The Rules of Writing: No Gerunds?

While doing research recently for an ESL student, I came across another “rule of writing”, to wit:

Don’t use gerunds; they make your writing weak.

To qualify as a gerund a word must be:

  1. a verb with an “ing” suffix
  2. that performs the job of a noun.

Take these sentences as examples:

I like hiking. (The gerund acts as the object of the sentence.)

Hiking is fun. (The gerund acts as the subject of the sentence.)

Now, I guess you could eliminate the gerund in the first sentence by saying “I like to hike”, but I don’t see much difference between the two statements. I think your choice would depend more on what your character’s natural speech patterns are than on any “rule”. (And if, like me, your manuscripts run over the recommended length for your genre, every little added “to” means you have to cut another word―a fate worse than death!)

Rewriting the second sentence as “To hike is fun” makes it sound formal. It gives me the feeling I’m reading a foreign translation rather than common American parlance.

still-life-school-retro-ink-159618.jpeg

And here’s the other, more important thing: in every article I read, the proponents of the “no gerund rule” were really objecting to sentences like this:

I was hiking in the woods.

But “hiking”, in this instance, fails to meet the qualifications for a gerund. It ends in “ing”, but it’s not acting as a noun. It’s part of the verb construction, specifically the past progressive tense.

So what the “no gerunds rule” proponents are trying to say is: there’s a “no progressive tenses rule”. By various examples, they also declare that there’s a “no conditional tenses rule”, and/or a “no perfect/pluperfect tenses rule”. In other words, write only in simple present, simple past, or imperfect tense.

How boring!

The reasoning, from what I gather, is that all these other tenses fall into a subset of the “active/passive rule”. For a “more active” sentence, they’d encouraged you to write it this way:

I hiked in the woods.

However, the rewrite doesn’t give me the same anticipation factor. If you start a dialogue with “I was hiking in the woods…”, I’m immediately looking for a story to follow. “I hiked in the woods” is more self-contained, an answer to the question, “What did you do today?” It doesn’t give me a sense of more to come. So for me, it’s a less appealing choice, and even less so if you’re creating a scene of rising tension.

(See what I did there? In the last sentence, I used three words that end in “ing” and not one of them is a gerund. Don’t fall into the same trap the “no gerunds rule” folks did!)

In my opinion, most of the “rules of writing” we see today have nothing to do with writing correctly. Instead, they are style choices that individuals make and choose to follow in their own works. They are, in effect, guidelines for that writer, not rules for all writers.

In particular, the “no gerunds rule” is one that seems to have a limited practical application. And I’d say the same for the “no (whatever) tense rules”. They’re like the Oxford comma; if you don’t want to use them, then don’t. But there are going to be times when clarity (or word count) depends upon it.

When it comes to writing, my philosophy is always:

Choose the best word for the job.

It applies whether you use a noun, verb, gerund, adverb, adjective, dialogue tag, or a word you made up to bring your story’s world to life. Choose the best word and your readers will be so bowled over by your writing, they won’t stop to wonder whether that word qualifies as a gerund or past progressive tense.

So, what style guidelines do you prefer? What’s your writing philosophy?

For an easy read on gerunds, visit the SproutEnglish blog.

For more on verb conjugation, see Verbix.com.

Get Smart: How to Tell Good Publishing Contracts From Bad

Excellent advice for first- or any-time authors!

Lee Peterson

BY AUDREY WICK

Like many new and debut authors, I was eager to sign with a traditional publisher. After the hard work of completing a novel, signing on the dotted line with a publishing house was exactly the reward I envisioned would make it all worthwhile.

Any contract for publishing can, at first, seem like an offer too good to refuse—but that doesn’t mean you should take anything that comes your way.

Publishing contracts are as varied as book genres. It’s easy for an author hungry to be published to be blinded by any contract’s lure, to the potential detriment of their career and their hard-fought creative work.

When I was submitting my debut novel for publication, the first book contract offer I received included bad terms—I’m grateful my agent and a close traditionally published friend helped me know what to look for. They helped me spot the three red…

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Today is World Poetry Day

In honor of World Poetry Day today, I offer

EROS

        – by Gifford MacShane

 

how time does pass

and yet not dull

           the thrill and silent words

                               the lightning glance

 

the spark

            electric in its charm lives on

 

startled once

       the swift and eerie message in the air

                    did touch my heart and lodge there

 

and rending now and then does still abide

 

 

Old Maid in the Garrett, Traditional Irish Song

#IrishMusic #amwriting

A traditional Irish toe-tapper bemoaning the single state, Old Maid in the Garrett introduces an unmarried woman whose fate would probably lead to a dismal life in her brother’s attic. She is extolling her virtues and ready to settle for anyone, even “a wee fat man”, as single women were considered a drain on the family resources and much scorned. For it was children who would grow to keep the family farm thriving. A version of this song by Sweeney’s Men can be found here, so you can tap along with the words if the spirit moves you.

OLD MAID IN THE GARRETT

Now I’ve often heard it said from my father and my mother
That going to a wedding was the makings of another.
Well, if this be so, then I’ll go without a biddance.
Oh, kind providence, won’t you send me to a wedding?

Chorus
And it’s oh, dear me, how would it be
If I die an old maid in the garrett?

I can cook and I can sew, I can keep the house right tidy,
And wake up in the morning to get the breakfast ready.
There’s nothing in this wide world would make me half so cheery,
As a wee, fat man who would call me his own deary.

Chorus

Well, now there’s my sister Jean, she’s not handsome or good-looking,
Scarcely fifteen and a fellow she was courting.
Now, she’s twenty-four with a son and a daughter;
Here am I at forty-five and I’ve never had an offer.

Chorus

So come landsman or come kingsman, come tinker or come tailor,
Come fiddler or come dancer, come ploughboy or come sailor,
Come rich man, come poor man, come bore or come witty,
Come any man at all who will marry me for pity.

Chorus

Well, now I’m on me way home, for nobody’s heeding.
Oh, nobody’s heeding to poor Annie’s bleeding!
So, I’m on me way home to my own pity garret.
If I can’t have a man, then I’ll surely get a parrot!

Chorus

#PimpMyBio for #PitchWars

PitchWars is not just another contest—not just another chance to snag an agent’s attention or improve your query, pitch or first page. No, on Wednesday, August 2, PitchWars is a chance to work one-on-one with a published author for two months, polishing up every page of your manuscript! The contest is run by the fabulous Brenda Drake and all the deets are on her blog here.

 As a potential mentee, I’m pimpin’ out my bio to entice all the mentors a mentor to work with me. I’ll start by telling you:

What I write: Historical fiction with romance—stories about a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory. Right now there are three completed novels (two in edits), a “prequel” under construction, and at least three more planned. The story I’m submitting is LET THE CANYONS WEEP, the first novel of the series. (If by now this is sounding a little familiar to you, I did submit the manuscript last year, but it has been extensively edited since then and I believe it’s much improved.)

Why have I chosen that subject and time period?

  1. I grew up on cowboy TV and I really, really wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl—they wore silly skirts and sat sideways on horses. A cowboy. I was asked in school one time (I think I was 8) who was the greatest hero in history, and I answered “Roy Rogers”. The hard-core Knight of the Range and the literature of that time, that place—both live deep inside me.

  2. My father’s family were Irish immigrants. Family legend has it that his Uncle Sean was chased out of Ireland by the Black & Tans, escaping by the skin of his teeth. Several years ago, I realized that my Irish ancestors from County Clare had to have lived through the worst of the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mor),a disaster that cut Ireland’s population by at least a third while food was exported to England at astronomical rates. I felt compelled to tell the stories of the survivors—the ones who somehow held body and soul together, managed to live through it, and found a way to prosper.

  3. On my mother’s side, I’m descended from the Lenape Nation, so I’ve spent my life absorbing Native American history and customs.

Miscellaneous: I’ve created a diverse village in the Arizona Territory called “White’s Station”, named for a real river in AZ. While LET THE CANYONS WEEP is the love story between two white, able and heterosexual people, there are several citizens of other ethnicities and abilities with whom they interact. Some of my later manuscripts feature these villagers as MCs.

I write in the third person multiple POV. My style is literary (some say lyrical **blushes**), but my content is commercial.

Trigger Warnings: rape/murder; physical abuse; rape/incest. All of these occur before the story opens and are presented without graphic violence, and treated with respect and empathy for the victims and/or survivors, and no sympathy/excuses for the transgressor. Within the novel, there is an unwanted pregnancy, a stillborn baby, and depression.

That being said, LET THE CANYONS WEEP is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and there is most definitely an HEA (and no, not the kind that says, “See, he loves her—so now she’s okay.”)

So, you want dark secrets? angst? guilt? shame? romance that’s tender? #OwnVoices? and an HEA? You’ve come to exactly the right place!

cat on book


What I’m good at:

  1. I’m a grammar nerd—that kid in sophomore English who completed the sentence-diagramming workbook in two days. I have a love affair with the Oxford Comma (my husband understands there’s nothing he can do about that); I’m quite fond of the em-dash, the colon and the semi-colon, though I hate to see any of them used to do the comma’s job. I’ve also coached a couple of ESL novelists in English grammar and sentence construction.

  2. I enjoy the judicious use of adverbs, adjectives and dialogue tags. I have a vast vocabulary, but know how to make my meaning clear. I believe that any word can be used as long as it fulfills the sentence’s needs; as a reader I’m always looking to expand my vocabulary, and expect my readers to want the same.

Soooo… if you’re a staunch proponent of the “Heming-Way”, or otherwise totally opposed to any of the above, I’m probably not the right mentee for you. But if you enjoy the unparalleled grace of the English language, please… read on…


What I’m looking for:

  1. About one-third of the professional feedback I’ve gotten states “I didn’t connect,” whether with characters or plot. A few have stated they don’t understand the motivations of my male MC, though I believe that’s been addressed with the revisions I’ve done. I need to be sure that people feel connected to the story I have to tell and the characters therein.

  2. This book explores the inner workings of a large Irish-American clan. There are scenes that advance the family dynamics while not necessarily moving the plot along, and at times provide much-needed comic relief. My critique partners and Beta readers are split on these scenes: three say they’re “dead zones” and should be cut; three find them enjoyable and want even more; and the last wants me to scrap the whole book and write a shoot-em-up. I definitely need feedback on this issue.

  3. I’ve gone as far as I can to eliminate “telling”, but I wonder if it’s far enough. This has always been the hardest thing for me, and perhaps I can’t see the forest for the trees.

  4. I have Fibromyalgia with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has the added benefit of “brain fog” on occasion. (I always feel I should say “CFS has me”, because it otherwise infers that I could, if I wanted to, throw it away like an old pair of shoes.) Anyhow, I need to have deadlines with some wiggle room—not in terms of weeks, but an occasional day or two. On a bad day, you may have explain something twice before it sinks in, but if you’re flexible and comfortable working by e-mail and/or scheduled phone calls, I can bull my way through the problem days.


What I will/won’t do to get there:

  1. I’m a perfectionist. I sometimes sweat the tiny details to the detriment of the “big picture”. I believe I’ve done everything in my power to make this manuscript the best it can be and I’m still not getting the response rate I want. So I’m willing to listen to any advice that will get me closer to my goal of traditional publication.

  2. That’s not to say I’m a pushover. I won’t compromise my vision for the novel, but I will work—and work hard—wherever necessary, to create compromises we can both live with.

  3. I will consider and appreciate every single bit of feedback you offer, even if it’s harsh, but

  4. I won’t scrap the whole thing and write a shoot-em-up!


In conclusion, here are a few things about

Who I am:

  1. Gifford MacShane is my pen name, but you can call me “Giff” (many do). It’s comprised of a family name and a loose translation of “descended from John.” There are three important men with that name in my family: my grandfather, John Patrick Sr; my uncle, John Patrick Jr.; and my father, John Francis.

  2. I’m addicted to traditional folk music, including Irish, American, Appalachian, cowboy songs, and African-American spirituals. I’m often singing or humming… anywhere, really, or any time… but if you were to ask me what the song is, I might not know. I might not even realize I was singing. I’m a typical Irish soprano: if you like the Celtic Women sound, you’d like my voice. There are many snippets of traditional music contained in my works: life without music would be just too hard to bear.

  3. My first library was a Book-Mobile. My grandmother lived in a tiny hamlet called Herbertsville (now part of Brick Township NJ, if you ever find yourself out that way), and my sister and I would visit her for 2 weeks every summer. The Book-Mobile came every week and parked at the village grocery store. Granny (pronounced “Grah-nee”, emphasis on the first syllable) would bring us to pick up books for my bed-ridden grandfather, who read voraciously. Tired of kids’ books by the time I was 10, I asked the librarian to recommend something, and thus became acquainted with The Virginian by Owen Wister. Slam! Bam!! hooked on Westerns as a literary form. As a result, I read through my father’s entire collection of Zane Grey novels by the end of that summer, and still have and read those wonderful books. (If you think all there is to Zane Grey is shoot-em-ups, let me recommend The Vanishing American, The Shepherd of Guadalupe, The Light of Western Stars, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Read one and experience the depth of characterization—I bet you get hooked, too!)

  4. I won a puppy at the school fair when I was 12. I don’t know who was more surprised—me or my father! I do know who was happier.

  5. Because of my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, theaters are too cold for me; the last movie I viewed within one was The Search for Spock. Yes, I’m a Trekkie—one of the originals. I watch limited TV, and in fact lived for over 6 years without one. The only shows I make sure to see are The Daily Show and Major Crimes. I also love black & white movies, and anything starring Katherine or Audrey Hepburn, or Vivien Leigh. I love to see Lucille Ball in a dramatic role, don’t think much of slap-stick comedy or spoofs. I also enjoy cooking shows and TV talent competitions, as well as Yankees baseball.

  6. I read every day, averaging 3 books a week. In addition to #HF and #HR, I enjoy mysteries, especially vintage noir, Dick Francis, & J. D. Robb. There are over 2,000 books in my personal library. Books I read recently that I considered “GREAT” were The Time Between by Karen White, and What Boys Are Made Of by S. Hunter Nisbet. I highly recommend both.

  7. I love Sudoku, but no matter how easy I find Levels 1, 2 & 4—and I occasionally breeze through the Challenger level as well— I just can’t seem to solve the mystery of Level 3. I love those puzzles where you have to find the hidden word after you’ve crossed off all the used letter clues.

And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know. But if you’re still interested—please, Mentors, pick me for #PitchWars!!!

Want to read about other PitchWars contestants? You can find other authors’ pimped-out bios here!