Ingy Verbs - Where They Don't Belong
Interesting title, no? I thought it was better than if I hit you with 'Present Participle Phrases Do Not Belong at the Beginning of a Sentence' because that's just confusing right? I mean, who remembers what those grammar rules and names were for all the little bits of a sentence? *puts hand down* Soooo not me. So, if you're like me and it has been a long time since you took grammar lessons in school, I'm going to go with laymen's terms like . . . ingy verbs.
They have a place in writing, and I've recently learned, that is NOT at the beginning of a sentence in almost all cases. I have learned that when you write, using the ing form of a verb tends to lessen the dramatic punch of the action you want the word to convey. It can also lead to your characters doing things in an order that just doesn't make sense or the action ends up happening to the wrong thing in the sentence. Editors frown harshly on it, and from what I've read, it is a frequent mark against writers who attempt to get published. Unfortunately, it's a habit that is hard to break!
So, how about an example?
Ingy verb use that is not okay:
Crying out, he sat down hard on the ground again, cussing as he gripped the offending body part.
Dane cried out in pain as he sat down hard on the ground again, then cussed as he gripped the offending body part.
So, see the change in what I did? Not only did the first clause with the ing verb remove the impact of the cry, all those actions were technically taking place at the same time. There was no sequence of events. How do you cry out, fall to the ground, cuss and hold your ankle at the same time? Readers need to see a sequence for the story to flow without having to think about it. You could have him crying out and falling at the same time, since that is physically possible, and my edit grouped the two actions, crying out and falling, with cussing and gripping, and gave the sequence of events.
I know this isn't an in depth explanation on all the technical aspects of ingy verbs. There are places that they can be placed and work well in your story; it is knowing the difference can be difficult. I didn't want to do too much at once in this blog so I chose to highlight the format most often redlined by editors. I do know a few good websites with more information as well as the popular book written by King and Brown, Self-editing for Fiction Writers, which includes a section on participle phrases. That can be found on Amazon or possibly your local bookstore, I know my fav local one has it used for only 6.95. Website links below.
The Editor's Blog This one also explains different participle phrases. They do belong in some places in sentence structure; the ones I found that editors frown on are the participle phrase at the beginning on the setence, dangling modifiers, and participle phrases with passive voice. This one is technical but with great examples and includes punctuation rules.
About.com Grammar Page on Participles Again, technical page on participles with further examples.