Gerunds and Present Participles: The -ing words in your writing

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Vision 74

 

Gerunds and Present Participles:

The -ing words in your writing

By

Connie Cockrell

Copyright © 2014, Connie Cockrell, All Rights Reserved

 

 

I admit it. I'm a new writer. As such, I'm making pretty much every single writing error known to human-kind. Here's an example. I responded to a blog writing challenge a few months ago. The challenge was to write a 1000 word or less flash fiction story using two randomly generated genres and four randomly generated items all from a predetermined list. "Hey, sounds like fun," I thought. I ran the random number generator on the list of genre's and my mashup included the genre's Paranormal Romance and Superhero.

Ack! I could have spun again but it was a writing exercise, right? So I kept what I was dealt. On to the four items that had to be included in the story, from his list. By the end I had: A locked door, A key, An ancient book, and Heartbreak. I shrugged. Since I had Paranormal Romance as one of the genre's these items seemed to fit right in. I had no idea what to do with a Superhero.

I began to write. Of course I went way over 1000 words. Instead of a flash fiction I had a short story. I liked it enough to consider submitting it somewhere, but first, it needed to be cleaned up.

I went through it to the best of my ability and submitted it for critique. Those critiquers tore it up. In a good way. One in particular pointed out my excessive use of gerunds. I thanked the person for the help and then thought, "What the heck is a gerund?" My high school English classes were a long time ago.

Thank goodness for the internet. I used The English Club at: http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-gerunds.htm for my refresher English lessons on gerunds and the close cousin of gerunds, present participles. These are the -ing words used in our writing. The English club defines a gerund as: When using a verb in -ing form more like a noun, it is usually a gerund:

  • Fishing is fun

A present participle: When we use a verb in -ing form more like a verb or an adjective, it is usually a present participle:

  • Anthony is fishing.
  • I have a boring teacher.

Let's keep that in mind while I show you a couple of my original paragraphs.

Beside him, where the woman once was, a black panther crouched in the seat, green eyes glaring and wicked teeth gleaming white in the panther's snarl. He made a hard turn to the right, gravity and g-forces pinning the angry animal to the door. Dropping like a rock to a clearing and before the air car was fully settled, had bailed out of the door.

Heart pounding and hands shaking, he waited; his door still open. The panther didn't come out. Stepping closer, he could see a shape in the passenger seat, writhing, moaning. Then the shape resolved and the woman was in the seat, panting, struggling in the confined space to rearrange herself in the seat.

Let's look at an individual sentence. In . . . cat eyes glaring and wicked teeth gleaming white . . . I've created a situation where the words 'glaring' and 'gleaming;, are being used as present participles. In other words, they're adjectives. No problem here.

The next line: 'He made a hard turn to the right, gravity and g-forces pinning the angry animal . . .' I've used 'pinning' as a present participle. Then the next sentence, 'Dropping like a rock to a clearing . . .' I've used 'dropping' as a gerund. In other words, it's a verb used as a noun.

A further example is the start of the second paragraph, "Heart pounding and hands shaking, . . .'. These are compound nouns, defined as a noun modified by another noun or in this case, verbs. And these verbs look suspiciously like gerunds. Especially in a manuscript full of -ing words.

Not all of the -ing words in the piece were gerunds. The present participles were so close that as my critiquer pointed out, "They seem overused, repetitive. Changing that pattern can help keep the reader going along at a good pace."

I was getting her point. One more example. In the sentence, 'Stepping closer, he could see a shape in the passenger seat, writhing, moaning." Here both 'writhing' and 'moaning' are gerunds. To make it worse, they're passive gerunds. If I'm writing an adventure story, as the genre Superhero Story, compelled me to do, I don't want passive words. I want active, strong words.

So, I rewrote the whole piece to eliminate gerunds and present participles. Here are the rewritten paragraphs.

Beside him, where the woman once was, a black panther crouched in the seat. The cat's green eyes glared. Wickedly sharp teeth gleamed white in a snarl. He could feel adrenaline rush through his system. He banked hard to the right. Gravity pinned the angry animal to the door. Todd dropped the Sky Ranger like a rock to a farm field just outside of Old Town. He bailed out of the door before the air car was fully settled.

"Holy guacamole!" he yelled, his heart pounding. "That was close!"

He waited several feet from his still-open door. The panther didn't come out. He stepped closer. A shape on the passenger side writhed and moaned, then the shape resolved and the woman was panting, struggling in the confined space to rearrange herself in the seat.

You can see, I didn't eliminate all -ing words. But the paragraphs don't have a tremendous number of them either. There are quite a few rules to using gerunds. Check out the English Club link above to familiarize yourself with them. You'll be glad you did.

Want to see the whole story? I used it as my submission to the 2013 FM Anthology, Cat Eyes! It's titled Dogs and Cats and you can support Forward Motion by picking it up at any on-line book seller.