Beware the “ING” Construction

Time Warps. Misplaced Modifiers.

By; Terry Odell

You don’t have to read science fiction to run into a time warp. At the very first writer’s conference I attended, an agent said she would reject a query with more than 1 sentence beginning with the “ing” construction. Her explanation—it’s too easy to make mistakes with that sentence structure.

But is it wrong? No. You have to be careful, and you have to pay attention. There are different reasons to avoid, or minimize use of those pesky “ing” words.

The Time Warp

First, I’ll talk about the inadvertent time warp, which I’ve been seeing a lot of in recent reads.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

“Running across the clearing, John rushed into the tent.”
“Opening the door, Mary tripped down the stairs.”

Using that kind of “ing” construction means the actions have to take place simultaneously. But is that possible in the above examples? No.

John can’t be getting into the tent while he’s running across the clearing. And Mary needs to open the door before she goes downstairs.

Don’t Dangle Your Modifier

Next, the dangling modifier. In my first critique group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. I’d written, “Rubbing her neck, the blinking red light on the answering machine caught Sarah’s eye.” Ooops. (But I would like a machine with that function!)

Make sure the noun or pronoun comes immediately after the descriptive phrase. Thus, the above example could be “Rubbing her neck, Sarah noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine.”

If your “ing” verb follows “was”, take another look. “John was running across the clearing” isn’t a strong as “John ran across the clearing.”  Of course, you’ll want to use stronger verbs, such as raced, sped, or barreled, but the idea is the same.

When you’re looking over your manuscript, you might want to flag words ending in “ing” and take another look to be sure you haven’t made any of these basic errors.

How to Spot them in Word

In your document, click the dropdown arrow by “Find” then select “Advanced Find.”
Click “More” and then check the “Use Wildcard” Box. Type ing into the find field, then click the “Special” Option, and “End of Word.” This will add a > character. You can use the Reading Highlight to see all of them, and the “Find Next” to deal with them one at a time. You’ll get more than just verbs ending in ing, but it’s still a quick way to spot them. The hard part is determining whether you’ve got a problem


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows.
Catch up with Terry on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads, or Amazon.

How are your Time Warps and Misplaced Modifiers?