1. sweetaholic
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    sweetaholic New Member

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    As and While

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by sweetaholic, May 8, 2011.

    When writing a story, I find myself using 'as' and 'while' a lot and I feel as though using these two words so often cheapens my work. It could very well be that I'm overthinking this to death but I can't help but to wonder if I'm lacking creativity when describing a person doing something. What do you guys think? Here's a couple of examples from a piece I'm working on. Sorry if this is in the wrong section!


    She rolled her eyes as she quickened her pace towards the restaurant with the name spelled out in Broadway lights that were reflected in the floor to ceiling windows of the building they belonged to. She crossed her arms as she looked around the crowd for the tall, dark haired man she was supposed to meet.

    Sebastian tapped his fingers on the table while watching Josh nurse his tea quietly.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'd get rid of "as" and "while" and "that were" in the example you gave.

    You can say: She rolled her eyes, quickening her pace...the name spelled out in Broadway lights reflected in the floor...she crossed her arms, looking around (or "and looked around" I suppose)...tapped his fingers on the table, watching Josh....

    Etc.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    keep in mind that 'as/while' = 'at the same time'

    and in most of the instances where beginning writers misuse them, the actions described either cannot possibly be taking place at the exact same time, or make no sense being tied together that way...

    look at your uses:

    why must they take place simultaneously?... wouldn't she do the first one first, then follow it immediately by the second?...

    how long does it take to cross one's arms?... how long would she be looking around to find someone?... are the two periods of time equal?...

    aside from the 'quietly' making no sense and/or having been misplaced, this is ok, since he could be tapping his fingers for an extended period of time...

    abusing/misusing/overusing 'as' is one of the most common and annoying practices i come across in beginners' work... to be on the safe side, i advise never using it to mean 'while' or 'when'...
     
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  4. sweetaholic
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    sweetaholic New Member

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    Thank you! That helps a lot! :)
     
  5. Demented_Thoughts
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    Demented_Thoughts Member

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    I to find myself with this problem with the As/While wording i notice when i read my work to myself it has alot of that >.< this helps me a lil as well thanks for the tips :)
     
  6. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I do this too. Thanks to Mammamaia, I would now think to replace them often with the unobtrusive "and"

    They don't have to happen at the same time, but they can happen immediately one after another.

    Great question!
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    But why shouldn't she do both at the same time? It's possible. I prefer the "... quickening her pace..." solution.
    They don't have to be equal. As long as the crossing of the arms takes less time than looking around the room (plausible) then "as" can be correct. But if the "as" is a problem then "She crossed her arms and looked around the room" is actually ambiguous as to whether she did both at the same time or crossed her arms first and then looked around. That's probably precise enough.
    "Quietly" looks fine to me there, describing how Josh was nursing his tea, although it could be moved before "nursing".
     
  8. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I know I tend to have the habit of doing this. I usually catch myself, but then write it anyways, planning on catching it on an editing pass. Any writer will tend to start out with a lot of these annoying or amateurish habits, and knocking them out one at a time is a good way to improve your writing. This is one that I should be a little more conscious of and try to avoid in the first place unless it's necessary to what I mean. Thanks for the tips, everyone.

    Edit:
    Actually, looking back over some of my less hasty writing, it seems I don't tend to overuse as and while nearly as much as I thought. I did a quick editing pass and removed one or two I thought superfluous, but I also kept 3 or 4 in. I'll post them here, and perhaps we can either use them as examples of places where removing them is trickier, but still appripriate, or as examples of their appropriate use (I'm still not sure what to think of them, honestly. . .). I won't give any futher context as I don't believe it's necessary in the scope of this discussion

    As the door closed behind them, Benjamin relaxed his shoulders and lowered the cue.​
    Clear causal relationship: the door closing causes Ben to relax. I like this sentence, but can it be improved by losing the "as"?

    Benjamin wrinkled his nose as the sharp, pungent stench hit him.​
    Clearly, the stench causes him to wrinkle his nose, so the order of causality is broken here (the effect happens before its cause). However, changing the order of the sentence feels awkward to me. Thoughts?

    Benjamin felt a wave of calm rush over him as he stepped into the flat.​
    Could easily be "Benjamin stepped into the flat and felt a wave of calm rush over him." I think this flows fine, and better links causality. I've since changed it, I guess this one is an easy example.

    He felt his pulse pounding behind his eyes as he ran over to the front door and turned the deadbolt, which slid into place with a satisfying click.​
    Replacing the "as" with "and" seems clumsy. His heart is racing the entire time, so would this be an appropriate use?
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Really? I think there are many instances where 'while' or 'when' sound plain odd in place of 'as' ... In idioms like "As we speak", etc.
     
  10. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    "As we speak" is an idiomatic phrase (or close to idiomatic), which wouldn't really qualify for this restriction in the first place.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I'm teaching as/when/while I tell the students that 'as' tends to be used more for showing an interruption of shorter continuous actions than 'while'.

    e.g.
    'The old woman dropped her bag as she got/was getting off the bus'--getting off the bus only takes a minute or so, even for an elderly person, and the bag dropping happened suddenly in the middle of this activity.
    You can't replace 'as' with 'and' here. If you use 'when', it isn't clear that she was still in the middle of getting off the bus when she dropped the bag unless you use past continuous.
    BUT
    'I sipped my mug of tea while I watched the news on TV'--watching the news and sipping the tea took at least 15 minutes, and the actions went on simultaneously.
    You notice that you can replace 'while' with 'and' in this example, although it isn't so clear that the actions happened at the same time and not one after another.

    I agree that it's better to use as/while/when etc sparingly and you have to bear in mind the points mammamaia noted.
     
  12. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Never? I probably use 'as' in this situation every once in a while, probably every 7 to 10 pages: "She picked up the phone as she stifled a yawn." Something like that. I use "while" probably every 5 pages or so. I know not to overuse this, but never use it? Other than present participials, what other tool is there?
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some random rewrites:

    Stifling a yawn, she picked up the phone.
    She picked up the phone, stifling a yawn.
    She stifled a yawn, and picked up the phone.
    A stifled yawn, and she grabbed the phone.
    The phone rang. She stared at it, stifling a yawn, and reluctantly reached for the receiver.
    The phone rang. She stared at it, bleary-eyed, then swallowed a yawn and reached for the receiver. Got to find that volume switch. Or just pull the thing out of the wall. Enjoying that thought, she demanded, "Yes?"

    ChickenFreak
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    great slew of answers to lost's question, cf!
     
  15. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Here are some. I'm not sure what to change these to, but they seem like things someone would naturally say. If I'm wrong and they're unacceptable, and if you have any suggestions, let me know. Sorry for having so many.

    You can thank me while you're at it.

    You poured water on me while I slept!

    And, while I'm on the subject, maybe I'm not imagining the taste of rotten tomato in the chili.

    While he picks himself up off the floor, make sure he doesn't bend his broken arm.

    And shovel some more coal into the furnace while you're there.

    The user must sit idly while the computer runs through its diagnostic program.

    While you're at it, grab me a soda.

    And, while you're lurking around, why not check out security?

    He ventured down the curved pipe as far as possible while maintaining his balance.

    Get used to the new attitude while you’re still alive.

    One of you find the priosoner while you’re at it.

    While I had been accusing Bob, Ruth had been undermining my plan?

    While you were away, did you see the gravesite?

    Remind me to pick up buttermilk pancake mix while we’re here.

    But, while he sat here in this padded chair in the passenger’s section of the boat, the waiting seemed unbearable.

    When they entered, I rushed to the windows to survey the street. (I would use "after," but for future reference, is "when" okay?)

    He was red-eyed for a week while he nursed his vision.

    While there, let me show you my method of tying a slipknot.

    Outlines replaced them to indicate their positions while they were gone.

    So, while he sorts his life out, the rest of us have to rely on his disposition?

    You’ve been good while I was away?

    It could blow up so much stuff when someone launched it.

    While you’re at it, maybe you can help my brother stay out of trouble.

    Please assist me while I search the grounds.

    I’ll point you out and laugh while they grind their heels into you.

    I’ll have you all know, while you tour our building, that we’ve made some improvements.

    You think the investors might want a drink while they wait?

    You won't say any lines of wisdom while we leave?

    Then think long and hard about what you’ve done here tonight while you drive home.

    And you will listen to no rap while you’re at school today.

    The only visible soldier he could identify was that armored goon who stood nonchalantly while everyone around him died.

    While you’re gone, see what you can do to stop this task force.

    He left a message on your answering machine while we were in the room.
     
  16. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Hello everyone,

    I've managed to change my "while" and "as" sentences except for a scant few that I'm still trying to manage.

    You can thank me while you're at it. (I really don't know how to rephrase these "while you're at it" sentences. They seem like natural dialogue to me, though.)

    While you’re gone, see what you can do to stop this task force.

    You think the investors might want a drink while they wait?

    You’ve been good while I was away?

    While he picks himself up off the floor, make sure he doesn't bend his broken arm.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, too. I'd say leave them alone. Like most things in language, "as" and "while" aren't bad, they're only bad if misused.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm in the "anti-as" contingent, and I'm not nearly as "anti-while." I don't see a problem with an occasional "while" construction, as long as it's not overused enough to be noticeable as repetitive.

    ChickenFreak
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    all but the last--which should be 'when'--are ok as is...

    the last could use 'while' only if the action is ongoing, such as:

     
  20. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Thanks for the help, everyone. I think I've got this one nailed. I've left a few "while you're at it" sentences. I know I could probably rephrase them, but I like the way it conveys some of the characters and I'm honestly left with only a few. As for the others, I've rephrased them or left them when I thought it was fitting enough.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    how can using 'while' do that?... or are you referring to using it in dialog, not narrative?
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    How likely is "while you're at it" to be narrative, not dialog?
     
  23. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Yup. It's in dialog. I use it in a casual way, in contrast to the stuffy characters I have.
     

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