Starting sentences with participles, she remembered, was a mark of a hack writer.
This is what Renni Brown and David King say in the chapter on sophistication in the book ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print. P193.
“One easy way to make your writing see more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:
Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.
Both the ‘as’ construction and the ‘-ing’ construction as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action (She pulled off her gloves) and tuck it away into a dependent clause (Pulling off her gloves …). This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. If you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.”
This little gem of writing knowledge does not seem to be generally available. I learned it from an editor who works for the biggest Australian publishing house. She told me that it can be effective maybe ‘once every 10,000 words’ but that usage over that tends to make the writing ‘flat and samey’. That’s no more than around 8 uses in an ordinary sized novel.
If you think this partial ban on participles ending in ‘ing’ heading up sentences is a matter of stylistic choice that you can afford to ignore, show me a book published by the big 6 that overuses this construction, and ask yourself if you’re really willing to ignore the advice of editors that have been editing for mainstream publishers for years?
Besides, how often do sentences starting with a verb ending in ‘ing’ actually sound good? Mostly they sound awkward or bland.
“Running down the road, she got hit by a car. Rolling out of the way, she ended up in the gutter but still alive.”
Yuk. Give me too much of that and I’ll throw your book down in disgust.
And so far, I’ve only talked about the grammatically correct version.
Worse, don’t let your participle dangle.
When you do use a participle phrase make sure that it is connected to a human agency. The word after the comma, should refer to a human not an object.
Wrong: Having been named chairman, the meeting was called by Craig.
Craig was named chairman, not the meeting.
Correct: Having been named chairman, Craig called the meeting.
What is really unfortunate is that some of the books I’ve read that have this problem of overuse of sentences beginning with participles ending in ‘ing’ have, according to their authors, been edited by a ‘professional.’ If you want to check if your editor knows what they’re doing, pepper your first few pages with some sentences starting with ‘as’ or an ‘ing ending verb’. If they don’t change all of them, get another editor.
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