Take Those Zombies Out of Your Writing



No, don’t worry – not the characters from your stories.  Rather, take whatever resembles the undead from your sentences so your writing will find new life.  Good writing is good writing, whatever the genre and whomever the characters.

Continuing the zombie metaphor, let’s explore one area to perk up one’s writing.  The first draft of what is now the first sentence in this paragraph read: “So how does one remove the zombie-like drooping skin and limping gait from one’s writing, metaphorically speaking?”

A better version, in my opinion, is to re-work the sentence to read, “How does one remove from one’s writing any skin that droops and gait that limps …?”

The difference is in the gerunds.  According to www.wisegeek.com, “a gerund … stems from a verbal, or a verb form, but does not act as a verb in a sentence … A gerund is a verbal that functions as a noun … [and] without exception … always ends in –ing.

wiseGeek uses this example: “My dog’s favorite pastime is sleeping.”  That’s a good example of a gerund, but to me that’s lazy writing, writing that hobbles around like the undead.  My suggestion to spark new life into the sentence?  Take the gerund out entirely, make it more active, and write, “My dog loves to sleep.  It’s his/her favorite pastime.”

Somewhere long ago in the haze of grammar classes in junior high school, I remember a teacher’s dictum that gerunds tend to be passive.  That in turn slows down speech and writing.  If you want your zombies – or the people who run from them – to get the readers’ attention, then take out as many instances of –ing as possible.

Here’s another example, this one from a newspaper feature story: “’We’ll be using people in a lot of different ways,’ she says.”   Of course the writer of the article had to quote the person with her own words, but if she could have re-worked it, this is better:  “We intend to use people in a lot of different ways.”  Now the impact is at once more active, definitive and immediate, and it holds more promise.

Some gerunds are necessary – as you’ll see in those I’ve left in here – but many are not.  It takes a little more effort and sometimes a few more words to take out the lazy undead buggers from our writing, but it’s always worth it.  The zombies who remain in your stories will thank you for rejuvenating their drooping – oops!  droopy skin and so will your readers.

The point is to go over your work to search for writing that just plods along.  Our intent is rarely lazy, but sometimes we write that way, especially because we are so used to what I call “social network language” – which is rife with –ing status reports – and sound bites.  We want our work to be different from that.

Sometimes the difference is subtle.  If a gerund makes a good impact, then keep it in.  If not, toss it, like any right-minded zombie hunter.  If you don’t, editors from prospective publications surely will, or should.

Good grammar appropriately used always gives new life to the undead in our sentences and paragraphs.  There’s nothing like writing that sparkles and has a good pace.  Then our prose, poems and stories will shine as well.  There’s no better way for a zombie to get noticed.

© ERR 8/09 (This first appeared in the ViciousWriters.com ezine)

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