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I like to use gerunds in my writing and I wonder if I'm overdoing it. I wrote this paragraph:

I couldn’t help thinking to myself, who is this woman on the phone? And if it’s not Burns’ mother then why does she want to speak with Burns? Monica’s purse was rattling again and I walked back out to the living room to find her sitting down. She took out what I believed was a handheld tape recorder. “Oops,” she said, placing the item back in her purse.

I started using gerunds a lot because readers were commenting that I needed more dialogue tags besides s/he said. Dialogue tags coupled with gerunds seemed to help.

  • Shoot me if I'm wrong, but I don't think all the words you have put in bold are gerunds (nouns made from verbs by adding 'ing'). For example, isn't 'placing' just a verb? – S. Mitchell Jan 28 '16 at 21:41
  • Actually, none of the words you have in bold are gerunds. An example of a gerund is "Hunting is a sport." Hunting is the gerund. Your paragraph sounds perfectly fine to me; I don't think you are overusing them at all. – Thomas Myron Jan 29 '16 at 0:14
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Grammar Side-Rant (Ignore at will)

First off, none of the words you have in bold are gerunds. A gerund is a verb form used as a noun. Examples would be:

Hunting is a sport.

We love sailing.

Answer:

As far as overdoing it goes, your paragraph sounds fine to me. However, looking at one paragraph is not the same as looking at the whole page. You might be using the phrases too much if you use them everywhere.

If you're having trouble with dialogue tags, include actions with the tags, like you have; but also be sure to include some simple tags without additional phrases. You don't want to just repeat the same thing over and over, so keep the tags changing. If you still feel like your tags are lacking something, try taking out the dialogue altogether and replacing it with looks, postures, or other wordless sounds (sighs, noncommittal grunts, etc.). Something else you can do is split the dialogue up and put the tag in the middle (you should probably only do this if you want the dialogue to seem split to the reader). For example:

"I know what you're doing," she said.

"They're after us," they cried as they ran away.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked, twirling the dagger.

Her look was enough to tell him what he needed to know.

A sigh and a shake of the head was his only reply.

"I..." he paused, gasping for breath, "...made it."

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If you're concerned that you're using too many, then after you're done your first draft, go back and search for any -ing words. Replace them at least half the time. So:

I couldn’t help thinking to myself, who is this woman on the phone? And if it’s not Burns’ mother then why does she want to speak with Burns? Monica’s purse rattled again and I walked back out to the living room to find her sitting down. She took out what I believed was a handheld tape recorder. “Oops,” she said, and placed the item back in her purse.

Your -ing verbs are continuous action; your -ed verbs are completed actions. Consider where you can finish an action and change those.

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    I agree with this - especially with the emphasis on looking at your word choices after you're done with your first draft. Just get a complete draft written, leaving in all of the warts, gaps, mistakes, and wrong turns, and then once you have the complete draft, then go back and edit it for problems like this. – DoWhileNot Jan 29 '16 at 20:04
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    Great comment. I like the idea of going back and thinking whether -ing verbs are continuous actions. – trin carl Feb 21 '16 at 12:52

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