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Each writer probably has his or her own personal pet peeves or elements that stand out in a manuscript like literary speed bumps. For many authors (Stephen King comes to mind), adverbs are problematic and amateurish. Others are snagged by exaggerated verbs that project from a good story like the needles on a cactus. For instance: “I hate taxes,” he groused as opposed to “I hate taxes,” he said. (I actually prefer the more colorful verbs, but that’s just me.) Some authors even go so far as to restrict adjectives.
For me, however, a major obstacle to reading enjoyment is trying to wade through prose laden with too many -ing words. As far as writing is concerned, I am inclined to avoid them. While I readily admit that -ing words are necessary, overuse of them can be a distraction. Often, my co-author and I will have an editing discussion wherein I lament, “No! It’s too -ingy.” Whether she agrees or not, she is gracious enough to work with me on revisions of those particular sentences. Still, many -ings probably escaped notice and hide like gremlins in our work. I’m sure in future read-throughs they will spring out to confound me. Probably after the pieces are published and readers have already seen them. Hopefully, they will be readers not saddled with my aversion to -ings.
To illustrate my point on ingy-ness, here is an example, just made up on the spot out of my head:
Feeling himself falling, he began grabbing at anything he could reach, snagging a hanging branch, thereby preventing his plummeting over the edge.
Ing, ing, ing! Way too -ingy. Not only that, but it’s awkward. I confess I overdid it to make a point. If I were rewriting this (which apparently I am), I would rather say:
He felt himself falling, but grabbed a branch to steady his hold on the edge.
Or something like that.
Even as I write this post, I suspect if I went over any of our books or stories now, I would cringe to see how much ingy-ness still remains.
As a reader, what are your pet peeves in writing? Are there any particular elements that trip you up, cause you to hesitate, or strike you as off in some sense or another? As an author, what are your stumbling blocks or areas of particular consideration?
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