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I received a question in one of the comments back in 2013 and thought I would post the answer in the “Let’s Write” posts. It is a good question!
Why shouldn’t we use too many “ly” and “ing” words in our writing?
The ‘ly’ adverb modifiers, like quickly, happily, luckily, fearfully, shockingly . . . and so forth, as well as the present progressive “ing” verbs ‘standing,’ ‘sitting,’ ‘writing,’ ‘eating,’ etc. are perfectly good words. There is not a story in print that does not include them. I use them too! But I am careful not to let these “ly” adverbs and “ing” verbs take over and become pest in my story. I have edited books where every other sentence uses this lazy way of writing. It gets old fast.
An “ly” adverb is a lazy, beginning writer’s way to add “more” to their sentences. It’s much better to think of a strong verb. Strong verbs are the key to a great story.
- Use “He dashed” instead of “He ran quickly.”
- Use “She bellowed” instead of “She talked loudly.”
- Use “Jane gripped the railing” instead of “Jane hung tightly to the railing.”
Beginning writers can overuse the “ing” present progressive verb forms too. Once in a while, these sentences are fine. They add variety. But when I start using a dozen or these “ing” sentence openers on one page, I realize something is wrong. I’m getting lazy. It’s time to slow down, take a breath, and think of a better way to express what I’m trying to say.
It’s especially annoying when “ly” and “ing” words are used as dialogue tags. It’s okay to use them once in a while, and they add variety to your story, but constant use starts to drive the reader a little crazy. Check out these. Nothing is wrong with any of them on their own. But use this format too much and it gets tiring.
- Hastily tossing the rock aside, Tyler raced for his bike.
- Smiling sheepishly, Mary quickly slid over.
- “Hurry, Dad,” Paul shouted, trying hopelessly to hang on to the ledge.
- “We won!” Tom said excitedly, echoing his brother’s shout of victory.
- “I love it!” Anna yelled, hanging over the railing.
- Smiling, Susie said, “Don’t forget about me,”
- “That’s awesome,” Joey agreed, gaping at the new car.
- Hunkering down, Chris tried to reach the hammer.
- Squinting, Peter looked up at the noon sun.
It is much better to simply say, Chris hunkered down and tried to reach the hammer. or Peter squinted up at the noon sky. Save “ing” words for special use.
All is not lost. There is a way to creatively correct the problem. With a little thought, you can change the wording around and use strong verbs instead of weak ones that need an “ly” modifier.
If you would like practice, go through some of your stories or even the Fan Stories here to find examples. Remember, occasional use is FINE. Don’t knock all of the “ly” or “ing” words out of your story. It will look stilted. Just keep a good balance. That’s the key!