb tense than style. And yes, there are situations that you can use both the past tense (ed) with the present (ing) in the same sentence. As a (stupid) example:

She looked at him, mouth gaping in surprise.

Jun. 1st, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
Ah! Illumination!

I'm sure I learned this in school sometime *way* back, but I remember that I had problems with tenses even then.

Thank you for clarifying this for me!
Jun. 1st, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
I don't find it jarring at all. I think a good mixture of the two is best.

Jun. 1st, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :) Then I'll keep typing away happily. ^__^

Jun. 1st, 2010 11:06 pm (UTC)
Story's done, by the way, and winging its way to you via email. Critique and review welcome. :)
Jun. 1st, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC)
The difference as I understand it is that the "ing" form is usually the background action. It's absolutely justified to use it, for instance when two things are happening at the same time: "She was reading a book when the phone rang." It's personal preference, but I don't like the "ing" form used on its own at the beginning of the sentence as in "sitting on the toilet he turned the page of his book" - for one thing, it's easy to make a grammar mistake (such as "sitting on the toilet my friend knock on the door" => two sentences with different subjects). Secondly, I feel the sentence works better if the important action comes before the background action. It makes the focus clearer.
Jun. 1st, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
Ah, ok. I use the "sitting on the toilet..." version quite often. But I'm trying to wean myself away from it. It was when I was actually 'analyzing' what the other authors were doing that I realized that I was overusing that "-ing" form. But sometimes I feel like I need it, so I wasn't sure what was ok.

I've never looked at the "-ing" form as being the background action... *ponders*

Thank you! Now I have even more to think about! ^___^
Jun. 1st, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
Personal preference does play a part, so you know, write what feels right. :) I was just looking at my most recent fic and I realised that I don't use progressive tenses all that often, except when talking specifically about one action interrupting the other. Also, though this is spur of the moment thinking so may not be fully thought-out, progressive tense implies action, so it's fitting to use it sparringly when telling a story: when you want to give a sentence a feeling of movement, then it's more effective.

Compare: "A large, golden-brown dog was sitting before him, with an expression of idiotic glee on its fuzzy face and a tennis ball in its mouth,"

with "A large, golden-brown dog sat before him, with an expression of idiotic glee on its fuzzy face and a tennis ball in its mouth."

Possibly YMMV, but to me the first sentence better conveys the hyper nature of the dog - if I was writing about a mastiff I would have picked the second, but I'm writing about a golden retriever in playtime mode, so I want the bouncy feeling to be there.

Also, as for background action: look at the examples you give - which of the four could stand alone as a complete sentence?
Jun. 1st, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
I see the difference. Yes, the feel of the two sentences is definitely different. I have this very bad habit of often starting sentences with the "-ing" form ("Sitting before him, a large golden-brown dog..."). I'm definitely going to change that!

I'm going to save your comment, so that I can reference it when I need it, if you don't mind! It helps tremendously! :)
Jun. 1st, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
Oh this stuff is so complicated for me... So this is going to be a looooong comment...
Not sure if you're looking for my input on this but here it is. Might make no sense, haven't had enough coffee yet.

For me you can hop back and forth between the two as much as you like, it's the smoothness of transition that counts.
I tend to pair an '-ing' up with another present tense verb to keep it smooth. My favorite and the most common coupling I use is almost like 'cause and effect'.

Example: 'He opened the fridge, taking a cold beer out.' (I normally wouldn't leave an action chopped off like that, but, it's an example.)

It helps that the two actions could happen simultaneously. He could still be in the process of opening the fridge when he reaches in to take a beer out. By 'cause and effect' there, I mean that the second could not happen without the first. He can't get a beer out unless he opens that fridge, but if I use the same tense twice there it will sound choppy or tacked on because I wrote that as if it were in a paragraph.
If I were to take that out of a paragraph and say, tack it on after he said something? :

"I still don't know what he was thinking taking on an assignment like that." He opened the fridge and took out a cold beer.

That, to me at least, leads right back to the conversation at hand rather than setting up for another action and keeps the readers focus where I want it. BUT if I were to continue his sentence and stick that action in the middle? Like so:

"I still don't know what he was thinking taking on an assignment like that." He opened the fridge, taking out a cold beer, "I mean what with the exams coming up, not sure why he thinks he can handle it." (Left the 'I'm' out on purpose. Giving him some character, 'cuz I can.)

Also It helps me to avoid putting 'and' in too many times and getting repetitive and dull. 'And' goes better with words like 'took' and 'pulled' and 'opened' in my opinion whereas a comma makes for a better transition to a word ending with '-ing'.

Or I can avoid the whole messiness of it and bring it down to:

'He took a cold beer out of the fridge.'

That's simple and I've now only got one form of the tense in there. It all depends on what I've typed leading up to it and what I want to type afterwards.
When I do my final edit, this is what changes the most until I have it smooth enough and it isn't dull, so I have trouble with it too. Also to change the feel of the sentence I change adjectives and nouns and verbs a hundred times over to find a good combination and end up doing copy and paste of the original before changing it so that I can go back to scratch if I make it too complicated-sounding.
My brain is chaos, not sure how I get jack shit done...

This is all just true to my writing style tho.
Yours could be totally different, but maybe this'll help anyway.
Jun. 1st, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
Oh my! Your comment's definitely another save. Thank you for giving me so many different samples as illustrations. I see the difference. And I think I'm starting to catch on to what I've been doing 'wrong' - well, maybe not really wrong, just badly.

I'm definitely going to be looking at your comment again whenever I'm in doubt. It really helps me to choose how to write better.

Thank you for taking the time to write this out for me so detailed! :)

Jun. 1st, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)


Glad it was full of helpfulness and stuffs!
Jun. 1st, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC)
It definitely was!

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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