Past Progressive (was + -ing)

Now that I’m beginning to write full time, I’m aware once again of my writing style. I’m a fan of past progressive (pp).

Editors are not fond of pp and are likely to send your manuscript back with loads of red ink, changing the verbs to more direct, sharper language. I have ugly, painful manuscript pages as proof.

Active verbs are crisper and move the story along quicker. I use active verbs all the time, but pp is prominent throughout my books – especially my Susan Hunter books. I find it to be a softer style of writing.

I consider my books to be light and breezy, and pp works for me.  I’ve had loads of reviews with the comment, “The book was an easy read.” I think the flow of pp gives my books that ease.

Here’s an example from my current work in progress: When I ended the call, Jackie was staring at me with eyebrows raised.

I know full well an editor would change that to: When I ended the call, Jackie stared at me with eyebrows raised. And maybe even: When I ended the call, Jackie stared at me, eyebrows raised.

However, in my wording, I envision Jackie already had her eyebrows up so far, they were hidden under her bangs and her eyes were popping out. (That’s actually pretty good. I might have to make a change in the story to reflect that.) The raised eyebrows had already happened during the call and were an ongoing action.

In the editor’s wording, it feels as though Jackie raised her eyebrows after the main character ended the call – and likely only slightly.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter, does it? They both work. But I am stubborn and want things my way.

I think I’m still a rebel when it comes to my overall style of writing. I haven’t completely given up exclamation points (although they have been tamed), and I check every instance of passive voice in my writing and decide to keep many (most) of them – because I like them and because I can.

What’s your writing style? Do you have rebel tendencies? Maybe I’ll do a future post on circular writing. I was “circling back” before it was a thing. And for the record, just because a book is an easy read doesn’t mean it was easy to write. 😊

16 thoughts on “Past Progressive (was + -ing)

  1. Edited to Add: As usual, this is too long a comment. Sorry.

    I use Grammarly and ProWriting Aid to help me during my editing phase, so I’m familiar with the sample edits you shared.

    Like you, I have my preferences. I prefer my writing ‘organic’ instead of ‘technical,’ so my decisions about what I change and what I leave depend on the scene. Sometimes I like the suggestions, sometimes not.

    I agree that the meaning of something changes with the way it’s presented, but I’ve become aware of the ‘visualization’ trap.

    Meaning, I very much envision a scene when I’m writing, and I try to duplicate that scene in the reader’s mind by choosing how I describe it. BUT, as the writer, I have a significant advantage over the reader . . . I’m intimately familiar with the scene, and the reader isn’t.

    For the record, all three choices you gave had me envision the same thing: what you intended, her eyebrows already raised. It’s only after you ‘interpreted’ the edits for me that I thought, “hmm… I suppose it could be a different meaning”.

    And that’s the trap . . . as the reader, all of those choices, for me, initially produced the same visualization. As the writer, you are partial to what you originally wrote and looking for excuses to leave it as is because it sounds better, but that ‘sounding better’ is highly subjective. (I do the same — my words rule!).

    (Note: there are other options … for example, “Eyebrows raised, Jakie stared at me as I ended the call.” As an aside, it’s difficult keeping one’s eyebrows raised unless consciously doing it.)

    There’s another thing that comes into play . . . our stories are our babies (I don’t have kids, so maybe it’s my cat or dog, although I never had dogs, either), and as such, we’re scrutinizing them.

    A reader will fly through those sentences without giving them a second thought. How and when her eyebrows got raised just isn’t important to the scene or to me, the reader.

    Presumably, the phone conversation was an important plot point — and the fact Jakie was surprised — and not the eyebrows.

    Note 2: the raised eyebrows imply surprise, but they could also mean shocked and even puzzled. Perhaps specifing Jackie’s reaction as opposed to suggesting it via eyebrows is the way to go.

    Personally, after many years of doing my own editing (and lots of re-reading of the stuff I write, including things from a decade ago), I find myself cringing at some (not all) ‘organic’ sentences because they detract from the important stuff. So these days, I typically self-correct as I write, even before I edit, and I lean to conciseness.

    For instance, I’m likely to write, “When I ended the call, Jackie stared at me, eyebrows raised” (same as one of your edits but removing the “with”) just because it’s fewer words.

    But I don’t know how a reader will interpret that; I only know how I interpret it.

    One comment about describing the eyebrows under bangs and eyes popping out . . . I might interpret that as fear, plus I have a disturbing mental image of someone with eyeballs nearly falling out of their sockets.

    Seriously, that gets into a mode of writing I avoid (perhaps too much).

    I seldom describe characters or scene details aside from the bare minimum. I cover some of that HERE.

    My preferred reading and writing style is “nothing extra unless relevant”. BUT, some people like descriptive stories. They want to know who made the curtains hanging on the window and that the window whistles when it’s windy, and that it looks out to a dilapidated shed.

    Anyway, this is getting long, so I’ll end with a disclaimer:
    These opinions are my own and apply to my preferences; your mileage may vary, and remember: I’m not a professional writer, not a published author, and not an editor.

    • LOL! Once again, a great comment. All very good points. In my murder books, the interactions between Jo and Jackie frequently have humorous overtones, so the eyes popping out work. And you are so right – the reader flies through the words with a quick mental image and on to the next. I’ll have to go back and look at the context to see what Jo said to elicit such a reaction from Jackie. Regardless, I think there will be some changes made. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Very interesting post. There is a Six Sentence Story challenge and I have posted 5 or so stories. A one word prompt is given so there are many different takes.
    I usually just write poetry/rhymes in any and every style I want. But it does take a lot of editing and rewriting to write 6 sentences and come up with some kind of story. The ‘ings’ are helpful.
    I don’t think I’d want somebody changing my style although I can understand why a good editor is necessary. I am always rearranging word order or sentence order.
    BUT oh so glad I don’t write for a living. 😉 And only do it for fun!!

    • I used to participate in Six Sentence Sundays, which were six sentences from a work in progress. Even then, I found myself working and reworking the sentences. It makes a difference when someone is looking only at six sentences and not moving on – or having no other context. You can really nitpick those sentences! I’ve read some of your Six Sentence Story posts. You are very good! I sort of write for a living – hope to do better at that this year – but I definitely write for fun!

  3. Hmm, I have no idea what my writing style is. I’ve never actually given thought to that. I’m new to blogging, and I’ve never actually written as an adult outside of songs, emails and work memos. I attempt to write in the same way that I speak, flaws and all to capture my unedited ideas. I’m more feel than formulaic, for better and worse. I just hope to get better at that with time and continue having fun in the process of course.

    • Hi Doug! I have some thoughts for you, but right now, it is the middle of the night, and I’m up looking for relief from a miserable head cold and wicked coughing bouts. To top it off, today is moving day … and tomorrow … and the next day. How did I accumulate so much stuff?! I’ll be back to see you in a few days. You sound so much like me when I first started writing Thanks for following my blog and stopping in! (P.S. – Love your “About Me” on your blog.)

      • Hi Doug! I’m finally moved and pretty much settled into my new place. I really liked what you said here. I didn’t start writing until I was 56 years old, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But that didn’t stop me. I just kept going. I, too, wrote in the manner I spoke – especially when writing dialogue, the conversations felt real. I’m also a writer by “feel.” We are called “pantsers” – writing by the seat of your pants. I don’t use many notes or an outline. I simply see the story unfolding in my mind like a movie and write what I see. I thought I was weird until I found out that most pantsers write that way. With time, you will definitely get better, and you will pick up tricks for editing your own work as you go along. Your goal should definitely be to have fun. I learned early on to write to please ME. I actually love my books and have read them more than a few times. 🙂 You are on your way. Keep up the good work!!

  4. Maddie, great post! So glad you are writing full time. It’s been such a passion of yours for so long and you are living it! (Exclamation Mark, in capital letters!!)
    I love your writing style: it’s clear and vivid. Your dissection of how and why you prefer using the pp in the telephone conversation example is spot on. I guess it’s a question of balancing out the need for pp versus overall readability, which is what you are suggesting.
    Has a publisher approached you? You mentioned having experience of your drafts coming back with editorial changes.
    All the best and lots of hugs,
    Of Glass and Books

    • Of Glass and Books!! I’m delighted to see you. I haven’t been ignoring you. I sort of left the husband and have been moving this past week. My computer just showed up here yesterday.

      Thanks for all your kind words. I’m so excited to be writing again. I’ll have two books ready to go within a matter of weeks. My newest cover and a current pic of me are here if you care to put a face to the “breezy” behind the words:

      A publisher has not approached me, but I have had a couple of my books edited. My stubbornness and head-butting ensued. 🙂

      Hugs to you, too!!

      • Maddie,
        I did read your related post and think you look beautiful 😊. I can only imagine how complicated and emotionally tasking these few past years will have been for you and your family. But you have heaps of support around the WordPress community and writing is such a fulfilling and rewarding activity, that I know you’ll be just fine. Upwards and onwards, as they say, and thank you for your books! They always put a smile on my face. I’ll make sure to catch up with the latest ones.

  5. Forgot to say, look up First Aid Kit, a Swedish folk duo (sisters), singers and songwriters. Simply wonderful. Emmylou is lovely. It brought THE Emmylou Harris to tears during one of their performances. And Silver Lining too, what a fantastic song.

    • Thank you for the recommendations! I’ve definitely been into exploring new music and have written these down. Rich is here assembling furniture, and my desk is being moved today. I’ll check out the music soon. Thanks again for all your kind words and support. Hugs!

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