1. animefans12
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    animefans12 Member

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    Avoiding -ing words in the beginning of a sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by animefans12, Jul 31, 2011.

    My English teacher, who also seems to be an author also, last year told me while reading over my short story that in order to make the story effective, avoid using any -ing words in the beginning of a sentence.

    I'm not quite sure if that's actually right or wrong, but I was wondering about sentences like this:

    "Living under the same roof with her rival just made things a whole lot harder."

    I'm not sure if I should take her advice and avoid using the -ing words in the beginning of the sentence as she told me that it'll sound professional.

    So to make this confusing little summary simple:

    1. Should I avoid using -ing words in the beginning of a sentence?
    2. Is there a reason to not use it? (If I can't use it)
     
  2. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry but there was an identical thread on this exact topic just yesterday, I think you can still find it if you have a look.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That advice is baloney. Gerunds are participles (-ing words) used as nouns, and a gerund starting a sentence as the subject is perfectly acceptable.

    However, starting many sentences with participle phrases weakens the impact of the sentence. Compare:
    and
    The active subject and verb precedes the qualifying phrase, and therefore commands more attention.

    Simple rules may be easy to remember. It is more important to understand the reason for a rule or guideline. That way you know when to disregard it.
     
  4. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed completely. And when you get a piece of advice like this I always think it's worth checking it against the works of some of your favourite authors. You will often find that the advice bears little relationship to the real world.
     
  5. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I am not an English expert, so my reason for avoiding Gerund phrases in the beginning of a sentence was simple: I just didn't like it when I came across such sentences while reading. It made me lose trust in the ability of the writer.

    Now I know the 'real' reasons (as Cog explained above). The point is that if you are a keen reader you'll most of the time instinctively know what kind of sentences don't work. So, reading good stories and novels helps.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    ^This. Read good prose and lots of it. There are no absolute rules for writing well. There are only guidelines, and even the guidelines are really only there for people who are inexperienced and don't want to embarrass themselves. You have to develop taste, and you have to recognize that your taste in writing might not match other people's.

    The OP's teacher's advice is oversimplified and unwarranted. You do not make prose "professional" by not starting sentences with a word ending in -ing.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    After having finished twelve years of schooling in the Australian Education system, I've learned not to trust the advice of most teachers when it comes to prose. Then again, considering the large amount of terrible fiction, you should be wary trusting the advice of authors. Find what works for you, and make it work. Just use grammar, please.
     
  8. pyrosama
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    pyrosama Member

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    You have to distinguish writing from writing fiction. They are two different creatures. There are a lot of snobs in fiction writing. It's a whole other aspect of writing that deals with a combination of truth and non truth. The style commands a different set of rules and nuances.

    If your teacher was attempting to teach creative writing from the fiction stand point, that's fine. I agree with them. If they are teaching from the creative non-fiction, then that is different.

    Starting a sentence off in fiction with that verb form is frowned upon in fiction writing because it is considered passive and lazy.

    Why do this:

    Frowning at her situation, she decided to smack John in the face.

    When you could do this:

    She frowned and smacked John in the face.

    The reason your teacher warned against this is because it's too easy to take the passive route and use simultaneous actions to make your character perform. Instead, they probably want you to "think" about what is more realistically immediate.

    The same as you shouldn't use the word "as" to map two actions together when not appropriate, like so:

    Jenna hopped onto the couch as she gazed out the window, watching the sun set on the horizon.

    Being a reader, I actually visualize Jenna in mid air while hopping onto the couch and gazing out the window. It's too jarring for your readers to NOT use these rules in your fiction writing.

    Just because a person understands the English language and grammar, does not make them an expert in the area of fiction writing. If you are writing fiction, then listen to your teacher. :)
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is what I think happens. Deciding whether prose is good or not is highly subjective. Different people like different prose styles. One editor might hate a piece, another might love it. But when marking students work the teachers need something objective so that they don't get irate parents on their back. They can mark a text on how closely it adheres to nearly arbitrary rules, so they can mark it down if it contains -ly adverbs, -ing forms of verbs, passive voice (some teachers might even call that last one correctly). I say nearly arbitrary rules because those things can be issues in writing, but the teacher isn't going to make a call on whether they're used appropriately or not (that would be subjective) so they all get marked down.

    The trouble is, I can't see any way around it, but I think the results are seriously damaging to the students writing, and has the knock-on effect that those kids grow up thinking that those things are actual mistakes and reject fiction that breaks the "rules". Editors follow that, with the result that the overall standard of popular writing falls.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because you deliberately want to slow the pace at that point. You can't tell from a single sentence whether the writer is being lazy or diligent, which is why it's a problem when guidance turns into rules.
     
  11. pyrosama
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    pyrosama Member

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    If you want to slow the pace, why not insert descriptive things rather than action. Action should always be immediate and quick to get a response.

    If the writer wants to slow the pace, then insert emotive responses that are immediate, like so:

    She blinked back her surprise at his touch.

    rather than:

    Blinking in response to his touch, she ....did something.

    Passive voice is a slack choice to make in the name of slowing pace. It's never deliberate and it comes across as lazy, in my opinion. Call it snobbery, but I don't like the 'ing' starts at all. But that's just me.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, passive voice is every bit as legitimate a way of slowing pace as any other.

    Passive voice exists for a reason. Like any other aspect of language, it has its uses, and it works better in some situations than in others.
     
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  13. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Cog and digitig are correct, passive voice most certainly has it's uses and it's place in writing. Discounting it because of some "rule" is irresponsible.


    And I'm sorry, but "She blinked back her surprise at his touch." is not, IMO, good writing either. How do you blink back surprise? You can blink IN surprise, but I've never blinked back surprise at anything, personally. Your second example, ironically, was the better one. Just saying.
     
  14. pyrosama
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    pyrosama Member

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    Passive voice is almost always great for technical writing. There is a reason for it. Slowing down your pace so as to not offend your reader is one thing. To mock your fiction audience is a no, no.

    I understand where you guys are coming from, but if that is your stance then I'm not going to argue with it.
     
  15. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    To "mock" your fiction audience? Please explain that sentence.
     
  16. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    I agree with Trish and Cogito. Using passive voice to slow the pace of a scene is not "mocking" a reader. It's using a language technique to elicit a certain response. In this case that response is a slower pace, and IMO, it doesn't matter how that pace is created, so long as it works well within the piece as a whole.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, I assure you it is often entirely deliberate and is a valid choice. But how did we get onto it? The examples we have been discussing have nothing whatsoever to do with passive voice.
     
  18. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are they the only reasons you can see for slowing down the pace? In anything but the shortest piece if you don't vary the pace then the result will be monotonous. And if emotional descriptions are the only tool you have for doing it you will find it hard to avoid purple prose. Try reading great writers critically, analysing how they're using the language and the technicalities of the effects they create with it.
     
  19. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Absolutely, 'ing' openings certainly can sometimes lack punch. 'ing' openings can also sometimes lead to bizarre or illogical images - a character doing a lot of things simultaneously that surely he is doing in a sequence etc

    But, if you are convinced that rules are required here, then the rules are these:

    If you want to write logical sentences, don't write illogical sentences.
    If you want to write punchy sentences, don't write sentences that lack punch.
     
  20. Seye
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    Gerunds at the beginning. I have seen this argument so many times that it has come to my mind that either or.

    Balance is the key to any writing. If 10 out of 17 sentences begin with a gerund, then a writer should consider reworking the sentence.

    I am not a big fan of seeing them, but they have uses. The problem is many use gerund without restriction because it is faster to put an 'ing' suffix than rewrite the sentence structure.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Like with any other aspect of writing, you have to know what you are doing and why. When passive voice is used unintentionally in fiction, it is weak writing.

    Used purposefully, and with skill, it can be effective.
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there's a case that when anything is done unintentionally in fiction, it is weak writing. :D
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're right :)
     
  24. pyrosama
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    pyrosama Member

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    Slowing down pace is needed when you have a lot of action, but it's needed when you are a fiction writer that loves to write really immediate scenes. It's like you can't be a lover who always just rubs a certain place, you have to move around and work it some and slow it down, understandable.

    However, slowing it down doesn't mean that you forget your goal. The goal is pleasure for your reader, not "oh, check out my skill as a writer that I can kill two birds with one stone."

    I want a writer to take their time and write something that sounds real, something that takes real thought. The 'ing' route to me feels contrived and lazy on it's own as an example. But if I'm reading a book that's already proven to be a nicely balanced peace of work, it's a forgiven thing.
     

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