A few weeks ago, I discussed a simple word that can ruin a story if overused. Today, I’d like to discuss a similar topic.
Just like the word “as,” this thing can wreak havoc on your writing, heaping on unnecessary problems if overused. In the past, I made this mistake too, babbling on and on. But, with a lot of hard work, I broke the habit, shattering it with sharper, clearer sentences. Today, I hope to help you break the habit too by showing you how to refrain from tacking on extra thoughts at the end of your sentences, carrying on for no good reason.
Some of you have might’ve already caught on to what I’m doing here, formulating my sentences in a way to show you what I’m talking about. In fact, you’re probably rolling your eyes at me, shaking your head, and praying I stop soon. But, sorry, I can’t stop doing this, extending my sentences to prove a point. I must keep going until everyone picks up on the clues I’m dropping, placing them right before their eyes.
Speaking of eyes, my own are starting to hurt, burning from the horridness of this sample. And it is horrid, carrying on the way I am, stringing my words together, connecting them so you can see for yourself how overdoing this thing can damage a story, killing it slowly, but surely.
To be perfectly blunt, I don’t understand why writers overuse this method to transition their sentences, forcing audiences to keep reading instead of adding a period and starting a new sentence, giving them a break, making their lives easier, and remembering they’re only human and their eyeballs can only take so much before they well up and overflow, streaming with tears and silently wondering if this sentence will ever end, or if will it keep going and going, racing to infinity and skyrocketing to a level of ridiculousness that makes me want to cackle with glee at my ability to use this subtle, but destructive weapon to blast clarity and cohesion to smithereens and annoy the you-know-what out you amazing weirdos who are still somehow reading this gibberish, squeezing your fists and thinking, “If this girl doesn’t stop, I’m going to scream and throttle her, silencing her for good!”
Okay, okay. I might’ve overdone it on that last bit. But, hopefully, you were able to follow along and pick up on today’s topic.
Just like the word “as,” “ing” transitions can hurt your story. The more you use them, the more problems occur: Redundancy. Wordiness. Confusion. Over-explaining. Telling, not showing…The list goes on and on.
For now, I’ll focus on the three main issues:
Never-Ending, Ending Never!
Let’s get the most obvious out of the way first, shall we? As you probably noticed in my example above, “ing” transitions tend to drag sentences on and on and on…and on. They extend sentences beyond the point of clarity and comfort, cause repetition, and have the potential to suck all of the drama and tension out of a scene.
One way to avoid this? Read your work out loud. Yes, you heard me. Out loud! If you run out of breath while reciting a sentence, then chances are you need to chop out an “ing”, or two…or three.
Let’s test the method with an example from my horror, “Why?“:
“Yeah, see!” Gracie cried, pointing triumphantly at the orange flare that once again sparked in the distance, shimmering brighter than the sun and lighting up the foggy skies to a glittering canvas of doom. It was followed this time by a deep, resonating boom that rippled through the water and up along the beach, quivering through the sand pebbles, startling a flock of seagulls, and silencing the crowds, chattering and laughing only a few seconds before. Everybody froze, including the squealing children playing with their shovels and buckets, as well as the aloof teenagers acting like they didn’t care about anything and listening to music. The children stopped playing and the teenagers yanked the buds out of their ears, focusing on the horizon with everyone else, watching as the light grew brighter and brighter, casting its eerie glow on the choppy waves and illuminating the gray skies, humming with the buzz of impending disaster.
“Yeah, see!” Gracie pointed triumphantly at the orange flare that once again sparked in the distance. This time, it was followed by a deep, resonating boom that rippled through the water and up along the beach. Everybody froze. Even the children stopped playing and the teenagers yanked the buds out of their ears. In unison, the crowd turned and stared out at the choppy waves and foggy skies.
As you can see, I was able to convey the same scene in half the amount of words simply by chopping out my “ing” transitions.
Writer: “I’m not sure if the reader will completely get this sentence, so I’m going to add an ‘ing’ transition to give them extra details, saving them from possible confusion and helping them see the picture I’m trying to paint.”
Reader: “Okay, I get it! Sheesh, why doesn’t the writer trust me?”
Seriously, trust your readers. They’re smart. They don’t need to be told every single thing, and they definitely don’t need “ing” transitions to help them understand something already mentioned or implied.
Let me show you what I mean with another example from my horror, “Why?”:
The rumbling grew louder and louder, deafening Gracie’s ears, and the orange flares grew closer and closer, blinding her. Small, black shapes appeared through the fog, shocking and unexpected. At first, Gracie thought they were birds soaring over the water, flying towards her and everyone else. Then she realized they weren’t flying. They were falling, plummeting into the ocean with silent splashes and disappearing into the deep blue, vanishing from sight.
Why does the reader need to know the rumbling deafened Gracie’s ears? Or the orange flares blinded her? Or the sight of black shapes in the sky shocked her? Those reactions are implied. I don’t need to spell them out for the reader.
The rumbling grew louder and louder. The orange flares grew closer and closer. Small, black shapes appeared through the fog. At first, Gracie thought they were birds flying over the water. Then she realized they weren’t flying. They were falling into the ocean with silent splashes.
Every time you use an “ing” transition, ask yourself, “Why I am writing this?” If the answer is, “Because I don’t trust the reader.”, then hold back. Leave the extra information out and see if your beta readers, critique partners, and/or editor(s) miss it. Chances are, they won’t.
And if they do, big deal. It’s better to add information than subtract it.
I’ve said it once (or twice), and I’ll say it again (and again): A story is like a song, and readers listen to it closely. If they’re unable to groove to its beat, then they’ll probably find something else to jam to.
When you overuse “ing” transitions, you basically hit the repeat button and play the same song, over and over. And that means your story has a monotonous sound. Even if the length of your sentences change, or you insert plenty of white space, you won’t be able to escape the redundant rhythm you’ve created with your excessive “ing”‘s.
Let’s do one last example from “Why?”:
“It’s a plane,” she whispered, trembling at the terrible realization. “Oh my god…Phil!” Her shrill scream echoed through the humid air, shattering the trance that had been cast upon the beach, jolting the crowd back to life. Everyone began moving, bolting for safety. Mothers grabbed their kids, screaming and crying. Surfers clutched their beloved boards, holding them over their heads and using them like shields. Lifeguards jumped from their lofty towers, blowing their whistles and waving for people to run for safety. Everyone fled, scurrying away from the destructive onslaught of debris hurling towards them.
“It’s a plane. Oh my god…Phil!” Her shrill scream echoed through the humid air and shattered the trance that had been cast upon the beach. The crowd jolted back to life and ran for cover. Mothers grabbed their kids, surfers clutched their boards, and lifeguards jumped from their towers. Everybody fled from the destructive onslaught of debris hurling towards them.
The more “ing” transitions you have, the louder they become. And the louder they become, the more your readers will notice them. And the more readers notice them, the more redundant and monotonous your story sounds. So, find them and ask yourself, “Is this helping my story’s beat?” If not, delete it.
In fact, delete all “ing” transitions from your work if they aren’t necessary. And, yes, “ing” transitions can be necessary. Sometimes longer sentences are beautiful and wonderful. Sometimes additional details are needed for clarity’s sake. And sometimes a story’s rhythm demands it. But not every time.
So, hunt down your “ing” transitions and ask yourself, “Do I need this?”
If you don’t, chop it!
I hope you found this editing tip useful! Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running. If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.
Photo credits: giphy