Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stop was verbing

Care needs to be taken by an author using the present continuous tense (-ing verbs).
For a start, using several together frequently results in an impossible action.

John was admiring the cute frog and eating an ice cream. The frog was singing to him and he was singing back to it.

Hang on a minute. John might be able to admire the frog, eat an ice cream and listen to it sing all at once, but how does he sing back to it? Does he stop eating his ice cream first? And can he really concentrate on admiring, eating and singing all at once without losing his train of thought, or spilling his ice cream? How can he sing without choking on his ice cream?

See what has happened here? The reader is pulled right out of the story, waiting for John to choke, or trying to see if they can do all those things at once. It’s much better for the author to use the past tense here.

Writing in the past tense also avoids all the “was” verbs in the sentence. They just clutter it up making the action less fresh and immediate.

“John admired the cute frog and ate an ice cream” is a much punchier sentence than “John was admiring the cute frog and eating an ice cream”. So my advice is to ditch the present continuous tense and aim to stick with the past tense for narrative.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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