Time Warps and the ING Construction

Time Warps and the ING Construction
Terry Odell

UPDATE: My audiobook narrator, Steve “Captain” Marvel was unable to respond to comments on the post where I interviewed him. He has now replied to those who left comments. You can find the post here.  He’s graciously left his email address in a reply should anyone need to follow up.



Time WarpI’m on my way to Montana to attend the Authors of the Flathead Writing Conference. I did a Zoom presentation for their group at Debbie Burke’s request, and had a good time talking to people who understood the “writer’s mindset.” So much so that I registered for their conference and am looking forward to meeting Debbie in person.

I’m revisiting a topic I’ve addressed before, triggered by a recent read of a traditionally published author’s book. (Why do we feel it’s necessary to differentiate between traditionally published and indie publishers?) Anyway my guess is both the author and the editor didn’t grasp the fine points of the “ing” construction, and this book had countless misusages of the ‘simultaneous action’ that goes along with those “ing” clauses, resulting in numerous time warps.

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.

First, the inadvertent time warp.

Unlocking the door, Fred dropped the mail on the table and poured himself a drink. Using that “ing” phrase shows simultaneous action (or it’s supposed to), and Fred couldn’t have done all that while he was unlocking the door. Time warp!
Better to write After unlocking the door, Fred dropped the mail on the table, then went to the liquor cabinet to pour himself a drink. Time moves forward in that one.

What’s wrong with these sentences?
“Running across the clearing, John rushed into the tent.”
“Opening the door, Mary tripped down the stairs.”

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.

Next, the misplaced modifier

Time Warp
In my first critique group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. In my draft of Finding Sarah, 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.
Here’s a quick way to spot them in Word. Click the image to enlarge.
Time WarpIn your document, click the drop down 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!

What grammar “conventions” do you have trouble with? Which bother you when reading?

Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

34 thoughts on “Time Warps and the ING Construction

  1. Great tips! I haven’t been taking advantage of the full capacity of the find feature in Word so this is great to know. I’ve used find, of course, but didn’t use the little tips noted above to refine how you search.

    And I found an -ing error on the first page of the current WIP! Whoops!

  2. Thanks for all the wonderful tips, Terry, especially using FIND to locate words ending in ING.

    The misplaced modifier bothers me the most, because it is so frequently present. One of my favorite successful songs contains one. When I sing along, I correct it.

    Have safe travels and a great time at the writer’s conference.

  3. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll bookmark this post for later reference. Have fun in Montana! One day maybe I’ll get up to Kalispell to go to the conference and meet Debbie in person (I’m down in Butte).

  4. Looking forward to meeting Terry, my car turned into the airport.

    Not nearly as good as your answering machine that gives neck massages, Terry, but I couldn’t resist.

    I never knew about that feature in Find. Thanks for the tip. Your how-to explanations are always easy to follow and helpful.

    Lately I’ve read a lot of sentences where the events happen out of sequence.

    E.g. George saw blood smeared on the wall after he’d hiked down the hill, pushed open the squeaking door, and entered the old barn.

    Authors want to start a sentence with an attention-grabber but that throws off the chronology of actions leading up to it. It’s clearer to describe the events in the order they occur. Then end the sentence with a dramatic punch.

    George hiked down the hill to the old barn. He pushed open the squeaking door and entered. Inside, blood smeared the wall.

  5. Fun post with valuable information. I’d think that after using Word for decades, one would know everything about its features, but I sure didn’t know about this. Thanks!

    Of all the writers conferences mentioned on TKZ, the one you’re going to is the only one that has interested me. It sounds friendly. Have fun!

  6. Bemoaning the fact that she couldn’t attend the Authors of the Flathead Writers Conference, even that first cup of coffee didn’t soothe her sadness.

    Great tips, Terry. I’ll run my WIP through the Find today.

    Have a wonderful time at the conference.

  7. Reading this post, I flagged words ending in “ing.”

    Or did I?

    I actually don’t mind the ing construction from time to time in a novel. But I was just reading an old pulp novel the other day that did this all the time. Really annoying.

  8. Very helpful post, Terry. Dealing with ings is on going issue for many of us. These tips will keep our fictional actions in the proper order. Have a wonderful writer’s conference!

  9. Great post, Terry! Always learn(ing) here.

    I have a 3rd draft of my next WIP that I’ll do an ing search on.

    No Tomorrows is live on Amazon today! #Sorrynotsorry

    Couldn’t resist!

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