The Dreaded “As” and “-ing”

Self-Editing 4 Fiction WritersThis week I finished a rapid read-through of Set in Stone, a novel I thought I had already finished. I’ve entered it in contests (it received an honorable mention in the Willamette Writers’ Kay Snow Contest), pitched it to editors and agents, and even sent out the full manuscript, upon request, a number of times; however, I had never edited it for the words “as” and gerunds indicating simultaneous activity ending in “ing”.

Silly me.

For years, agents, editors, and conference speakers have been recommending the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King, and for years–like my stubborn grammar school self–I have resisted. (I read almost no children’s classics as a child, rather seeking out and finding lesser known books that were not being pursued by the herd. While I enjoyed a wide range of reading, I missed out on gems like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and Austen family novels–all of which I discovered in a college Children’s Literature course, and which launched me into writing books for kids and young adults.)

Anyway, back to Self-Editing. This is an excellent book, and I patted myself on the back the many times I noted I was already following their advice. Until… I came to the section discussing editing out, whenever possible, sentences like:

As Johann touched the scepter to the boy’s stone hand, color began to ripple down to his granite fingertips and up his arm.

In favor of sentences like this:

Johann touched the scepter to the boy’s stone hand. Color rippled down his granite fingertips and up his arm.

Or change sentences like this:

Ducking under the table, he pulled the magic cloak snug about himself and Gretl.

In favor of sentences like this:

They ducked under the table. Johann pulled the magic cloak snug about himself and Gretl.

I love the immediacy of the revised sentences.

I also noticed that when I use those forms, I seem to be trying to hurry my story along instead of allowing it to naturally unfold. Hmmm. Could this reflect my own insecurities. Is it possible I do not trust my storytelling skills enough, and so try to rush my tales along lest I lose my readers? Wow! I’ve got lots of thinking to do here.

And so, out went the old “as” and “ing” sentences, and in when the new, stronger verbed  phrasing (please excuse me for turning verb into an adjective; I love to play with words). Now I have to do it all over again with The Swallow’s Spring. Hopefully after these two hundreds of thousands of words exercises in editing out the dreaded “as” and “ing”, this new habit will be securely embedded in my writing brain.

What about you? Is there any great writing advice you ignored only to wish later that you had followed it sooner?