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Tip Tuesday #98

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

I'm out of tips this week, but I read a bit of writing instruction recently that struck me as very concrete and helpful so I do have something to share today! In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King (totally recommended), the authors cover two sentence constructions that are common with amateur and hack writers.

Those constructions are (using my own examples):

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she tried to explain.

As she tucked her hair behind her ear, she tried to explain.

Browne and King go on to explain that as and -ing constructions such as these are grammatically correct but weaken writing by taking what could be a direct action ("She tucked her hair behind her ear") and making it a dependent clause and therefore somewhat inconsequential.

They also note that as and -ing constructions usually create two simultaneous actions and can lead to "physical impossibilities." Such as, "Running into the house, she changed the baby's diaper." We mean the character is running into the house to quickly change the baby's diaper, but the sentence suggests she's doing both at the same time. And I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone quite that talented.

If you have Self-Editing for Fiction Writers or plan to buy it, this info is found in chapter 11, "Sophistication," on pages 193-194.

Happy Writing and Editing!


Natalie Aguirre said...

That's a great tip Casey. Sadly, I'll have to watch for those two mistakes because I know I do it.

I really like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers but I need to read it again because I forgot this tip. Thanks for reminding me.

Victoria Dixon said...

I'm sure I do this, too and it's been long enough since I've read that book, I probably need to return to my ms and see if I've "rewritten" any of these in. LOL Thanks!

Lyla said...

Oh,no. I have a tendency to use both of those structures in my writing. D:

So, using that example, would the correct way to say that be:

“She tucked her hair behind her ear and tried to explain”?

Or would you need to separate the tucking part and the explaining part into two different sentences?

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks for the reminder about Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I loaned out my copy years ago and it was never returned! I have a Tuesday Tip idea for you. I'll write it up and email to you soon.

Emily R. King said...

Great post! I'll have to double check my work to make sure my characters aren't doing anything impossible, such as changing diapers and running at the same time. BTW, I think mom's should inherit that talent. It sounds better than having superhero powers!

erica and christy said...

I am definitely guilty of these. (the words, not the changing-diaper-on-the-run :) I'll have to check that book out!

Anonymous said...

Great tip, Casey. Thanks!

Angela Brown said...

"Running into the house, she changed the baby's diaper." I pictured that in my head as I read it and couldn't help laughing.

I know I do this so this book is a must-get for me. This is great info so I'm glad you added it for today's tip.

Stephsco said...

@L.N. Lee: I would separate the two parts. Or, you could even say:

She tucked her hair behind her ear. "Dialogue..."

The "she tried to explain" might not be needed and the pace would pick up.

These are the type of edits I am working hard to fix. Thank you!

Jenna Cooper said...

Guilty of this! Thanks for the tip!

Casey McCormick said...

Natalie, I think I've read it three or four times now and something new always stands out to me!

Victoria, I do it too! If you've rewritten, it's probably worth another check.

L.N. Lee, it's hard to avoid them when you're trying to create sentence variety. I echo Stephsco's advice. I would probably edit out "she tried to explain" and go straight into the dialogue but it totally depends on the context. Sometimes it's good to use and and sometimes it's better to separate the actions.

You're welcome, Kristin! It's one of my favorite craft books.

Emily, I AGREE. That ability totally would have come in handy when my kiddos were infants.

Erica and Christy, I'm guilty too!

Thanks Kimberly!

Angela, glad you enjoyed the example. : p You won't regret buying or checking out the book.

Great examples, Stephsco. Thank you!

You're welcome, Jenna.

Steve MC said...

A great tip from a great book, and something I was guilty of for years. It really does sap the strength from lines, especially when you add on dialogue.

L.L. Muir said...


Casey McCormick said...

Totally agree, maine character.

You're welcome, Lesli! Love your avatar. : p

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The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Off to revise. First step today: do a search for the word "as"
Thanks for the tip.
Pseudonymous Bosch says something I really like about voice on the new Pen and Ink post.
The name of the post is secret.

Leanne Tremblay said...

This is a totally awesome tip. I needed this one at exactly this moment! Now, I not only know not to do it, but why not to do it. Thanks.

Kristen Kittscher said...

That's a great reminder. It's funny: in my former life as an English teacher we explicitly TAUGHT these constructions as a sentence variety tip. Not a bad thing, I suppose -- but we should have warned students to proceed with caution!

Martha Ramirez said...

I do have that book. I'll have to reread those parts. Another thing that stuck with me when I took Margie Lawson's class was opt for "and." Instead of "as." Like you said about simultaneous actions. And is our friend. As not so much:)

Ghenet Myrthil said...

This is a really great tip. I need to get my hands on that book! :)