I belong to the First Coast Romance Writers. Nominally. I am a terrible member. I go to meetings maybe twice a year, plus the annual Christmas party. I don’t run for any offices, and I never volunteer for anything. I was once participating in the online group, but I’ll have to reintroduce myself over there because it’s been so long since I’ve even read one post.

This is a top-notch group. We have a SLEW of published authors, and we regularly fly in speakers from all over the place. We have at least seven Golden Heart winners. Just take a look at the list of published authors. My non-participation is my own fault.

(I have similarly neglected HereBeMagic, RomVets, the Carina Press group and the RWA PRO group. I have not visited ANY of them all summer, even though they are all active and interesting groups.)

To participate in my own small way, I agreed to be a contest judge for their Unpublished Beacon contest. And it inspired me write about a little-understood and widely-abused part of speech: the gerund, and why writers should shun them.

Why did it inspire me? Because I saw an excessive amount of gerunds in almost all of the entries I read.

First, a definition: according to the OWL:

  • A gerund is “a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun”. I call it a verb that has been demoted to a noun.

They are not to be confused with present-tense verb forms, like “I am running.”

Why are they bad? Well, they aren’t bad. But they are passive. You are taking a perfectly good verb and destroying it. As writers, we need to be active. Consider the following gerund-loaded paragraph.

Fighting always made Hrogar feel inadequate. What he did best was singing. His father was always shouting at him for practicing his scales. But the last thing he wanted to do was sword slinging.

Sorry it was such a convoluted example. I don’t usually write this way.

So what is wrong with the above paragraph? It is bland. There is no life in it. No one is doing anything.

How would I normally write it? Completely different, like this:

Hrogar hated the feel of a sword in his hand. He could never quite grip it properly. He wished his father could accept that all he really wanted to do was sing. After all, even Vikings needed skalds.

When you make yourself avoid gerunds (and passive voice, participles, adverbs and adjectives) all that is left are verbs. It forces you to rethink your sentences, and what is left is so much stronger.

I challenge you to take a chapter of your work and make it gerund-free. Let us know how you did!