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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*



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! :)


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